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Advertising Portfolio

By Will Brown of eyeconomy.co.uk

Putting together a portfolio (or book)

Most people in advertising should have a portfolio. Copywriters and art directors, of course. But account handlers, and, in particular, account planners, should, also, be able to offer up ideas in some sort of portfolio-like format.
The portfolio isn’t just about demonstrating artistic-like creativity but, also, about demonstrating an understanding of the brand-positioning approach behind a particular campaign.

The following is an outline for how to put together a portfolio. Copywriters and art directors should strive to make theirs as perfect as they can (copywriters, in particular, with copy, and art directors, in particular, with the visuals) – in every sense (and account handlers and account planners focusing more on the brand-positioning side of the campaign within the portfolio rather than on the actual finished look or the creative-concept side of the campaign – although being able to offer up something from a creative-concept aspect would be useful / interesting as well).

  • Print pieces. Traditionally, print pieces (most typically, newspaper / magazines ads) were the core part of advertising portfolios (often including variations from TV to direct marketing pieces, and more, as well – depending on the type of agency). But advertising, in general, has changed so much in recent years (with the emergence of new media and integrated agencies, as well as holistic approaches to advertising, overall) that putting together a portfolio isn’t as clear / black-and-white as it once was.
    Having a traditional-like portfolio is, generally, a good thing to put together anyway (for developing creative and branding skills / ideas in general – as well as the reason, of course, that you might have to use some / all of the ideas contained in the portfolio at a later date). And depending on the nature and work of the agency, your portfolio format will have to change accordingly (try and research as much as you can about what a particular agency is looking for).
  • Choose the right brands. Select brands that you like and know something about and believe will give you the best shot at creating great pieces for your portfolio
  • Creative and branding skills. Select pieces that show off your creativity and at the same time demonstrate your understanding of the brand-positioning side behind campaigns. You, ultimately, want to grab and hold audience’s attention and connect with them in some important way about the brand.
  • Different levels of difficulty.Try different levels of difficulty. Create a selection that are safe, safe-ish, a-bit risky and risky (the person looking at your portfolio might think that your ‘safe’ is risky and vice-versa).
  • Humour. Humour can be a powerful tool.
  • Originality. Be original.
  • Explore. Don’t be precious. Explore lots of ideas.
  • Ideas finished off properly.Ensure that your favourite ideas are thought through, and finished off properly. Demonstrate that you are able to think through ideas.
  • Art Directors and finished work. Art directors need to ensure that their visual work is finished off properly (with professional help if necessary).
  • Art Directors and headlines. Art directors must be able to create brilliant overall concepts (just like copywriters). And art directors need to work hard at the headline (at least create the bones for a good headline that, in a real-world scenario could be polished off better, later on, by a copywriter) because a headline is an important part of the overall creative concept.
  • Enjoy. Enjoy the creative process, and putting the portfolio together, overall (but bear in mind that it isn’ t just about being creative in an artistic-like sense. It is, also, about being relevant to the brand-positioning ideas behind the campaign).
  • How many pieces?
    Account handlers / account planners should offer up around 3 to 5 campaigns with minimum of three pieces per campaign.
    Art Directors and copywriters need to aim for around minimum of 10 campaigns, with minimum of three pieces per campaign (and copywriters should, also, include examples of long copy).
    If in doubt, focus on quality over quantity.
  • Storyboards? You can use storyboards but only if it works for a particular campaign (otherwise leave them out). If you do decide to offer storyboards, they should certainly not take over the portfolio.
  • Contributions of other people.If someone else has contributed to your portfolio in any way (i.e designer if you are a copywriter, or a copywriter if you are an art director, and so on) then say so. Employers want to employ people who are open / straight. But, also, someone else’s contribution can demonstrate an ability in you to collaborate with others -a skill which is essential in advertising. So others can contribute, however, don’t let the work of someone else take over your portfolio – otherwise it’s not really your portfolio!

Extra work (but not a substitute for main work) you can include one-off ideas / other items in general:

  • General one-off ideas
  • New media (demonstrating that you are interested in new media as well as traditional)
  • Scripts (radio / TV)
  • Non-advertising work (related to your art director or copywriter work)

The important point, though, is to make the main body of work stand out / be easy to access (and not get mixed up with the extra work).


First and foremost you want to wow portfolio readers with creative (and relevant, from a brand-positioning perspective) pieces – pieces that would work in the real world. Don’t forget to put your best work at the beginning and end of the portfolio.
But your portfolio is, also, an opportunity to reflect something of your approach to the creative process in general: that you are adventurous, lively, energetic, curious, collaborative, holistic in approach, and so on. In other words, do what you are best at (if you think it produces great results). But, also, demonstrate that you are willing to take risks and go beyond your comfort zone.

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One Comment

  1. I like the information that you have placed here. I have been “copywriting” since I was 14 yrs old, just for fun. Now I am tinking to pursue it as a career. So the information you gave helped me to see it more than just a hobby. It’s marketable.

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