Ask Esther // 43


Hi Esther,
I recently graduated with a Visual Communication (graphic design) degree. I also have another degree in Journalism. I want to get into advertising, but I have no idea where to start. Mostly I’m confused about how to apply to ‘traditional’ big advertising agencies, compared to smaller agencies that refer themselves as a branding/marketing/digital agency etc. The latter seems more ‘design’ focused, while the former more ‘advertising’. Basically, if I want to do more ‘advertising’ should I include my design portfolio or should it consist mostly of spec ads? Do I have to go and study a purely advertising course?

Thank you for your eternal wisdom,

Fly without a head.

Dear headless fly,

You have a definite idea of the direction you wish to pursue, it’s now simply a matter of being able to demonstrate those skills in your portfolio.

Everything you have done is useful and will inform your development as an art director. But an advertising art director’s portfolio differs from a graphic designer’s, even though they may well have studied exactly the same course.

If your book currently consists of mostly execution-based print ideas, we need to change the focus towards more advertising concepts that would exist in television, digital, etc, as well as print. Ideas about brands that are designed to sell.

You have a few different ways forward:

You can aim for a studio position in an ad agency and your book and qualifications may be enough as they are. Once in the agency you can agitate towards joining the creative department.

You can apply for AdSchool or AWARD School. They are both short courses designed to give you art director’s portfolios.

Or, you can immediately set about re-designing your own book to include the sort of work you wish to do. Spec ideas for ads that can demonstrate your strategic and creative ability outside of the design craft skills already shown. In an ancient Ask Esther I wrote about this and I will re-cap it for you:

Step one. Go to the supermarket. Walk up and down each aisle. Look for products you are familiar with, but cannot recall their ads. Useful categories like breakfast cereals, health bars, cleaning products, stationery, pre-cooked meals, canned soups.

You get the idea.

Very important your mind is blank about their existing or recent advertising activity.

Step two. Purchase the products. More than 10 and fewer than 25. Do not confuse this expedition or try to combine with your weekly grocery shop. Stick to the purpose.

Step three. Clear a workspace at home and put items on it. One by one write yourself a brief for each one. Think about who the product’s customer is and the usp if there is one. Consider the best medium(s), and the approx budget. Write the strategy for each product. Do NOT attempt to come up with any ideas yet.

Step four. Go through each brief. Some will be better than others. Cull, refine, go back to the supermarket if necessary to take pics of their competition. Look up competitors’ ads if it helps.

Step five. Go see a movie. Sleep on it. Go for a walk. Put some space between the left and right sides of your brain.

Step six. Pick the best five briefs that are creatively challenging, offer diversity of products and suit your approach. One by one go to work on them. (You can always change your mind. You have a pile of briefs to play with).

On a layout pad, get to work. Lots of ideas, whittled down to a few, even down to one. When you have something you are happy with, you might render it to a higher quality, but as a rule of thumb, more time should be spent on strategy and idea development, than execution. Stick figures can suffice. This is to balance the design and execution already demonstrated in your book.

These spec ads should cover television, digital and print mediums, either by integrating a campaign idea, or puruing different media for different products.

This is about solving problems. Problems you made up perhaps but still using your skills, common sense and creativity.

Your website folio should now demonstrate strategic thinking and conceptual ability, combined with design skills.

And that’s what the ad agencies are looking for.

Good luck

You can ask Esther Clerehan anything about putting your book together, getting a job, what salary to ask for or what to do when someone steals your ideas. Go on, Ask Esther. There is no other creative recruiter with more experience to educate us on the art of the job hunt. You can email her here at junior at (wtf null@null lifeatthebottom

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 09/05/2013
Category: Ask Esther
Tagged: .