How to strengthen your portfolio

How to strengthen your portfolio

As creatives, we’ve all been affected by the Covid-19 crisis in one form or another - work put on hold, freelance gigs cancelled, placements delayed. 

But if you haven’t already, now is the time to polish up your portfolio.  

Your book is your brand, your shopfront, and your calling card. 

The problem is your time-starved audience has a shorter attention span than a tween on TikTok after a KitKat. 

Your book needs to be as engaging and memorable as your ideas.

I know in the first 30 seconds of looking at a portfolio if the candidate is the right fit for the job. 

But I’ve also created roles for those with exceptional books. 

Here are some basic tips on how to make sure yours stands out.

Make it look good

‘Well, duh’, you say? 

But I cannot tell you how many books I’ve reviewed where dodgy layouts, low res images, poor quality video, and Wordy McWorderson descriptions overshadowed the ideas. 

The way you craft your book is a reflection of your taste and skill. 

Take a step back and look at your work - at first glance, is it modern and visually engaging? Are the images clear and consistent? Are you proud of what you see?

Try to aim for a singular powerful image and video. 

Balance the length of your copy with your media, and keep the descriptions simple and to the point. Don’t bury the idea in a three-paragraph preamble of recapping the brief - say it in a sentence. You should be able to look at the page and grasp the idea immediately.

Curate your work

Don’t put every single piece of work in there. 

I repeat, don’t put every single piece of work in there. 

This is not a chronology, it’s a showcase of your best work. I’d rather see three brilliant ideas than 10 banners and a social post. 

Think about your ideal role and make sure the work shows your ability and potential. 

Make it relevant

The most desirable creatives are those who can flex across channels and media. 

To me, the most culturally-relevant, non-traditional work stands out. 

Include a range of brands in a range of categories and a range of channels and executions if you can. 

If you don’t have the work, put your best spec ideas forward. I love seeing personal projects too.

Think about keywords

Whether or not I’m conscious of it, I have a set of descriptors in mind when I’m looking for a specific candidate or freelancer. 

Write a list of keywords that describe you as well as your ideal role. 

Make sure they come through in how you describe yourself as a creative and how you position the work.

Show your personality

Show your personality. 

Not what you think a creative portfolio should look and sound like. 

What’s your flavour of creative? What’s your tone of voice? What’s your story? 

One of my all-time favourite creative hires is obsessed with chicken kiev. And his entire homepage was dedicated to it. Now you need to reaaaallly get this approach right - but it made him memorable. (And at my next agency, when I went to search for his portfolio to hire him again, I searched his name and ‘chicken kiev’.)

Boost it with a book crit

This might be a no-brainer, but it’s a solid reminder. Advice from an experienced creative on how to position your work can be the difference between getting passed over and securing an interview or gig.

If you don’t know who to ask, find your career idol and reach out to them for a book crit on LinkedIn. Don’t try to be gimmicky with your intro to get attention - just be genuine about why you’re asking them. (Tip: flattering specific work will get you everywhere.)

Or feel free to email me directly at smajid@vccp.com for a book crit from me or another VCCP creative.

Bonus: Tips from Creative Moment Contributors

“I always like candidates to know what they want to present to me. Hopefully shows they have researched us so presenting most relevant work - clients or skills. Not a great lover of the ‘what would you like to see’ approach - don’t know, never seen any of it before!” 
Andy Mackenzie, creative partner, BPL Marketing

“If you need briefs, just search for ads in magazines and papers you can do better versions of. You’ll find the brief in the copy.” 
Tony Malcolm, freelance creative director 

“Make sure the work you put in your portfolio is original, memorable, and stands out. Creative directors see so many portfolios they eventually all blend into one. Be prepared to work to your own brief if the ones you get do not encourage stand out work. I was given this tip at my D&AD training workshops many years ago, and it still holds true!” 
Carla Greco, digital communications and content manager at RWM

“Demonstrate a good variety of work, but don’t put too much in. I always say to creatives that most busy creative directors will only click on 4 or 5 bits of work before making a decision, so if there’s too much to choose from and it can’t all be your best work, then they’ll make a judgement based on whatever they’ve had time to see.” 
Kat Mitchell, freelance creative director and writer

“Capture you: Ensure the reader not only gets the type of creative you are (what floats your boat, types of work, etc.) but also your personality. 

Don’t forget fonts: make the visuals the star and please use good font choices (sans serif or serif are always a good starting point). 

Start and end strong: a bit of a sports analogy but the best teams always start and finish strong -  it is the case with work too. People’s memory, typically, will only truly remember the first and last - so make those your best.

Don’t be afraid of Beta: if you are new and don’t have much work that has actually gone live then show concepts; work that you love that maybe never came to fruition. 

Show your passion: last but by no means least bring your love of what you do to life. 

When presenting: show me the workings from concept to delivery and how each part made you feel. Tell me the things you overcame, the cheeky anecdote, the moment when it all came together. It’s those that make you memorable over the one who came before.” 
Andrew Soar, creative director, Ogilvy

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