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Some advice on how to demonstrate your creative value.

Our job as copywriters and art directors has changed. And yet, the way creatives are hired has not. And that is strange. In the Mad Men of the 1960s, creatives would run about with a portfolio. But who would have thought that oversized paper file would last more than 50 years? Only to make way for a digital version of said portfolio. Posters have become cases but the essence remains the same: you show your potential via work you’ve already done.

This tried (and true?) formula, however, is beginning to tarnish. In recent years, I’ve started seeing the exact same work crop up in multiple portfolios. The better the campaign, the more numerous its owners, it would seem. Not that this really requires explanation. The time in which creatives could produce great work by sitting in pairs in a corner somewhere is ancient history. Major campaigns have many more arms and legs than 1 copywriter and 1 art director could carry. And so, a whole team is invariably to be found behind any good campaign.

An awesome campaign, then, is more than ever the product of an awesome agency in which many different people are engaged at the right moment in the right way. To produce an end result that is greater than the sum of its parts. But how do you determine the value of those parts? Or, in other words, how do you demonstrate your value in a creative process?

A couple of ideas:

  1. Put together an honest portfolio. It sounds self-evident, but apparently it’s not. You should only include work in your portfolio for which you’ve made an absolutely significant contribution.
  2. Specify your role in each campaign. Group work is the new ego trip. There is no shame in mentioning that you only worked on a small part of a campaign. So do it.
  3. Show how well you work in a group. Yes, it interests me that you went to the scouts for years. Or that you were captain of the football team.
  4. Sell yourself. Our job revolves around selling things creatively. A conventional portfolio is not a creative way to sell yourself. Do better.
  5. Life is a pitch. Only pick agencies where you actually want to work. And take time to come up with some killer ideas for one of their clients. That will show better than any portfolio that you’re worth your salt.
  6. Talking helps. Nobody’s ever going to get hired on the basis of e-mail correspondence, a LinkedIn profile, Twitter feed or Facebook wall. Make an effort to force a meeting with the creative director for whom you want to work, even if they’re hard to get hold of.

These are just a few preliminary ideas. But the essence is simple: a portfolio (however good it may be) will no longer cut it when it comes to selling yourself. In 2015, you’ll no longer be able to show what you can do purely on the basis of what you’ve already done. The future belongs to the creatives who can prove their talent.