Grace Abe and I first connected through MAIP after signing up to be Coaches for the summer. Since then, she's become a huge proponent of We Are Next, helping to spread the word within DigitasLBi in Boston where she's an Associate Art Director. This week, she shares approaches for a super common situation: how to gain an understanding of advertising and build a portfolio when your school doesn't offer it as a major/field of study. Here's Grace, speaking from her own experience (and a clear love of cats!).
There are plenty of us who go to school thinking we’ll leave with one degree, but end up jumping into a totally different path. So what do you do when you’re interested in a job in advertising, but your school doesn’t offer any related classes?
I haven’t been in the industry long, but a quick walk around the office tells me that nearly everyone comes in with a different background. You could study French, architecture, sociology, come from a totally different career or even own and sell a startup before entering advertising. Hearing these stories makes my leap from English major to art director seem totally tame—which is good, because you can do it too!
Here are some things that helped me learn more about advertising, sans class or coursework:
Join an ad club (or start one!)
Joining or starting an ad club is a good way to find like-minded peers on campus. From there, you can organize group projects that can begin to fill your creative portfolio. As a campus group, you'll also have more legitimacy. Through my university Ad Club we made contacts, toured agencies and attended conferences—all of which helped us get a good feel of the culture of the industry and what’s coming next. The beginning of the year is a perfect time to look for existing ad clubs, or get everything in order to start one.
Don’t be afraid to reach out.
In school (and even now) it feels intimidating to reach out to people for advice. I have to remind myself constantly, and am here to tell you that most people likereceiving emails that ask for their insight. So much invaluable advice came from people who generously responded to my cold emails—and even the conversations that don’t go well serve as learning experiences. Tip: If some people don’t respond, it’s ok! They’re probably just busy at the moment, so don't take it personally.
Be a sponge. Then improvise.
Go through resources like Adweek and We Are Next. Google “books on advertising,” and head to your library or Amazon with a list. Look at creative portfolios across the web (on sites like Shocase, Behance, httpster, awwwards), take note of the ones that you like, and see where they work. Take advantage of classes that have flexible assignments and use one to create a portfolio piece. Work with campus clubs and organizations to produce printed flyers, posters, social content and websites, and measure your impact to see if it worked. I never took an advertising class, but using these tactics, I learned how to manage multiple projects, hit deadlines, pick up program shortcuts, and see how things work in the real world in advance.
Find like-minded peers, reach out, and absorb everything you can—and better yet, take a stab at a few projects of your own. Not only did this help build my portfolio, but it also helped me learn more about myself and the kind of work I enjoy doing, which is turning out to be vital in the long run.
Go get 'em and good luck!
Follow Grace on Instagram (her #softbean comics are totally relatable), and don't hesitate to connect with her on LinkedIn.