Jade Song is a Junior Art Director at McKinney in NYC (and a We Are Next user!). As a creative, she couldn't afford portfolio school, and had to work hard to learn the industry, and build her portfolio and network. Lucky for you, she decided to pay it forward and has written a guide on how to become a creative in advertising, based on everything she's learned over the past three years. Even if you're not a creative, she's collected a lot of great industry resources in one place. Here's an excerpt of the guide by Jade—
Looking back to when I was first trying to break into advertising, I was so dumb. I emailed random recruiters and creative directors with a barely-functioning portfolio. I didn’t know the Creative Suite (what kind of art director doesn’t know InDesign?) yet I expected an art direction job to fall into my lap. I didn’t understand how competitive it is to break into the industry. Yet, my naivety worked in my favor. People invited me to their agencies for a visit. They introduced me to other people at their agencies. I got portfolio reviews from accomplished creative directors at top agencies (I cringe when I think about what they saw.) People were so kind.
Three years of hard work inspired by the kindness of other, more knowledgeable creatives led me to getting my first real art direction job. I graduated May 2018 and am now a Junior Art Director at McKinney in New York City, working on clients like Samsung and BMW Financial. The following is a collection of links, explanations, and resources vital to any young creative looking to break into the advertising industry.
As a creative, your portfolio is your resume. It should have your professional work, your personal work, your bio and social links, and any other tidbits of work or self you’d like to put in.
To create a great portfolio takes time. Many people go to ad school to build one, but you don’t necessarily need to spend the time and money on ad school. You can easily build one yourself with your own work and ideas. However, it is a great idea to look at others’ portfolios to inspire your own.
Portfolio schools such as Miami Ad School, VCU, and Creative Circus all publish their graduates’ portfolios, including where they are working now. These graduates are the ones applying to internships and entry-level creative positions at agencies, so if you don’t go to portfolio school, they are your competition. Comparing your portfolio and work with theirs is a great guide.
Modern Copywriter is a site from Creative Director Jason Siciliano that collects noteworthy portfolios and work from creatives around the world. He writes, “Copywriters (and all creatives) are gentle souls in a rough biz. It’s important to stick together, share what we know, inspire each other, and be there for one another when things get shitty.” Too true.
Lastly, you can stalk people. I still love to find people’s portfolios, especially to see their personal unrelated-to-advertising work. Find an ad or design you like, do some googling, and you’ll be able to find the creatives behind it. For example: enjoyed the Super Bowl "It’s a Tide Ad"? Check out this portfolio!
Young Shits was designed as an ad contest to actually get you a job. They release a creative brief every month or so. It was created by an art director-copywriter pair who now works at top agencies. If you win, you get a one-on-one with the judge, which is a great opportunity to network. Read their FAQ section, it provides great info about the hiring processes of agencies!
The D&AD Young Blood Awards are annual awards for students, recent graduates, and aspiring creatives between ages 18 and 24. They provide real briefs set by real clients; the submissions are judged by top creatives. D&AD is a British-based company, so several of the briefs and companies are UK-based, but it is an excellent opportunity to practice and produce work.
Someone put a bunch of excellent mock briefs up on a public Google drive. Feel free to download and practice!
Obstructions isn’t necessarily an advertising brief, but I’ve found this site from an RIT Art & Design professor an amazing creative practice. The use of obstructions to guide your creation mimics the restrictions you’ll run into in advertising, such as client feedback, budgets, and legal.
Inspiration, News, & Advice
If you’re really talented and your client is cool, your work gets featured in non-trade outlets, like Fearless Girl in the New York Times. For the rest of us, there are plenty of media outlets that report on advertising. You can use them to browse current ads, understand media trends, and find out new business wins (and therefore who might be hiring!)
There are also a few fun curation blogs and sites to scroll through. You can use these resources for inspiration, tools to find creatives, and industry tips. A few of my favorites are below:
Women Who Draw, an open directory of female illustrators
Hello You Creatives, a blog that publishes cool creative work around the world
The Women Who Sold The World, a content curation to help us understand our responsibilities as creatives in advertising
Longform, a curation of new and classic non-fiction journalism from around the web
Several people with extensive experience in the advertising world have started blogs where they jot down thoughts, motivations, and creative processes. I would definitely check out Medium, especially Heidi Hackemer’s page. Many agencies and creatives post on Medium. You can also read the following blogs:
I sourced these resources throughout my three undergrad years of learning and attempting to get that elusive first gig. Being a creative in advertising is a ridiculously exuberant and crazy career. I hope I and the following words help aspiring creatives, as others have helped me.
You got this,
See Jade's full guide to becoming a creative.
Keep up with Jade on her website.