Your Dream Portfolio

I recently heard of a fantastic assignment given by Bryan Birch, an instructor over at the Academy of Art University here in San Francisco. I have a scriptwriting class that I’m teaching at Miami Ad School starting in a couple of weeks, and I plan to steal this idea and use it as the first assignment for my class.

The assignment is simple: put together a portfolio of ads you wish you had done. Not ads you have done–ads that other people have done that you absolutely love.

Bryan has his class bring in three and then asks the students to discuss them. With each student’s three ads, the class talks about the similarities. “The string that turns the ‘beads’ into a ‘necklace,” Bryan says. For example, absurdity might be a common element in each of the ads. This is basically the style of ads you like to do. And there can be several strings in each group. Bryan then has the students bring in ads that they have done that fit on this string.

This gives the students a “North Star,” as Bryan calls it. It helps them to recognize and articulate the kind of ads they like to do, see opportunities to work those traits more into their book and push for that in their future assignments. If you quirky, dry humor, it should be in your book. If you hate sappy stories, you shouldn’t have those in your book. The point of your job search is to find you a job that you will love (and hence where you will thrive). An agency that wants you because they want you to do the kind of work you like to do–the kind of work that should be reflected in your portfolio.

For my students, I think I’m going to ask them to build a full reel–7-10 spots (or something that has a script)–and put together a Pinterest board. Pinterest is perfect for this kind of thing.

Having a dream portfolio sets a bar. Probably a pretty high one. And with every ad you do, you can look and say, “Is this good enough? Would I put this in my dream portfolio? How can I make it more like the stuff in my dream portfolio?” Wouldn’t it be nice if one day, many years for now, your dream portfolio was made up entirely of your own work?


8 thoughts on “Your Dream Portfolio

  1. I wonder if you could put your portfolio on Pinterest? That way it's shareable with not only you sending out, but your friends following you. You could follow (and hopefully others could follow you) ad people (recruiters, cds, etc).


  2. You'd have to host the pieces somewhere else like vimeo or flickr, but I don't see why you couldn't put your whole portfolio, resume, etc. on a pinterest board.


  3. Hey. Long time reader and I've been thru MAS. I'd say most writing teachers and concepting assign this type of assignment.

    People end up just reusing and showing the same ads every quarter.

    A suggestion here…Esp after thinking about pintrest…

    How about 10 pieces of anything that inspire you? Could be a film, typography, art, a poem, a quote, anything that is inspiring and you'd like to share with the class.

    You learn. You share. You bond over new things.

    It's more collaborative than competitive. And not everybody is into ads. And there's a ton of interesting stuff that affects every student.


  4. I think that's a great suggestion, Aaron. I'm a big believer in drawing inspiration from outside the industry. Otherwise we're just recirculating the same stale air.

    Thanks for chiming in.


  5. What are your thoughts on the Academy of Art University's Advertising program for portfolio school? I ask because I am interested in attending portfolio school (looking to make the switch at my agency here in New Orleans from Project Management to Art Direction) – but I don't want to have to move…are there any online ad portfolio schools that you know of? All I am seeing in searches are for Academy of Art University (and its reviews are questionable…!) Thanks!! Awesome blog, btw.


  6. I don't know too much about the Academy of ARt. I wouldn't put it in the top 3-4 portfolio programs, but it really depends on who your instructors are. I would advise against an online program (though I can't say I know any). The in-person workshop format of most portfolio classes is pretty critical.


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