The Secret Under 30 Reel

When you go in for a job interview, you should already be familiar with the agency’s work. You know what Super Bowl spots they’ve produced, what innovations they’ve been making in social media, what campaigns have put them on the map.

But when you’re interviewing, ask this question:

“What kind of work have your creatives under 30 been producing?”

The agency probably doesn’t have an official under 30 reel. But you should still ask the question.

Because 45-year-old seasoned creatives are usually the ones who get the plum assignments. They produce the TV spots that run during the Oscars and the NCAA Championship games. They do the groundbreaking social work. They’re the ones who get written up in Adweek the most often.

Part of that is because they have a ton of experience that helps them work better and faster. Part of that is because they’ve paid their dues at the agency and in the industry.

 

But ask an agency, “Can I see some of the work your under 30 creatives have produced?” and you’ll get an idea of the kind of opportunities that particular agency has in store for you.

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How to Pick a Portfolio School – updated July 17, 2015

[SPECIAL GUEST POST FROM THE VCU BRANDCENTER’S ASHLEY SOMMARDAHL.]


Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts about portfolio schools. As Director of Student Affairs for the VCU Brandcenter, my POV may be a bit biased but hopefully some of this advice will be helpful. I’ll start by saying a few quick things about the VCU Brandcenter (I can’t help myself!) and then I’ll focus on portfolio schools in general.


The first thing our faculty, students, and alums will tell you about that Brandcenter is that we don’t consider ourselves to be a portfolio school. The Brandcenter is a comprehensive graduate advertising program focused on creativity, commerce (remember, advertising is a business!), collaboration, and culture. We have five tracks (Copywriting, Art Direction, Strategy, Creative Brand Management, and Experience Design), and while the students work together in cross-functional teams, each student develops an expertise in his/her individual track. Assignments at the Brandcenter are as realistic and practical as possible including actual “real world” assignments from companies like Google, Barnes & Noble, Audi, and HBO who’ve asked Brandcenter students to work on some of their most challenging marketing issues. Students are supervised by full-time faculty who’ve all had successful careers as Creative Directors, Planning Directors, Agency Presidents, Designers, Directors, and Editors. Most of our faculty members continue to work or consult in their field in addition to teaching. Brandcenter students earn a Master of Science degree in Business/Branding from Virginia Commonwealth University. Our students tell us the Master’s degree is important to them, more for the long-term, as it may give them an advantage if they choose to take on management roles or teach at the college level in the future. All of that said, the VCU Brandcenter is often included in the portfolio school “category” b/c all of our students (brand management, strategy, creative, and experience design) graduate with portfolios that showcase their strategic and creative thinking abilities. Our copywriters and art directors are often competing for jobs against graduates of Miami Ad School, Creative Circus, Chicago Portfolio School, and Portfolio Center. So, if you’re thinking about attending one of these schools, here are the questions I would ask each portfolio school you apply to (and if they don’t have the answers, that’s a red flag!)


QUESTIONS TO ASK OF PORTFOLIO SCHOOLS YOU ARE APPLYING TO: 
Answers for the VCU Brandcenter are below each question so you’ve got one school’s answers already! 


1.) What is your school’s job placement rate? (That’s why you’re going back to school, right? Most students go to a portfolio school to get a job in advertising vs. to continue on with a Ph.D in advertising.)
The VCU Brandcenter’s job placement rate is consistently 97% within 6 months of graduation. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of job placement rate using the Class of 2015 as an example. For reference, they graduated on May 9, 2015.
Job placement by graduation (May 9) = 25%
Job placement by June 1st = 56%
Job placement by July 1st = 83%

2.)  Can I see a list of where your most recent grads got jobs? (It’s important to see which agencies/companies currently recruit from the school. Who will be recruiting YOU when it’s time for you to graduate?)
Here’s a list of where the VCU Brandcenter Class of 2015 is getting jobs. All of the best agencies are on the list but it’s also important to note that brands like Facebook, Apple, Google, IBM, Coca-Cola, Capital One, Nike, etc. are also recruiting Brandcenter students and alums.

3.) What does the school do to help students get jobs? (Your portfolio/work is important but so are the connections your school has to the industry.)
The Brandcenter hosts a Recruiter Session event each April for recruiters to come meet our graduating students. Over the past 5 years, we’ve consistently had 200+ recruiters from the best agencies in the country attend our event. That’s more than a 2:1 ratio of recruiters to students! Check out who attended in April. 

4.) Can I see the portfolios of your most recent grads? (Look at the “end product” of your investment. Check out the graduates’ portfolios. Are you impressed by their work? Are you envious of their  portfolios? Hopefully, the answer is “yes!”)

5.) What does the school do to help students get summer internships? (I’m sure most grad programs talk about internships, but how many curate the opportunities and facilitate the application process for you?)
During the summer between the 1st and 2nd year of the Brandcenter program, the school facilitates PAID internships at some of the best agencies/ companies all over the US.  We curate all the available opportunities and our students can search the opportunities by agency/company, location or job title.  You can see where the Class of 2016 is interning this summer here. Internships are a great way to apply what you learned in school in the real world and make valuable industry connections. 

6.)  Who are your faculty? (How many of them are full-time vs. adjuncts who have other full-time jobs? How many of them actually worked and/or continue to work in our industry?)



7.)  Do you have salary data for your alums? (You are making a huge investment in yourself and the school you choose to attend. What’s the ROI (return on investment) going to be?)

8.) Why do recruiters and creative directors say they like to hire graduates from your school? (What recruiters and CDs think about the school is important. They are the “gatekeepers” to your dream job.)

9.) Do you stay engaged with your alumni? (Again, grad school is an investment so make sure you choose one that will “pay dividends” long after you’ve graduated.)
Your relationship with the VCU Brandcenter doesn’t end when you graduate. Being that we are a small, elite program, we stay in close touch with our alums. And, our alums stay in close touch with each other helping one another interview, network, etc. We keep a job postings board for our alums so they have access to the newest job openings from agencies and companies all over the world. We also feature the work our alums are doing and we share their work and accolades with our industry contacts.  Check out a few of these recent projects from our alums.

10.) Why do so many Brandcenter alums end up marrying each other? 
I have no idea but it’s one of my favorite “statistics” about our students/alums. We always joke that we should make our recruiting strategy something like, “Come to the Brandcenter to get an amazing portfolio and job + find your soulmate.” 





Makinads is an amazing resource so keep reading what these guys have to say. You may also want to check out books like Pick Me (by Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin) and Hey Whipple, Squeeze This (by Luke Sullivan) and Breaking In: How to Build a Portfolio that Will Get You Hired (by Burks Spencer.) Good luck to all of you as you pursue careers in advertising! Hopefully, I’ll see some of you at the VCU Brandcenter one day!

Ashley Sommardahl
VCU Brandcenter / Director of Student Affairs and Industry Outreach / 804-827-8874 direct / 103 S. Jefferson Street, Richmond, VA 23284

So you really think it would be cool to live in California?

“Why do you love her?”
“Because she lives in my town.” 

This is one of those posts that makes me worry I’m going to come off as some cranky old coot. But I still think it’s good advice.

If you’re interviewing with an agency, and the person asks you what you’re looking for, as in like a job, or what you’re seeking in life, that’s really another way of asking “why do you want to come work at our agency?” So please don’t let your first answer be, “I really want to live in California.”

That may be true. California has its perks. But there are 1400 ad agencies in California. There are 26,000 creative companies. And there are 12.2 million available jobs, not including couch surfing. So answering that you want to move to California, while it’s a fine lifestyle choice, isn’t what your interviewer wants to hear. It’s one step above a shrug and a mumbled “Dunno.”

Maybe say something work related, for starters. You’re looking to go to a place that does amazing creative? You want to learn and grow? You just want to make cool shit? That at least narrows it down a little. It implies something about the why you and the agency you’re talking to are a good match beyond its physical location.

Job Search Plan of Attack


Agencies don’t hire between Thanksgiving and New Years. That’s a fact that holds so true that I tell my students who graduate in early December to just chill, get their portfolio together, enjoy the holidays, refresh, and plan to hit the ground running in January.

Over the years, we’ve written quite a bit about various aspects of the job search. I thought it might be helpful to compile some of those posts here in some sort of order. So, as you get ready to jump into the job search, here are some things to keep in mind:

1) Portfolio. Obvious, right? But just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean your portfolio is finished. Your portfolio is NEVER finished. Get your work together. Get your website polished. And get ready to keep working on it until you retire. Here are some questions you can ask about your portfolio.

1b) Presentation. Your website speaks for itself. The moment it loads in my browser window, it says something about you. There are plenty of very simple portfolio-hosting sites that are easy enough my mother could set up a professional-looking portfolio in a day. DO NOT let your site’s appearance kill your chances before anyone sees your book. This goes for real-world opportunities too. If you have someone coming into school to look at portfolios or are going to a portfolio review of any kind, be professional about it. It’s an opportunity to make an impression. Don’t bring a stack of foam-core boards in a plastic grocery bag (I’ve had it happen before).

2) Contacting agencies. Have your list. Use your connections (friends, alumni, LinkedIn). Start sending out emails or making calls. Here’s a post about writing down your five criteria to help you narrow down your agency search, a few examples of emails and followups, and another on what not to say in your email.

3) The interview. Know what you’re looking for. When someone comes in to show their book to me, I always ask first: “What are you looking for?” As in, do you want me to comment on everything in your book? Are you looking for “what to keep in my book and what to take out?” Do you want our agency to hire you? It might seem obvious if you’re sitting in someone’s office showing your book, but it’s not. Be clear about what you’re looking for. And have an opinion on work in your book. I ask questions about pieces I like. I often ask the person I’m interviewing what they like best, because I want to know what kind of work they like to do most. And know what questions you want to ask about the agency. Here’s a good starter list.

4) The followup. When you’re interviewing, write down the names of the people you talk to. Ask them each for a business card. And then send a thank-you note afterward. It can be a card, which is nice, or simply an email. It shows the person appreciation for the time they spent with you and, more importantly, is another opportunity to connect with them.

5) The negotiation. If you’re a student, there shouldn’t be much negotiation, really. Getting into a good agency where you can learn and grow and do good work is invaluable coming out of school. So whether you making $40k or $50k a year isn’t as important as the kind of work you’ll be doing. I know that $10k sounds like a ton when you have school loans, etc., but going to a place where you make less but have the opportunity to build a great book will pay off multiple times over in the long run.

Finally, here’s a post Greg did about the timeline of the whole process.

Good luck in your search.

Will I Have a Yoda?



When I started my career at Leo Burnett, I was fortunate to be assigned a great mentor. At Burnett, they called the mentors Yodas. My mentor, Dave, has a voice that sounds a little like Yoda, so that was a bonus (You can hear him in this spot for Heinz ketchup).

http://www.tvspots.tv/player/vPlayer.swf?f=http://www.tvspots.tv/player/vConfig_embed.php?vkey=85d172f55b6f38a40b09

Greg wrote awhile back about The Mentor Effect. And as a part of Ad Age’s series on the best places to work, they ran this piece by Celeste Gudas the other day. In it, she points out how important mentors are to creating a great place to work. She also points out that the more senior person can learn from the junior person, which is important.

So as you’re looking for a job, maybe add to your list of questions, “Will I have a mentor? Who will it be?” The agency might not assign someone officially. If they don’t, see if you can find an unofficial mentor.