Quality > quantity. Remember that.
Your portfolio is an honored place, a place where only your absolute best work resides. It is hallowed ground — the Valhalla for your creative, a place where your greatest ideas are gathered, waiting for that moment when you will call upon them to do battle for you, either in a job or client search.
There’s no place for weak or average creative in your portfolio. It is home to only your most elite ideas and executions.
Yeah, I'm laying it on thick.
(Okay, right here I want to clearly state, for those who cringe every time they hear the term "creative," that when I refer to "creative" I am talking about work that has a strong message also. I believe our work has to be both engaging and smart. Let the hate go — breathe.)
However, it doesn't mean that I'm not serious about what I am saying — your portfolio is you at your best. (Please note that I did not use the words "should be." I used the word "is" for a purpose.)
"But if it is only my best work, then it will not be that many pieces!" you say.
I say, "GREAT!!"
Disclaimer time: I know that not every piece in your book can be great, but the majority of the pieces need to be of the same level.
I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in portfolio reviews during the hiring process and heard someone say, "This person has some great ideas, but he or she can't recognize the good from the great." You might think that isn't too bad a comment, but it is deeper than many realize.
If you can't weed out the "weak sisters" in your book, how can we trust you not to waste our time or the clients' time by constantly presenting ideas that should never see the light of day?
It speaks to your ability to recognize a truly great idea over a good or average idea. No one wants to work with a creative who thinks every idea they come up with is great. Your portfolio should reflect your strongest creative work, and it should demonstrate your ability to edit your own work.
More times than not, that person doesn't get the job.
I know this isn't easy to hear, but it is part of the reason many creatives never hear back from an agency that is hiring — the portfolio isn't mainly great work.
Some people believe that by surrounding a great idea with a bunch of average executions, it will help the great work stand out even more. That is only true if the level between good or great is marginal. If the gap is too large, the average or good ideas can pull down the impact of a truly great idea.
Pacing is important.
Here is the frustrating part. I cannot tell you how you should pace the work in your book, only you can. Your book has to tell the story of your creative prowess. You don’t want to look like a “one-hit wonder,” you want to show that you can sustain a high level of creative across several projects.
Don’t build your book in a vacuum. Ask those you can trust to be honest with you what they think of your book. Ask more than one person. The more you ask, the more you will start to notice a trend of which pieces are the strongest. This is a great opportunity to make contacts. Reach out to some of the creatives that you admire; there are a lot of good people in this industry willing to help, but you have to ask them.
The hardest thing for creatives to do is look at their own work and admit to themselves that certain pieces of work simply do not belong in their portfolios. Every piece is our baby, our children. It is hard but necessary for us to play favorites.
It is never easy, but it is part of becoming a better creative.
It isn’t enough to craft pieces for your book that deliver a strong and clear message. You must craft a portfolio that presents a clear and powerful message about the brand that is you.
Derek Walker is the janitor, secretary and mailroom person for his tiny agency, brown and browner advertising, out of the big city of Columbia, S.C. He is on Twitter as @dereklwalker.
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