Monday, November 5, 2018

Maybe The Most Important Thing You'll EVER Read While Putting Your Portfolio Together.

A View From An AdGuy Number 300: Maybe The Most Important Thing You'll EVER Read While Putting Your Portfolio Together.

Originally posted this February 19th, 2011 (and was my 300th Blog Posting) to assist advertising students to better understand what they need to consider to 'build' a better portfolio. To date this post has had over 4,706 visits.  Enjoy!

What better way to celebrate my 300th Blog Posting then to feature a piece from someone I highly respect and admire. Suzanne Pope. Her blog Ad Teachings" is a must follow and can be found on Twitter ad @SuzannePope.

Have you ever read something or come across an article and said to yourself, "damn it, I wish I had written that".

Well here is one of those pieces and it's a story I have told (literally this exact story) a hundred times over the years during both my advertising and teaching careers. But after reading the thoughts and the version that Suzanne Pope a Creative Director at john st. Toronto published on her blog "Ad Teachings", I felt it was something very important to also share here for the future AdLanders putting their portfolios together and to the industry at-large.

Throughout her career she has been dedicate to creating brilliant and innovative communication messages for clients but in recent years she has taught copywriting at Humber College and has been a regular at the various Portfolio Review Nights. Suzanne has also contributed articles to to help in the development of better "creative" idea building.  From those writings she recently launched her blog where she proudly boasts:  


Trust me Suzanne, thus far, mission accomplished and the added bonus... It’s just like school, minus the tuition and text book costs.

I have had the privilege and honor of meeting Suzanne a number of years ago at various industry events and quickly we developed a mutual respect for the development of future "Ad Landers". I have described Suzanne as inspirational, dedicated but most important passionate to the craft of copywriting. Hardly enough to describe what Suzanne brings to her engagement with young aspiring creative thinkers.

There isn't a time that Suzanne wont find time to help a young AdLander with a review of a portfolio or provide information on career direction. Her honesty is not lost, most leave after meeting Suzanne more inspired not only to do better, but are inspired to improve their craft. Her passion is infectious.
As an educator I am proud to have developed a professional and personal relationship with her, and I am honored to call Suzanne an colleague in the development of young talent.

Thank you Suzanne for this great piece, but also for your commitment to future AdLanders by posting inspiring content on your Blog.

Originally published on Suzanne Pope's blog "Ad Teachings"


A number of years ago, I had an advertising student whose thirst for success far outstripped the quality of her work.  I think her work would have improved if she had been willing to listen to me or her other instructors, but that never happened. If I gave her 70% on an ad, she would become annoyed and say that it deserved 80%. I started giving her 72% or something just to avoid the arguments, but my explicit message to her never changed: Unless the quality of your ads improves, you will have a very hard time getting hired.
I don’t know what became of this woman, because I’ve never heard from her since. But I did hear through the grapevine that she ended up being vocally bitter about the instruction she had received from me and my colleagues. Her complaint, surprisingly, was that we ought to have graded her more harshly.  The complaint developed when this woman started taking her portfolio around to interviews.  She heard none of the effusive praise she had expected. Instead, creative directors ripped her book to shreds. Thus, she decided, her instructors were to blame for having failed to prepare her for the tough standards that awaited her in the real world.

If this story has you shaking your head in disbelief, you’re probably okay. You’re probably a very good student, at least in terms of reacting to bad news about your ads. You are open to the possibility that your instructors are right, and that you need to go back and work a little harder. But I have observed that there’s a significant minority of students who cannot tolerate the suggestion that their talent is anything less than exceptional. When their work is criticized, they scarcely seem to hear. It is as if they are listening instead to the fanfare they imagine will play when the team of unicorns pulls their chariot through the front door of Wieden+Kennedy.

If you’re not sure whether you’re vulnerable to this attitudinal threat, there’s one simple question that will reveal all: Have you ever responded to a disappointing mark by questioning the credentials of your instructors? A disgruntled student might say that one professor hasn’t worked in an agency for years, or that another never won any important awards. These comments might be true, but it doesn’t matter, because they actually have nothing to do with the instructors at all. They are actually an expression of the student’s desperate hope that creative directors will judge his work more favourably than his instructors did. But I can tell you that this never happens. I have never seen student work get praised by a creative director after being panned by an instructor. If you are holding on to this faint hope, the time has come to unhitch your unicorns, smack them on the hindquarters and dry your tears as they gallop off into the hills.

Most instructors will be kind in their criticisms. This is because applying professional standards to students isn’t helpful, any more than it would be helpful for a piano teacher to apply professional standards of musicianship to a twelve-year-old. Your instructors are focusing on developing your discernment as an advertising person, to help you build your potential through an understanding of what is or isn’t a good advertising idea. And, actually, that is all that most creative directors are looking for. There’s a famous ad person I know who got his first job on the strength of the one decent idea in his book.  That’s all.  The rest of his book was garbage, but that one good ad let the creative director know that the guy was trainable. And trainability isn’t just about what you show in your book. It’s also about what you show in your attitude.

Advertising is a business that humbles all of us sooner or later.  You will be much happier, personally and professionally, if you choose to humble yourself right now.
© 2011 Suzanne Pope -

Other excellent articles of interest by Suzanne Pope every Student of Advertising should read:

The Top Ten Mistakes In Portfolio Development 

An Inconvenient Truth For Copywriters: How To Write Headlines And Why Your Career Depends On It

Creative Bites: Suzanne Pope Finish this sentence: “Kids these days…” 

How to Train Ideas to Come When They’re Called:  

Part One    

Part Two   

Part Three


Mark Trueblood said...

I believe that creatives are done a great disservice when they're not critiqued honestly. This is true for newbies and for the more experienced.

Of course that does not justify raging a***oles, though our business has more than a few of those too.

I deliver straightforward critiques, but I try to do it with a smile.

On another issue, it seems to me there are entire college programs and portfolio schools that are set up to be milquetoast ad factories. I've seen several books in the past few years from the expensive ad schools that were really poor. Not just conceptually, but also in terms of craft and even spelling & grammar. It's hard to know whether it was just that student, or the whole program. Either way it makes the program look bad.

Anthony Kalamut said...

Thank you Mark for you comments.

Honesty is the best policy. I am a "Corn Flakes" kinda guy vs "Frosted Flakes". No sugar coating.

I disagree with the "milquetoast ad factories" but only somewhat.

Yes, some have mislead and even nurture a false sense of reality to its students while riding on past success stories and filling coffers with fees that are questionable. On the other hand, there are a few programs that are highly engaged with industry and are trying to raise the standards on all levels... conceptually, craft and detail.

I gather you enjoyed the piece.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to post a comment.

Peace and respect,

Souki said...

Hey Anthony, this was a great post. I went ahead and read and reread all the recommended articles here and then some. I've met Suzanne Pope once as well and she gave me great advice. Always inspiring Anthony. Thanks.

matthewbrodie said...

As a student, I think some teachers are so afraid of those student feedback forms that they get beaten down into being nice.

I think savvy students, however, quickly develop a way of evaluating individual teacher feedback. I.e. a "Great job" from teacher A really means "You're on par"—while "Great job" from teach B really means "Great job". Then you adjust your behaviour accordingly.

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