Portfolio Night at DDB. So, you want to be in creative?

May 9, 2008

I just returned from my stint at Portfolio Night –the 6th annual meet and critique for advertising students set up by IHaveAnIdea. In a format not unlike speed dating, old “pros” like myself review aspiring creative persons and their books, one after another, for about three hours. The event takes place every year in various cities around the world. For the second year in a row DDB served as host in Chicago.

First: Kudos to DDB.

Hosting Portfolio Night is a costly, time-consuming distraction for a busy ad agency -especially one that has weathered such difficult times. As with a lot of Chicago agencies, business has not been booming. More devastatingly, just months ago, DDB’s Chief Creative Officer, Paul Tilley committed suicide. Last year, that same man stood before a similar group welcoming us to Portfolio Night.

How easy it would have been for DDB to beg off. Justifiable too. But the show must go on. In the end it was affirming seeing all these young faces, their lives still in front of them. Yes, one creative light had gone out. But now countless others were looking for a spark.

Unfortunate then, the mean-spiritedness I discovered online. One blogger deemed Portfolio Night an excuse for leering, lechery and drinking. Not true. Not fair. Not good. If any cynics were present, DDB’s Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, Bob Scarpelli offered simple marching orders. In a video address, he asked we professionals to remember who’d helped us when we were green and vulnerable.

On a more professional note, I have to comment on the work. Not so much on the quality (a mixed bag) but on the content itself. Of the eight people I reviewed, I saw virtually no integrated campaigns. Just about every portfolio consisted of posters and print ads. One or two had a banner ad or a piece of guerrilla work. But I saw no DM, promotional work or interactive materials. None. Where were the tricked out microsites and new media? Where was the “branded content” and multimedia designs? Hell, where was the TV?

2008 and these were the newest generation of adults -the so-called “millennials.”  Yet, in some cases, I might as well have been looking at turn-of-the-century circus posters! Now I happen to love print and posters. But I’m old school. For me, that’s familiar media. That’s what my spec book looked like. Indeed, I dug into these beginners with gusto: This is a good headline. Did you try putting the product here? And so on…

It wasn’t until the cab ride home I realized how old-fashioned their books were. Made me smile. If, according to just about everyone, the advertising business is in the midst of a sea change then why wasn’t it evident in any of the books I looked at? It’s easy (though often incorrect) to point at big agencies and say we don’t get it. What about the Facebook generation? If they don’t get it, who does?




3 Responses to “Portfolio Night at DDB. So, you want to be in creative?”

  1. Ali from Illinois said

    I was at the portfolio night. Though I didn’t get to share my book with you I thought the whole thing was pretty cool. I hadn’t realized the bit about DDB’s creative director. Sad. But the event seemed like a good thing, something everybody could be proud of.

  2. Victor Overall said

    Turn of the century circus posters? i guess that means the books belonged to clowns!

  3. Gymkata said

    I was a “judge” at a Portfolio night this year. It was nice to be there, but very disapponting in terms of who showed up. I mostly got a bunch of designers who come from community colleges and fly-by-night design schools. It amazes me that these schools stay in business when they are graduating kids who clearly will not have competitive books. Their knowledge about the present and future of the industry was shocking. Very few of them had even explored the idea of perhaps learning something about the Web. On top of that, i only met with two ad school students/graduates, which is sad considering there is a big and famous ad school in the city. But still, it was a nice event and gave me practice in giving delicate criticism.

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