Thursday, December 17, 2009

Looking at portfolios.

Yesterday a writer/creative director's book came across my desktop. The work of a person who's worked at a lot of the small creative places. Places with weird names. Places named after fruits or amphibians or adjectives or numerals.

I was told that certain senior people in the agency liked this guy. Would I like to meet him? I started clicking through the work.

Yes, I am old-fashioned. But when I look at a book, I look first at print. It is the most "naked" of media. Your idea needs to be synthesized to a simple core. It needs to be clear, telegraphic. Further, perhaps more than any other media, print is somewhat solo. You don't have a team of collaborators--directors, music guys, special effects and layers of creative input. It's usually just you and your partner when it comes to print.

This particular creative person had about ten print ads in his book. And about twenty words of copy. Maybe thirty.

I'm a fairly smart guy, but an ad that pictures, say, a kitchen table with a book on it and a small line of text has no stopping power. Yes, I'm sure your visual solution is brilliant, scandalous even, but I don't have the time to decipher such things. I read magazines and newspapers for the articles that interest me and the writers I admire. Not to unravel the fearsomely baroque intricacies of your visual puzzles.

Then it occurred to me. The audience for every ad in this portfolio wasn't people who buy products and services. The audience was the people who buy creative people. The ads
weren't meant to sell anything but the person who created them.

When I was in high school I played on the varsity baseball team. There was a guy on the team a grade ahead of me called Joe Tartaglia. Tartaglia had a picture book batting stance and swing. If Mickey Mantle dropped by our playing field and saw Tartaglia swing, he'd have taken notes.

The thing was, Tartaglia never adjusted his swing to the pitch. He would swing at the same level no matter where the pitch was. I think Tartaglia went 0 for April, 1 for May and 0 for June. In other words, beautiful swing and all, he stunk.

Now the creator of the portfolio I was writing about won his passel of awards. (He had a beautiful swing.) But he never sold anything. (He never hit the ball.)

It's a sham. And a shame that we as an industry denigrate ourselves by lauding such pretenders.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you George. I don't have time to decipher these visual ads. Years ago, an art director I knew who went on to become famous told me he was sick of copywriters being the lead person of a creative team. He went on to lead the way with these all visual ads. I don't understand most of them, but he's rich and has a great job and I'm a struggling freelancer. So we may be right, but we're also wrong.

james said...

George, you couldn't be righter. I used to flip through the One Show book and stop at every page or so with a gasp and an all-consuming desire to maybe one day be able to write something as good. Now I don't get that feeling until about page 68, after I've stared at 67 pages of labyrinthine executions and indecipherable puzzles.

jeaves said...

Funny how art college grads fill their portfolio with visual stories of how they think a client would want something, if they had clients. Years later their portfolios are basically the same but with the disclaimer that the ads should have been used, but the clients were stupid and didn't get it.
Is there portfolios of actual work done out there?

Tore Claesson said...

What happened to we sell or else? Sure, today we don't sell, we converse. But if we don't buy something somewhere in the conversation it's all meaningless. The focus on awards have created a sub-world within the world of advertising.
Bateys, the once great ad agency in Singapore, who more or less created Singapore Airlines, with the iconic Singapore Girl representing the service level of the airline at the core, didn't send in to awards. It wasn't because their work was bad. It was often enough very strong. And effective. Singapore Airlines was their key client and helped build the agency. Everybody admired Singapore Airlines.
And thought very highly of the work. Even so, I don't think the work would have won many awards if they had sent it in. But nobody questioned the creative strength of Bateys.

Health Information said...

This is one of the reasons why plenty of writers like us don't want to work on a company but a freelancer only.

sheriffshooter said...

I'm a newcomer, and something like this happened to me. The guy scrutinizing my work said my portfolio was out to please creative directors. I agreed with him. Because when I'd shown the guys before him my functional work, I was told my creatives didn't "jump off the page." Criticism is harder to swallow when you're unemployed.

wyatt said...

the best approach is to simply do what you do and do it better than anybody else. I have never tried to impress anyone with my work and I have stayed employed steadily every year I have been in advertising. to that point, I will add that I hate advertising and all it represents as we move from an industrial society of thinkers and creators to a consumer society of thoughtless lemmings, so hey, if someone hates your work, there is probably a very good compliment in there somewhere. (unless your work is like that described in this entry, in which case you are a ween-bag and should really re-tune your course.)