Check out the work of Leslie Ali.
What do you look for in a student book? And what impresses you?
I look at what their interests are outside of advertising. I think it informs you more than the actual work itself, because students don’t yet have a body of work that defines them. And the briefs that come out of most ad schools are similar. So it is quite nice to see what they do and what their true passions and interests are outside of advertising.
How would someone show you that?
I’m seeing more and more of it. Maybe people just know that that’s my thing. But the books I’m seeing generally have a space for work and a space for play. You can usually find something that runs through both, and you get a sense of the person, their tonality, their sense of humor—something that allows you to believe that this person could be a great lateral thinker.
And do you also want to see a variety of styles and tones?
I need to see that the person can apply themselves to any brief. I have more faith in a young creative that can bring something special to a brand and give me a lateral solution to any problem; it’s about knowing that they have the capacity to think in many ways. It’s interesting that you find writers especially who get stuck in a certain tone of voice. Which is fine for a bit. Especially if they’re a genius at that. But they will be asked to explore other sides of themselves, and I just think it’s a good thing to do this early on rather than after 20 years in the business.
Can you think of any examples of portfolios that have done this successfully?
Lately I’ve seen a lot of people who are doing different things in the world to express themselves and make some sort of statement. A lot of people are working on their own business initiatives, or raising money for causes they believe in, or creating products that they really like. I think that is where advertising is going anyway: coming up with solutions to clients’ problems by creating interesting products and tools for their brands. I hired a team who had a project for the BBC they were pitching that was trying to create bridges between the classes in the UK. They were trying to pair up street rappers, or poets actually, with politicians. A way to let the politicians express what they thought was important in a different voice. It was just great.
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Getting into advertising is tougher now. Just be really clear about why you want to get in. Because it’s a rough ride, and you’ll have amazing, incredible highs, but equally you’ll have some really challenging lows. You really have to be in it for the ride and love it all.