Check out the work of Nick Worthington.
What do you look for in a student or junior portfolio? And what impresses you?
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What I’m really looking for in a book is original thinking. And I’m looking for people who could potentially come into the department and not replicate what everyone is doing. The most disappointing books are the ones where you know every idea in there could have been done by anyone in your creative department. So really they are bringing nothing new. If you’re just coming into the industry, you should be full of ideas, opinions, and points of view, which might not be practical. They might be completely outlandish, but they should communicate something fast, have a clear point of view, and do so in a way that is surprising.
The other thing is I want a depth of thinking. I’d say 90 percent of the books I look at have one really great thought. And then they have nine other campaigns which are kind of fine. And the books that really stand out are the ones with 10 really great thoughts. It’s really hard to do, but it is the thing that students wanting to get hired—not just wanting an internship—have to do. If they can do one great idea, they can do two, they can do three, they can do four; they just haven’t done them yet. I think a lot of students accept ordinary very quickly in the work that they show.
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I know we’re looking at the ideas, but one of the first things you need to learn in this industry is, “Don’t do what everybody else is doing.” Try not to work on the same briefs that everyone else is working on. So often the same briefs are given out and all the students in all the colleges are working on the same briefs. Do them for sure, to get your grades, but work on some other stuff. Because we do get bored.
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The resources and commitment from some students I’ve seen lately is phenomenal. We had one team who came out of college in the UK and they got in touch with a bunch of agencies around the world and said, “We’re going around the world for a year doing internships, and we think your agency is amazing so we’d love for your agency to be one of the ones we visit and we’re also visiting these others and we’ve already been to these.” Just the scale of ambition from them made them irresistible. They ended up being fantastic and went on to Wieden, Droga5, here, and ended up getting job offers from pretty much all of them.
So don’t play by the rules. Just work out what you want to do and how you might get there. Students always come and see us when the college course finishes, and they all show us their books at exactly the same time. If you’re smart, you’d forge those relationships while college is going on, and some students do that and they end up being the ones who get on fastest. But they don’t wait for the world to line itself up for them—they go out and organize it for themselves.
This is a wonderful business for young people to be in because it’s such a meritocracy. There really are no rules about how fast you can go. If you are bright and continually surprise people with great thinking, your trajectory through the business is going to be meteoric.
Do you have any other advice?
I had a friend in college and every time we went out he’d end up with a girl at the end of the night. And it happened again and again and again. And one time in a pub I asked him, “What’s your secret?” And he said, “Your problem is you ask out one girl a year…I ask 10 girls a night and 1 of them will say yes. Sometimes it’s the first and sometimes it’s the tenth. It would take you 10 years to be as successful as I am in one night.” And I didn’t apply that to the pursuit of women, but I applied it to my advertising portfolio. He was a 90 percent failure, but I assumed he was 100 percent brilliant. So if I have a book with 1 brilliant campaign in 10, people think I’m 10 percent brilliant. But if I want people to think I’m 100 percent brilliant, I just need to do 100 campaigns. And I can fail 90 percent of the time, but the creative director doesn’t need to know that. And that liberated me to not worry about failing. I stopped worrying about cracking every problem, and I just kept moving forward fast doing ads for anything I could find. And I went to see a couple of teams in London and they helped whittle it down to 30 and then 10 pieces eventually. And we put that book into the agency we really, really wanted to work in and we got a job. And it completely and utterly changed my career and my life. And I wasn’t any different. I was the same 90 percent failure. I just approached things differently.
Then, when you get a job and you have to solve problems, do 10 and then go see your creative director. And there will probably be one brilliant one in there. A lot of people stop and go, “Here’s an idea…that’s the one I thought of.”
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Solid stuff meaning more boring clients like a bank or a utility?
Yes. Be careful with things like extra big bubble gum or hair dye or grass that grows slower. It’s good to think of stuff for a bank or just something that no one’s thought of doing. But, really, creative directors just want to see ideas that they wouldn’t have thought of themselves. And starting with a problem they’ve never had to solve before is a good place to start.
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Do you have any other advice?
There’s a really interesting thing that happens with the brain: when you’re working on a particular problem and you’re stuck, you’re unlikely to solve that problem, but you’d probably solve a completely different problem. So if you’re trying to think of something for apples, you’re bound to think of something for bananas. And so you can forget apples, because no one needs to know that you didn’t solve that brief, and if you’ve got an amazing thought for bananas, do it for bananas.
You can change the client as a student.
As many times as you want. So work fast, and don’t worry about those gnarly problems that you didn’t manage to solve. Keep moving until you get thoughts that really excite you. We don’t need to know how many times you fail.
And the last thing I’d say is don’t give up. Because it is tough. And it’s easy to get despondent, and it’s the determined people who ultimately end up learning how to do it and get the furthest.