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Nine Portfolio Night Tips You’re Not Gonna Hear From The Creative Directors

Portfolio Night — the world’s largest advertising portfolio review — takes place on Wednesday, May 21st 2014,  in cities across the globe. On this single evening, thousands of aspiring Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons will have a chance to meet some of the top creative directors in the world, to gain wisdom and just maybe get their careers off to a rousing start. While the advice being doled out by the creative directors at PN is important, there are some things you might not know about the Portfolio Night experience unless you’ve been through it before. Thankfully Brett McKenzie is here to give you all a little inside info. Brett, pictured above, is Content Producer at the Art Directors Club, and has been involved in organizing the event every year since its inception in 2003. He has attended Portfolio Night in a record seven different cities (Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montreal and New York) and has seen it all, from a near fistfight between two guys over getting to meet a particular CD, to portfolios literally being set on fire.


The following are nine insightful tidbits that could only come from a Portfolio Night veteran.  

Study hard.

Having your book ready for Portfolio Night is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many young creatives skimp on getting ready to meet creative directors. They fail to do any research on the participating CDs and agencies. We’re not saying you need an encyclopedic knowledge on everything in the industry, but it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the people you want to impress.

It’s all about timing.

Your scheduled sessions with the creative directors are 15–20 minutes each. That’s somewhere between the blink of an eye and an eternity, depending on how you get along with a particular creative director. Regardless, you should rehearse your pacing beforehand, so that you’re neither scrambling to rush through an overloaded portfolio nor twiddling your thumbs with nothing to say after a fast review. Hint: are the ideas in your book easy to understand? The more time you have to spend explaining yourself, the less time you’ll have for anything else.

No room for shrinking violets.

Portfolio Night is one event where it doesn’t pay to be overly timid. I’ve seen many young creatives turn into wallflowers, afraid to approach an admired creative director until he or she is reaching for their jacket, ready to head on home, if even that. Don’t worry, most CDs don’t bite, and the ones that do have had their rabies shots.

A word to the extroverted.

Conversely, there’s a fine line between being outgoing and being a pushy jerk. Literally elbowing others out of the way to meet a particular creative director, chasing a CD into the washroom to put your book in his face while he uses the urinal, interrupting a conversation a CD is having with another creative to say “WHEN YOU’RE FINISHED WITH HER, I’M NEXT!” All have happened before, and all are not cool.

The best CD for you might not be the one you’re waiting on.

Yes, we understand, it’s your destiny to work at XYZ, and if their creative director would only see your book, all would be right with the world. But while you stand there throughout overtime with that laser-like focus, you’re ignoring lots of other CDs and opportunities to shine. One of them might hold the key to landing at XYZ in the future, or discovering an all-new dream agency.

A tip on tipsiness.

Most Portfolio Night cities offer refreshments of an alcoholic nature. A little liquid courage, if you will. “Drink responsibly” is much more than a warning to not get behind the wheel at the end of the night. It also means to ensure you don’t become the slurring, stumbling person that everybody ridicules. This rule also applies to creative directors.

Pack your utility belt.

You can never have enough business cards, pens, pads, gum or copies of your resume. You might not need it all, but you’ll be kicking yourself if you run out.

Get by with a little help from new friends.

Portfolio Night is not only a great opportunity to get face time with your favorite CDs. It’s also a chance to meet dozens of people much like yourself: creative, passionate and eager to make an impact in this crazy business. Your paths are likely to cross again over the years, so it makes sense to become friends now. Who knows where it’ll lead?

A few kind words.

While it goes without saying that you should be gracious and say thanks the CDs you meet for their time, don’t forget to save a little bit of that appreciation for the City Hosts, the staff and volunteers, the Global Partner and the sponsors. It might seem like a whirlwind of an evening, over before you know it, but nearly a full year went into making Portfolio Night happen. So if you meet ‘em at PN, just say a little thanks. It’ll go a long way.  Questions? Shoot Brett an email and he’ll try to help.