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Making your Digital Portfolio Great by Creative Director Tim Brunelle


The talented and insightful strategist Faris Yakob tells us “Talent Imitates, Genius Steals” (which is itself a theft from Picasso or the poet Eliot or even Oscar Wilde).

So, after thinking about how creatives can improve their digital portfolios, demonstrate an understanding of new platforms and otherwise “Make Your Digital Portfolio Great,” (so you can get hired doing work you love) — I decided to steal from myself. Here are four ideas related to starting a career that I’ve blogged about and taught over the past two decades. I think they’re still very relevant today.

1. Be on Fire

No one else will ever invest as much passion and energy in your ideas as you.
No one will sell your ideas as hard as you.
No one will care about the arc of your career as much as you.
The time to be on fire is right now.

Wait, you ask — what does this mean for my portfolio? My networking strategy? My next interview?

It means enthusiasm counts for a lot (witness Mr. Trump). It means no one is going to sell you to your first agency as well as you. So get to it. Now. Publish your portfolio. Now. Spend a few hours on LinkedIn doing research. Now. And if you do have that first gig, spend the free time you have that the married-with-kids-creatives do not have churning out more ideas than them. This is how you win.

2. (ABC) Always Be Curious

In just 10 short years a creative person could be at the pinnacle of their career, highly lauded and lured into running a big account or even an agency. It happens. But mostly, it does not happen. Mostly, creative people fall asleep. They land some place and get tired. They stop thinking about what’s next. If you want to be appealing enough to get hired ahead of other people your age, demonstrate two things: 1) You know more about a wide swath of culture — and how to influence that culture — than anyone, because you are curious. 2) Stay that way.

3. Be in Beta

I’m on Peach. You? Granted, I think it’ll fail in about week. But you never know and that’s the point. Plenty of people bet against Facebook. So if you’re a modern creative person fluent in digital, you ought to allocate time and attention to the beta platforms and ideas. Have an account, and a point of view. Because what if your boss asks you? What if your client asks you? I expect the younger people in the ad business, being new, to be attuned to everything else that’s new. That’s part of your job being an ideas person.

4. Be Contextual

As an entry-level creative person, you’ll likely be expected to deliver all manner of “digital” ideas. But that can be a trap. For example, Peach is a new thing, but its newness alone isn’t enough. In fact, being new is a risk. Same story with Snapchat if you’re a marketer. What I’m getting at is this: If you’re tasked with bringing “digital” ideas to an assignment — make sure your newfangled connection strategy or idea isn’t just “We’ll be on Peach/Snapchat!” Don’t just say the obvious and expect people to reward you. They won’t. Mostly because they don’t get it. And what they don’t get is the contextual framework you didn’t communicate. The biggest challenge idea people face today is context. So, start with your assignment’s target audience — what aspect of their behavior is salient to changing their behavior? And how does your idea exploit their behavior? Then tell us about the new platform’s relevance to the target audience. Tell us how your idea leverages the new platform in a compelling way that’s out of the ordinary. And finally, how you’ll influence the target’s use of the platform in a dramatic way to effect a change in their behavior. Tricky stuff. Worth your time to think about.

5. Be Nice and Keep the Business Cards

Relationships are more important than ideas. Years from now, the people you entered the business with will be your collaborators and clients. You’ll create ideas together because you have a relationship. So take the time to make and maintain connections early on. Nurture them. Play the long game. And on that note, let’s connect. You might be my boss someday.

* * *

Tim Brunelle is a Creative Director at BBDO Minneapolis. For six years he ran his own agency, Hello Viking. Before that was the head of interactive at Carmichael Lynch. Tim has worked at Crispin Porter Bogusky, Team Detroit, Heater Easdon, TBWA and spent eight years at Arnold (Boston) helping lead VW’s “Drivers wanted” campaign. Tim was on the faculty at Emerson College and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He’s lectured at B.U., St. Thomas and the U of M, as well as at numerous industry events. Tim’s writing and creative direction have been awarded the One Show Interactive Best of Show, several Gold Pencils and was recognized by the One Club as a hallmark of “The First Decade of Interactive Advertising.” Other awards include the Grand Clio, Cannes Grand Prix, the Grand Andy, London International Advertising Awards Grand Prize for Websites, D&AD Featured, AICP Finalist and inclusion in three Communication Arts Interactive Annuals.

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