10 Tips for a Traditional Advertising Portfolio

In this increasingly digital world, online portfolios are replacing traditional "books" that advertising creatives take to interviews. But they are not dead. Not yet. Some people still like to look at physical samples, especially if you specialize in product packaging, direct mail, or anything else that a website doesn't do justice to. So, if you want to create a stunning traditional portfolio, follow these 10 steps.

Buy an Advertising Portfolio Case

You can find a standard black portfolio case at your local office supplies store or an art supply shop. You can also find a large selection online, even at stores like Amazon and ​eBay. They come in several different sizes but you won't need a very large one. Prices start at around $40 and can go up to several hundred dollars.

Purchase Extra Portfolio Pages

Your advertising portfolio case may come with some starter pages. These pages are protective plastic over a black page.

Go ahead and purchase a small pack of additional portfolio pages so you don't have to worry about running out. You never know when you'll need to add a new writing sample in a pinch, and you don't want to be without some extra pages.

Add Your Advertising Resume

Your advertising resume should be the first page of your portfolio. Even though you'll send your resume to potential employers or ​clients, you'll still want your resume in your portfolio. You could be one of the hundreds of prospects so it never hurts to reintroduce yourself and your qualifications with the first page of your portfolio.

Decide On Your Best Samples

Even if you don't have many samples to your credit, you'll need to pick out your best work for your portfolio. Don't be afraid of using rough comps, sketches, and other spec work.

Many times, creatives have a great project they've finished but the project is still in production and hasn't gone to print yet. You don't have that full-color brochure or that glossy print ad to put in your portfolio but you'll want to show off your copy so you can land the next assignment.

This is also a similar case for the budding creative who has no official samples to showcase at all. You can create SPEC ADS, which are ads you've created on your own. In other words, you can rewrite an ad for a major company with your own style, label it as a SPEC AD and industry pros automatically know you're showing your ability to write without you trying to mislead them into thinking you really reworked the branding of Nike, for example.

Choose the work that best shows your copywriting talent, even if it is simple text on a piece of paper. We'll dress it up in Step 6.

Create Divider Sections

Let's say you've got three TV commercials, four samples of print (both brochures and print ads) and three samples of website copy you want to include in your advertising portfolio. Create divider sections to help your work stand out and not get lost in the clutter.

In our example here, we would create a divider page with a heading for Commercials, one for Print and then another for Web (or Internet). Remember, copywriting is a creative talent so don't be afraid to get creative with your own portfolio.

Dig into your old magazines and cut out various pictures from ads. Arrange these so that your divider page appears like a collage.

This helps your sections stand out on their own and shows your creativity at the same time. It really helps your portfolio become more memorable, which is a huge plus when you're competing for a job or a client.

Dress Up Those Text Ads

Don't think your text ad isn't worth putting in your portfolio. You can dress up these ads and make them every bit as appealing as a full-color ad.

For copy you don't have in final "pretty" form, you can simply put at the top of your page, "In Production." For copy that is written as a SPEC AD, meaning you wrote the ad on your own to show your writing ability, title it "SPEC AD."

Remember, employers viewing your copywriting portfolio are looking at your ability to write. They're not hiring a graphic designer so don't try to pretend you are one by wasting all of your time designing a mock-up ad so that your copy looks more finalized. Even seasoned copywriters put their best work in their portfolio and that doesn't always mean they have the final printed version of the material so they use plain text on paper.

To dress up those plain text ads, print them on professional-quality paper. This is the same type of paper you would use to print a resume on.

To really make that text ad stand out, buy a decorative background paper and offset the two by about an inch.

Arrange Ads for Easy Access

Don't glue your brochure down to the portfolio page and then hide it behind the protective plastic. Be willing to cut into the portfolio page so that the person looking at your portfolio can have easy access to the materials. This means you may have a brochure flap sticking out of the protective plastic but your prospect can easily see your work.

Your portfolio pages are also designed to protect your work. The last thing you want is a prospect wanting a closer look, so they start trying to feel the protective plastic back to get their hands on your materials.

Change Your Advertising Portfolio

Never be afraid to change your advertising portfolio's pages to a client or employer's specific needs. If you're interviewing for an agency position that exclusively handles direct mail, load your portfolio up with direct mail samples. A hodgepodge of samples won't do you as much good as the types of materials the agency specializes in.

Same goes for freelancing clients who need something specific. Your portfolio is your calling card and it will change with you and your prospect's needs.

Take Extra Resumes

Yes, you're in the employer's office because he or she looked at your resume and called you in for an interview. As mentioned before, you could be one of the hundreds of people going after the same advertising job.

Stuff some extra copies of your resume in the back flap of your portfolio case. Now you've got the first page of your portfolio with your resume as described in Step 3 and you can also hand a copy of your resume to the prospect for them to keep. This is especially handy in interviews when the employer or client just can't seem to find your resume.

Never Leave Your Portfolio

"It's the best portfolio I've ever seen! I just have to show it to my business partner."

What a great compliment. But never, ever leave your portfolio no matter how much you want the position.

Once your portfolio is out of your hands, you have no idea how it's going to be handled. Portfolio cases can easily get damaged and even lost in an office. You don't want your portfolio to end up stuffed in someone's inbox with papers all over it while it also serves as a coaster for morning coffee. And, agencies make copies of ads they like. It's a hard fact. 

You have a couple of options so you don't offend anyone. You can say you would love to schedule another appointment to show your portfolio. Or you can even say you'll be happy to fax over a copy of your portfolio, which is basically a black and white copy of all of the materials you've shown in your portfolio.