For an art director, your portfolio is your meal ticket to future work. More so than the traditional resume, a well-curated art director portfolio is what potential clients and hiring managers are really paying attention to. And in our digital age driven by visual content, the industry has become increasingly competitive, even more so considering that the competition for an art direction gig can come from around the globe.
Gabriela Williams is a Recruiter for Creative Circle, one of the country’s largest and most successful creative recruitment firms. Her position allows her the opportunity to see both sides of the coin, having both firsthand knowledge of the talent available in the market but also understanding the current needs of a wide spectrum of clients. With her unique expertise, she shares a few tips on how to put your best foot forward when crafting your art director portfolio, crafting a branding strategy and searching for new work.
Understand The Value Of Your Social Media
The way that you present yourself to potential clients doesn’t start and stop with your art director portfolio. In today’s image obsessed digital world, the content uploaded to visual social media platforms like Instagram is just as relevant to potential clients as the professional work you’ve curated in your portfolio, and thus, are often judged with the same sets of criteria. It is important to make strong stylistic decisions from the beginning and establish a set of curating rules to guide your social media activity. Williams emphasizes that the works posted on your social media should be of the same caliber as professionally produced work.
“At the start, it is very important to decide whether you are going to separate your personal and professional social media. Either decision is perfectly ok. But if you decide not to separate the two, you are going to have to crank up the curation because you are exposing a different dimension of yourself, not just as a creative professional and potential employee, but as an individual,” Williams says. “Regardless of the choice, all uploaded content needs to be as good as the final produced work you’d present to a client.”
In this highly visual world, change is a constant when it comes to trends in content creation. The typical art director, content creator and visual stylist often feels an immense pressure to keep up. The digital age presents a unique and new set of challenges, as the globalized nature of visual content means not just understanding what is going on in your local market, but keeping a grasp of global trends as well. It’s important to demonstrate to clients that even if you began your career 15 years ago, your current work isn’t aged. Williams suggests focusing on your industry of choice and studying it carefully.
“There are constantly new people coming into the industry, and clients are going to go with people who produce relevant work. So you have to ask yourself: do you know the problems that your clients are hiring you to deal with? Do you understand the challenges of the industry? What direction is the industry headed? Who are the innovators? If you can’t answer those questions, you’re already behind,” says Williams. “How can you know what to put in your book if you don’t have a pulse on what is going on out there? It’s about being curious and having the tenacity to constantly learn and use the right tools. If you want to style high-end fashion campaigns, you need to be studying Vogue and also looking at what is happening across Europe and Asia. If you want to work in advertising, you need to be reading Ad Age.”
Stalk, Take Note, Imitate
Everyone has that one dream client that’s posted up on a pedestal. If you are just starting out or trying to transition from one niche to another, those dream gigs can often feel out of reach. But the public nature of being a content creator provides an invaluable tool—being able to follow the people you’d like to work with, observe and learn their aesthetic and begin incorporating those cues into your own work.
“It is important to understand who your consumer is. I am a firm believer in stalking who you want to work with. You should be reading, you should be setting alerts, you should be tracking trends and taking note of what those people are producing,” Williams says. “If you want to work for someone like Nylon, for example, and style shoots for their editorial, then you need to be producing work that looks like it was produced with the exact same level of quality you’d produce for a magazine like Nylon, both on your social media or in professionally produced projects.”
Even when you do not have produced work that mirrors that of your dream clients, Williams asserts that the packaging goes a long way.
“Take high-end fashion as an example. If you are competing against candidates that are already doing heavy editorial and high-end fashion campaigns, while you’re working with indie brands or small start ups, it’s about curating that work to show your creative vision and create an overall package that makes you a strong competitor to someone who may have already worked for Dior or Alexander Wang. Just because someone works with small Brooklyn firms doesn’t mean that they can’t create a beautiful art director portfolio that stacks up against the competition.”
Design Your Art Director Portfolio
According to Williams, your art director portfolio is what potential clients and hiring managers are really paying attention to, with the traditional resume taking the backseat as supplementary information. “Your portfolio is your identity,” she asserts. She adds that there is no single template that works better than another; an art director portfolio could showcase four works or ten, but the most important thing is to present your best self.
“When you are curating your portfolio, you have to ask yourself honestly, is this as good as it is going to get? Because countless times, we see candidates who send something out and then want to tweak and send something new. You have to be able to curate, finish it and take ownership of it,” she says.
Likewise, Williams doesn’t believe in creating a new portfolio for every potential client. “Sending along supplemental information is better,” she explains, “because your portfolio should already be curated and representative of you. The portfolio should be telling a narrative and showcasing pieces that are your best work. If you are going after a specific job and have a project that isn’t in your art director portfolio but is the right piece to showcase that you can do that job, supplement your portfolio,” she says. “It is good to let people know you have put a special entry aside from your portfolio to demonstrate why you’d be good at that specific job because you will be calling attention to those specific capabilities while also demonstrating your interest.”
Although the visual approach will vary from one person to the next, Williams points out three characteristics that all portfolios need to point out you took a holistic approach to creating a narrative.
“Every project that you showcase in your portfolio needs to demonstrate three things. First, you need to explain what the challenge and end goals were that you were hired to tackle. Secondly, what was your contribution? What were the ideas that you brought to the table? Finally, what was the impact? Were the goals met? This needs to be articulated for hiring managers,” Williams says. “The worst case scenario is that whoever is reviewing your portfolio is left with questions unanswered, and with so many candidates, it’s easy for them to not care enough to ask because someone else did provide the answers.”
Williams stresses that the important part is taking ownership of the work being presented to the world, whether it’s on your social media channels or in your art director portfolio. “You always have to ask yourself before you put anything out there, is this work finished? Have I looked at it from all angles? Once you are confident that you’ve produced your best work, then put it out there. People recognize that confidence.”