7 Ways You Might Be Holding Back Your Advertising Portfolio
April 15, 2024

7 Ways You Might Be Holding Back Your Advertising Portfolio

Nihal Atawane

Hot take—I don’t think most creatives love their advertising portfolios. Actually, I don’t think you’re supposed to. In my experience, we’re all motivated by this weird sense of incompletion—a need to always do more, and do it better.

Over the last 13 years, I’ve made my share of super-cringey copywriting portfolios. I’ve constantly noodled with mine, even deleted everything and started over (at least three times). Here are the seven things I’ve learned that hold back a good creative portfolio. 

But first, a disclaimer:

This is one guy’s opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. If you’ve ever sought advice on your portfolio, you’ve received varying feedback, sometimes even contradictory. The best advice I can give you is to trust your gut. At the end of the day, you’re the only person you need to make proud.

  1. Your website’s not easy to navigate

Most people visiting your portfolio aren’t going to spend much time on it. I’d say anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. So the easier it is to navigate, the better. A good rule of thumb: it should take only 2 clicks to get to any part of your art direction and copywriting portfolio.

Skip the splash page, simplify the top nav, backlink your pages. 

  1. There’s TOO MUCH work

When you have 10+ projects listed, you run the risk of reviewers not looking at your best work. They might pick 2-3 randomly, and if it isn’t something you’re proud of, you’re making life tougher for yourself. 

  1. There’s TOO LITTLE work

Conversely, having less than 4 projects does not give a recruiter a complete picture of what you’re capable of, or how you think. If you want to showcase your range, style, flexibility, and skill adequately, 5-8 projects is the sweet spot, IMO.

  1. You’re not letting your work speak for itself

Avoid walls of text explaining the work. A paragraph for context (including credits) is plenty. Maybe a line explaining the brief and your insight. But if your work can’t stand on its own without exposition, it probably shouldn’t be in your book.

  1. There’s no clear focus

If you’re an art director who does stand-up, or a copywriter who’s a photographer, that’s fantastic. The problem is job profiles aren’t defined that way. Make sure your portfolio reflects the roles you’re applying to. So, if you’re in the market for copywriter jobs, get your portfolio to show how great a writer you are before you share your side hustle.

  1. You’re overdoing things

There’s pressure on creatives to differentiate themselves in a competitive market—I get it. But when everyone tries to stand out, no one does. My take? Keep it simple, and let your work do the talking. Avoid convoluted About sections, unconventional color schemes, or weird name logos.

  1. You’re not being thorough

We’re all human—we make mistakes. But when you’re trying to break into a cluttered, competitive market, even trivial errors can count against you. Pay special attention to typos and bad grammar if you’re a copywriter. Avoid illegible typefaces or bad contrast if you’re an art director. If you’re tired of looking at your book (yes, Book Blindness is real), buy a couple of friends coffee and ask them to thoroughly check your website for you.

Remember—your portfolio is pretty much an advertisement for you. So all the same rules apply. Having said that, it’ll always be a work in progress, and that’s a good thing.

Nihal is a senior copywriter at FCB Chicago. He's created campaigns for more than 300 brands over the last 10 years in 3 different countries. Connect with Nihal on LinkedIn.