Portfolio Advice from a Working Copywriter

Eric Mayse in class

Eric Mayse is a Senior Copywriter at BBDO in San Francisco. He offers this advice for copywriters who want to break into the industry: 

Copy Copy

You need to know what you're up against. Make it a habit to check out as many portfolios of other writers as possible. You'll quickly get a sense for what kind of field you're playing in. And once you know the kind of work you're working against, you'll know what's required of you to create your own portfolio that will get you hired over the next guy.

What's the Big Idea?

Cool executions are awesome and are a great way to catch the eye of a recruiter, but once they dive a little deeper, they better find a brilliant idea. No one's going to hire you to just make cool shit. Your job is to come up with great ideas that can live across a range of mediums and portray a specific message on behalf of your client.

The Award is its own Reward

Something you should already be doing and something you should never stop doing, is immersing yourself in the ads that have won industry awards (Cannes, D&AD, Addys, Clios, etc.). Once you get a feel for what constitutes an award-winning idea, you'll have a better vision of the kind of creative target you're trying to hit.

Go to the Range

In the course of your career, you're going to be asked to work on clients ranging from tampons to cars to tractor equipment. So don't pigeon hole yourself by filling your book with campaigns for just one or two types of clients. Recruiters are looking for a great range of work, proving that you'll be useful no matter which project you're placed on.

Oh to be Young

The first ad Eric produced in Portfolio School

The first ad Eric produced in Portfolio School

The good news is, this is a student book. You don't have any deadlines, any budgets or any legal constraints. There is nothing holding you back from creating huge ideas. You won't truly realize this until you're sitting at your desk working with a minuscule budget, with a 24 hour turn-around for a client you don't even like. Take advantage of this time in your soon-to-be career and shoot for the stars with every idea you come up with.

Reality Bites

On the flip side of that coin, make sure your ideas are at least somewhat feasible. You're still applying for real jobs with real clients so you need to prove that you can come up with ideas that will benefit them in the real world. It's a fine balance.

Mix it up

You never know what will be asked of you on any given day at an ad agency, so make sure you're well-versed in a variety of clients and creative styles and tactics. Headlines are great but make sure you show that you can think visually too. Round out your work with outdoor and digital. Become of master of many crafts. Nobody's hiring one-note creatives anymore.

Best Foot Forward

As you're polishing your book, look for your strongest campaign. It won't be hard to recognize. Once you've pin-pointed it, give it legs. Take advantage of the big, strong idea and blow it out into a totally encompassing campaign that really shows off your strengths. And don't forget to put it in the front of your book. (Recruiters, more often than not, only look at your first couple of campaigns initially.)

The Write Idea

If you're applying as a copywriter, then damn it, you better know how to write. Headlines may not be all over the place like they used to be, but you're still going to be asked to write...a lot. So make sure you show that you can turn a phrase and put words together in a clever and entertaining way.

Get Your House in Order

The order you show your work matters. As does the layout of your site and the accessibility of your pieces. Work with your teacher or an industry vet to make sure you have your campaigns ordered in a way that keeps people interested in your book. Also, look at other portfolios you respect and try and emulate the things they've done on their site that make it enjoyable to look through.

Don't Be Afraid to Edit

It may feel like every project you've completed is one of your babies, but trust me, it's far better to have less work if every campaign is solid than to have a splattering of decent work that doesn't really say anything. Before you send out your link, go through your site with a subjective eye and get rid of anything that isn't kick-ass. More isn't always better, especially in your portfolio.


You're going to be tempted to try and pimp out your site. Don't. The same way a museum has white walls to accentuate the great art work, your site needs to be clean and simple. Let the work speak for itself. And when it comes to your resume, yes, it's definitely a good idea to infuse it with some personality, but don't make it too cute or you won't come off as a professional.

Eric Mayse teaches Copywriting at Portfolio Studio - a creative hub that connects ambitious students with industry professionals for training and portfolio building.