Last week my partner in crime and advertising June Pham discussed how to create the perfect graphic design portfolio.

The advice remains the same in some aspects, but here’s my take on it:

Stand out

How is the work you’ve done different from the slew of other applicants? Other copywriters in general? Are you a stand-up comic in your free time and think you’re wittier than most? Do you love poetry and have a knack for syllabic pacing? Did you start and brand your own project that took off on social media? Do you tweet from a popular anonymous twitter handle? Show your differences, and be sure, too, to show a range: POP, video, radio, social, etc.

And how are you different from the other applicants? Do you have a culinary background that made you realize you’d really rather be naming the dishes? Did you teach yourself the ins and outs of SEO for your part-time retail gig? Both your resume and “about me” can help to show who you are as a person and how you might work with and on their creative team.

Don’t neglect visuals

Refer to Creative Director Danny Koteras’ past post and numerous texts on the profession and you’ll hear the same thing: advertising is visual and people are drawn to images. Show your future employer that you can think visually, either by pairing purely written word with visuals or showing completed works and giving credit to your AD. They’re not just looking for pretty words; they’re looking for creative abilities and proof of ideation.

Side note: I do recommend Cargo Collective for housing your portfolio. Different from other free and customizable sites, CC is built for creatives and covers the visual elements well.

Tailor it to the employer AND the job

When I started applying to copywriting positions, both internships and jobs, I had one gig that involved copywriting. The rest of my work focused on my graduate creative writing work (flash fiction chapbook, travel nonfiction, blogging) and my undergraduate art work (stopmotion video, graphic design for business, artbooks). However, I tailored each of those projects to the medium I wanted to work in by stating the “concept” and “tagline” for each project and treating them as if they were ads. Even though I had a previous portfolio of my creative writing, that did not show I had considered the industry and why I wanted to be a copywriter, not a novelist. So I revamped it.

I also knew my dream employer was Stone Ward, whose foundation is Building Good, so I focused the work in my portfolio on work that fit with that, or at least didn’t promote the tobacco industry or dead baby jokes.

Take notes

Google “copywriter portfolio.” Bookmark your favorites and take notes on your likes and dislikes.

Check out portfolio school graduates’ portfolios (they did, after all, go to school for just that and can speak more knowledgeably than I can about this).

Get in touch with friends and contacts in the industry for advice.


Your work is only as strong as the weakest link

You may think that the poem you wrote your sophomore year of college about sunshine and summer love really showcases your talents, and you may be right. But you may also be wrong. Get second and third and fourth and fifth, etc. opinions on what your strongest work is. If no one that reviews your portfolio mentions that poem, kick it to the portfolio curb.

Be honest and fair

Claiming an ad as your own work can get sticky. One of Stone Ward’s principals is “a good idea doesn’t care who had it.” Be honest about the collaboration involved.

It’s also important to know that the work you do is the client’s work. Broadcasting across the Internet that you wrote the copy for Such and Such Company’s Big Deal Campaign is tricky. Be sure you always get permission, both from your employer and the client, before including work in your portfolio. A good solution to this, too, is creating mock ads.

That’s my advice, though I’m sure it’s only the beginning. To see the portfolio that I submitted to Stone Ward go to and comment with your advice to copywriters building a portfolio!