Let me first say, this isn't an "anti portfolio school" post. Personally, running away to the Circus was the right move for me, for a lot of reasons. For one, I like school and deadlines. I knew I would get everything done faster if I just went to school and made it my number one priority instead of trying to put my book together while also working retail full time. For two, the partnerships and networking opportunities are unreal. Not only peer-to-peer, but teachers and recruiters and forum speakers. I met Jeff Goodby for Pete's sake. For three, and this is the most important, I was financially able to attend. I had the support from my family to not only help me get here, but help me stay here, and therein lies the problem.
If the advertising industry is pushing this diversity agenda, which they 100% should and I'm thrilled about, shouldn't getting in to the industry be, well, easier? I know there are conferences and resources for ad students, but what about the kids who don't even think advertising is a career option for them? What about the ones that can't just pack up and move across the country for school, let alone drop more than a couple grand to be taught? Well, I have no idea how this blog post is going to get to those kids, but if miraculously it does, here's my two cents --
At the Circus, like any portfolio school, you're ultimately paying for 3 things: A dope book, killer connections, and job placement support. The last two can be picked up for free through LinkedIn and creative recruiting agencies (it involves a lot more hustle, but it's doable), so lets just focus on the elusive book. To make a decent book, you need to be dedicated. To make a good book, you need to be dedicated and talented. To make a great book, you need a dedicated and talented team.
Step One: Get a Partner
Ask around, go on craigslist, exhaust all your social media channels. Find someone in the same boat with opposite skills. ie: you're a writer looking for an art director. Have coffee with them, see if you vibe, and then, take the plunge and commit to each other. Bring in a third if you want to spice things up, but two works perfectly fine. You can build your entire books together, or work on a few campaigns and then move on, whatever is best for both of you but make sure you're on the same page.
Step Two: Find a Mentor
Look for juniors in your city. Of course, it would be great to get a Creative Director's eyes on your work, but that comes later. Look for someone who is closer to understanding what you're going through and where you're at. If you can find one that went to portfolio school, which is highly likely, that's ideal because they can help you set deadlines and create structure and give you advice that's still fresh in their minds from their mentors. Most importantly, look at their work. If you don't like it, you won't like them as a mentor. Pick someone you respect and is doing the kind of work you want to be doing.
Step Three: Get After It
After you've secured a partner or two and a mentor, it's time to get to work. Set up and stick to a schedule. This is not only important for getting your book done in a realistic amount of time, but it's beneficial to your mentor and your partner(s). Work with your team to create attainable goals and benchmarks. Work with your mentor to build a timeline that works for everyone, and use their resources in your search for more mentors, so you can balance your work. Ideally you'll have one mentor for two or three campaigns (about 2 months), and then you'll use your connections to find a new mentor. This is helpful so you get a variety feedback/teaching styles and can build a wider range of work.
Obviously this is a basic overview of what a DIY Portfolio School project would look like, but truthfully, if portfolio school just isn't an option there are other ways to make your book happen. And to the working creatives out there, keep an ear to the ground for up-and-comers and pay it forward. Perhaps start a mentorship program at your agency? Perhaps organize and visit high schools in your area? Perhaps lets all join forces and create a non-profit portfolio school that combines in person meetings with a social media type digital component where mentors and students can connect and build relationships? Perhaps.
Peace, Love & DIY