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So, You Want a Creative Internship: Make Your Book Matter

By: Bill Winchester

At least once or twice a year we get inundated with people looking for a creative internship. Don’t get me wrong, this inundation is a good thing and we actively seek fresh meat … uh, I mean fresh energetic talent. Being located in a city that has a large university, I’m amazed at the quality of the resumes we see.

However, we turn away about 99% of our applicants.

It’s not because of the quality of their resumes, their work experience or the font they used. It’s because they don’t have a portfolio—a.k.a., a book.

What's a book?

A book is samples of your work. It’s the stuff you’ve done that demonstrates that we won’t have to train you from scratch. More to the point, it shows that you’re not just looking for any experience, you have a passion for advertising.

Book examples courtesy of Kelly Marie Gutt, former intern, current senior graphic designer for Lindsay, Stone & Briggs. www.kellymariegutt.com

We don’t believe internships are about fetching coffee or making copies or filing TPS reports. Our interns work on real things and we need to know you can do it.

I know what’s going on in your head. A lot of frustrating questions. How do I get a book if I haven’t worked in the creative field yet? What should be in it? How do I start? Why does everything have to be a Catch 22? And the hardest of all questions: What do I want to do with my life? Writing? Drawing? Design? Art Direction? Film?

Why can’t I prove what I can do by just working at a place?

Bookmanship, or creating a portfolio, is hard. It takes a lot of discipline and thought. But the truth is, every creative director had to have one to get a job and they’re not going to let you in until you do something as hard as they did. It’s a lot the same as doctors having to work insane hours during their internships. Why? Because their doctor bosses had to do it. It may be dumb, but it’s part of the ritual.

When you’re a creative director, you’ll make people do it too.

What do you want to do?

Now would be a good time to do some soul-searching. This doesn’t have to be “what do I want to do foreveeerr…errr…errr?” (add echo effect). But what makes you feel good? What are you good at? What would you like to do more? This helps give focus to your portfolio and tells me your passion.

I’m looking for the love of your craft. If you’re a writer, can you craft words? Are you funny, thought-provoking and conceptual and can you think visually? Does art direction, a design or a filmmaking turn your crank?

I want to see a little of your chops. I want to know if you have a conceptual brain. I want to know if you’re passionate, if you’re a student of the business and just not a dilettante or a dabbler.

The fact is, the lines have gotten very blurry between art direction, design, film and writing. It doesn’t hurt to be facile at all of them. In other words, you need to be very conceptually adaptable. Writers need to be visual and designers need to write. But chances are you’ll have something that is your main strength.

I want to feel that passion both in your work and the way you talk about it.

How do you make a book?

First, you’ve probably created some things, use them. You worked for the school newspaper, did a poster for your sorority or fraternity. Great start, but be hyper-critical of those things. Ask yourself, am I proud of this work? Maybe not. You probably didn’t get to do exactly what you wanted because of all the other idiots people and opinions involved. If you feel you need to make excuses for a piece of work, it shouldn’t be in your book.

At this early point in your career, I don’t care if a project is real or if it got produced, what I care about is how you think.

Can you solve a problem? Do you have taste? One clinker can make me doubt all the good stuff that came before it. Frankly, it makes me wonder about your taste level and whether you know good from bad. Or if you’re self-critical enough. I don’t want to hear excuses about why something doesn’t measure up. If it’s not the way you want it, redo it to get it right. And always follow the old saying: When in doubt, leave it out.

If you’re short on work, give yourself assignments. Pick something you know a lot about. If you’re into video games, sports, outdoors, music or whatever, pick your passion and do some advertising. For instance, if you love hockey, do a campaign for a hockey stick. The insight you have about the target consumer (you) should help you create resonate work.

Insights and truth, those are the things that great advertising is based on, take advantage of your unique knowledge of the things you love.

creative internship

One note of caution: Let’s say you like cars, please don’t pick the best car ad you’ve ever seen and try to redo it. Your work will probably never measure up to something that won an award at Cannes. Instead, pick a brand or product that you feel needs help. Pick something that makes you say, “Hell, I can do better than that.”

So, what do you show in your book? I want to see ideas and then I want you to show me how that idea might look in social, experiential, content, as a print-like object (not necessarily a print ad) and possibly as video content. In other words, show me the idea and some version that allows you to demonstrate your craft. Talk to me about your big idea, then about the tactics you’d use to execute it.

For instance, if you’re a videographer, show not just what you can shoot and edit but show me an idea. I want to see if you can tell a story, whether it’s heartfelt or funny. Showing your ability to make pretty film is interesting, but it won’t separate you from the pack. Your roommate chugging a beer probably won’t be impressive unless you find a story that has immense entertainment value, pathos or pulls on my heartstrings (if you can accomplish one of these things with your roommate chugging a beer, you’re hired).

Or, if you’re a designer, I want to see more than the assignments you did in school. And BTW, if I see one more typeface design, I’m going to scream. The chances of me of asking you to design a typeface during your creative internship are exactly zero.

Show me concepts and it would be nice to see if you can also write, or design for video or animate as well. Like I said before, today’s creative person is a Swiss Army Knife.

creative internship

What form should it be in if you want to land a creative internship?

It’s an interactive world, put your book out in it. No less than three pieces of work, ten is stretching it. There is a whole host of websites and tools that help you post your work. Wix, Squarespace and Cargo Collective to name a few. And hopefully it goes without saying that if you’re a UX designer, you need to make it really good.

Look, I know this is daunting. Just know that every creative director went through exactly what you’re going through. It’s a discipline of self-assessment and critique—which I realize is difficult—so I promise to be kind, even if I don’t give you a job.

Just know passion counts for a lot.

Trying hard counts for a lot.

A love for advertising and ideas counts for a lot. Chances are, if you have drive and passion and even one great idea, you’re ahead of the pack.

Now stop reading this and get busy on your book.

Bill Winchester

PRESIDENT & CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER

A longtime advertising creative vet, Bill’s work has been recognized by Cannes, Clios, the 4A’s O’Toole award, the One Show, Communication Arts and Effies. He's worked with clients ranging from food, to engines, to health care and looks forward to new challenges ahead. He admits to loving cycling and hockey, but hates beets and ventriloquist dummies.

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Creativity, Design Thinking

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