How to impress an art director

It takes judgement and personality to get noticed by the right people. Mark Penfold collects 40 essential tips from the ones you need to win over.

It's unusual for designers to come to a unanimous decision on anything, but the issue of self-promotion seems to be one of those rare occasions where the message is clear: keep it simple, get the basics right first and don't be cocky. And if you must send speciality items, make sure they're both beautiful and relevant. Put simply, gimmicks don't work.

This advice seems to hold good across different media. Digital agencies are looking for creatives to demonstrate that they have smart ideas about how to use the web. In print what really counts is a demonstration of your love and understanding of the materials, the process and the aesthetic.

Some of the advice collected here may seem to be contradictory, but look a little closer and you'll see a central message that self-promotion should be surgical and insightful. This is one occasion where playing the numbers game will not produce the desired result.


Print promotion
Make an impact with physical, tactile promotional materials

01 Stay focused
Charlie Clark
Senior designer
Kemistry
www.kemistry.co.uk
Make a small list of agencies you'd like to work for, then find names. Concentrate on one or two people at the agency, get them talking about you. Follow up all correspondence with a well-timed call to them - call late on a Monday morning, just before things kick off for the week."

02 Be kind to the environment
Sarah Douglas
Art editor
Wallpaper* magazine
www.wallpaper.com
"We receive huge amounts of post, so keep it simple and well edited. There's nothing worse than receiving 20 pieces of card from one illustrator - you should be able to sum up your work in one image. It's such a waste of paper when you have to throw so much of it away."

03 Aim to get on the pin board
David McKendrick
Art editor
Esquire magazine
www.esquire.co.uk
"I get a lot of post from illustrators. They tend to be a bit more creative with their mailshots and that works for me. If something interesting arrives in the post I stick it up on the board and hopefully remember it for another day. I prefer physical work; I very rarely look at web links."

04 Build on past success
Jonathan Kenyon
Founder
Vault49
www.vault49.com
"Target your marketing at people who have already shown an interest. Emailers are a good place to start, but they're ineffective as a marketing tool unless you can find out which of your contacts are opening your emails and using your links, so use a pro marketing provider for emailing."

05 Make 'em laugh
Justin Thomas Kay
Creative director
FADER magazine
www.justinthomaskay.com
"There's something endearing about a humorous approach, even when it's a bit corny. At least then there's a human quality behind what is being said. What I appreciate is someone who gets in touch in a conversational way, something that feels almost nonchalant will work best."

06 Only show the best
Vernica Fuerte
Designer
Hey Studio
www.heystudio.es
"I don't think it's essential to show a lot of work. Show two or three pieces that represent what you want to do. If you only have student works, show those. The first work you do for clients will probably be terrible, because the clients won't let you do what you want."

07 Think about balance
Andy Payne
Executive creative director
Interbrand
www.interbrand.com
"Design is about improving things. Once you get outside the parameters of what your practice is trying to do - and start being about promotion, rather than the quality of what you're doing - you've tipped the balance. With creative people their work is so much themselves it's not necessary."

08 Follow it up
Svein Haakon Lia
Creative director/founding partner
Bleed
www.bleed.no
"When you send objects in the mail, think simple but nice. We have received everything from hand-bound books to professionally printed posters, to a cluttered box of work. The simpler things always make more impact. Always follow up with an email that tells the full story."

09 Do it yourself
Nick Daughtry
Co-founder
DED Associates
www.dedass.com
"Be crafty - screenprint, potato print, get your hands sticky. Nothing says 'I care' more than something made by the hand and the heart. Try an A0 body print or a A4 self-publicising fanzine, spill your creative juices across the page, then pull the squeegee and let it dry."

10 Keep it to the point
Joseph Sung
Creative director
Vonsung
www.vonsung.com
"You're only as good as your last project, so it's not really a CV-driven thing. I look for strong folios, that's it. What I am amazed by is that people send ZIP files or links. I don't have time for that. Be nice and precise. If a folio extends beyond five pages I won't look at it."

11 Don't attempt to gloss
Charlie Clark
Senior designer
Kemistry
www.kemistry.co.uk
"Don't spend the remnants of your Student Loan on an expensive and soulless promotional campaign. The people you're sending your material to know how much things cost to produce, and also know that an expensive print technique is the easiest way to gloss over an average idea."

12 Don't overlook the basics
Sarah Douglas
Art editor
Wallpaper* magazine
www.wallpaper.com
"The best thing for graphic designers is to send a CV with a website link. There's not a lot of need to send print any more. Unless it's a beautifully produced CV. But whether it's on screen or in print, what's most important is a good use of typography. A Word doc would be a definite no."

13 Don't overcook your folio site
David McKendrick
Art editor
Esquire magazine
www.esquire.co.uk
"One of the most annoying things I have to do as an art editor is show other people images. If you have a Flash-heavy site with loads of stuff moving around, that's really hard to do well. I've dismissed photographers just because their website is really annoying."

14 Don't pester
Jonathan Kenyon
Founder
Vault49
www.vault49.com
"Once you know who to target, you can spend the rest of your marketing budget winning over specific contacts instead of spreading your money across a large list of people. If you've genuinely got something new to show, once a month is fine with a newsletter, but any more will annoy."

15 Don't forget your purpose
Justin Thomas Kay
Creative director
FADER magazine
www.justinthomaskay.com
"The printed pieces and the mailers I do respond to are usually the most journalistic and self-serving. You have to convey personality first and foremost. If you can figure out a way to introduce yourself as a creative person, that will speak to me a little better."

16 Don't use typical sizes
Vernica Fuerte
Designer
Hey Studio
www.heystudio.es
"Either very small or very big. Do something different. A standard pamphlet size may not stand out, so think about how you can express things better by changing something as easy as size. It doesn't have to be expensive, it must just be well done and have an idea behind it."

17 Don't be over-confident
Andy Payne
Executive creative director
Interbrand
www.interbrand.com
"People can become very successful by being completely self-motivated. But when they join a company those people can be difficult to manage because they're not team players. That is a flag for us because we have to wonder, does this person really want to join our team?"

18 Don't be a poser
Svein Haakon Lia
Creative director/founding partner
Bleed
www.bleed.no
"Don't make stalker-like teaser campaigns. We had these Russian girls sending us small notes and posters every day for a month - scary. And it didn't help that quantity was more in focus than quality. Don't think that semi-nude artistic images on your CV is a good idea either."

19 Don't include powder or wires
Nick Daughtry
Co-founder
DED Associates
www.dedass.com
"Whilst we always champion the 'made by hand' approach, making your self-promotion look like a bomb is not good. This has happened before, and losing a whole day's productivity waiting for the bomb squad does not win favour with future employees."

20 Don't send me 'stuff'
Joseph Sung
Creative director
Vonsung
www.vonsung.com
"Several years ago I would receive booklets or unusual paper stock and that would catch my eye, but that has just become fashion. I look for content. If I receive anything that doesn't fit into the mail box or is too out of the ordinary in terms of colour/size/dimensions, it goes in the bin."

21 Make something cool
Tim Rodgers
Creative partner
Rehab Studio
www.rehabstudio.com
"Getting good digital creative thinkers is key for us. In terms of getting noticed, you can't beat having set something up yourself. And it's not just conceptual things. Having a good idea, and showing that it works, tells us that you already have the commitment and the ideas."

22 Send work in a mailable format
Bill Galloway
Creative director
Other Media
www.othermedia.com
"A PDF is fine, but keep the file size down so I can see it on my phone. A website is better, but if your work is good we don't care. As for other information, just cover the basics - qualifications, core skills, etc. Get some personality across, but let the work speak."

23 Get creative with the medium
Stephen Paul
Creative director
Bourne
www.wearebourne.com
"Understand how it's utilised and try and find a smart way that works for you. Take a look at how Alec Brownstein (The Google Job Experiment) got his dream job by understanding that people Google themselves. A smart idea will carry much more weight than any creative output."

24 Be positive and persistent
Rick Palmer
Chief executive
Bloc
www.blocmedia.com
"Your first approach to a prospective employer should be made by phone, followed by a well-written email. If you receive no response at all, follow this up with another call to ensure your email was delivered. Persistence shows an admirable passion and a pro-active approach."

25 Show that you're engaged
Chris Hemingway
Creative partner
Made By Pi
www.madebypi.co.uk
"There's work out there if you want it. You can do it for free. Set up a site for a local bar, or about your friend's hobby, off your own back. It's that dedication and passion I look for. You don't need a degree - if you're into computers and making things, that's enough for me."

26 Take a personal approach
Wolfgang Ritter
Executive creative director
Reading Room
www.readingroom.com
"Yesterday I received the best job application I've seen in years. He had his standard folio but in the covering letter he had taken a very personal approach: finding out the names of the people who are responsible. It was only a simple PDF, but a lot of thought had gone into it."

27 Socialise your site
Aaron Harper
Creative director
The Weather
www.wearetheweather.co.uk
"If you have a portfolio site or blog make use of the new Facebook social plug-ins. Adding their 'Like' button to each post or piece of work allows viewers to share what they've seen in a click, and what they've 'Liked' could become viral when that person's friends see it in their Feed."

28 Take rejection well
Eric Karjaluoto
Creative director
SmashLAB
www.smashlab.com
"How people respond to rejection letters changes how I think about them. I had one that told me 'Thanks for being so fucking predictable, I could puke'. On the other hand, just this week I was asked, 'What are the skills I could get that would make me more attractive to you?'"

29 Use the jungle drums
Anton Repponen
Associate creative director
Fantasy Interactive
www.f-i.com
"We just hired a bunch of designers who didn't even apply to Fantasy Interactive. Friends of friends drop me links, and I browse a lot of blogs too. When I see a very nice portfolio and it's clear that the designer has talent, I will write to them personally."

30 Go analogue when you have to
Niku Banaie
Chief innovation officer
Isobar
www.isobar.com
"Just because there are digital options doesn't mean analogue forms of communication are written off. I recently received a beautifully handwritten letter that at the end invited me to visit a beautifully designed online portfolio. Job done."

31 Don't show too much
Tim Rodgers
Creative partner
Rehab Studio
www.rehabstudio.com
"It's really about editing the fuck out of your work. We've gone to second interview with people and they've brought in work we've never seen before and it's been terrible. So you start to worry. Focus your work on what you want to do, and really try to understand the agencies."

32 Don't build it in Flash
Bill Galloway
Creative director
Other Media
www.othermedia.com
"I will probably be looking at it on my iPhone. Digital is changing so quickly that showing a good understanding of the technology involved may just give a student the edge. I would probably be intrigued enough by a good execution or a clever idea to visit a portfolio site."

33 Don't appear too aggressive
Stephen Paul
Creative director
Bourne
www.wearebourne.com
"There's a desire to work with someone and there's just plain scary. Remember, the people you are talking to are busy and might not be able to reply straight away. Your next mail should only be an update on any developments and not a demand for answers."

34 Don't attach loads of files
Rick Palmer
Chief executive
Bloc
www.blocmedia.com
"Prospective employers will not take kindly to receiving an email with numerous attachments. They are busy, have clients to deal with and other, better applicant emails to read! Make it easy for them and provide a clear, well-written introduction with a link to a simple portfolio website."

35 Don't forget the context
Chris Hemingway
Creative partner
Made By Pi
www.madebypi.co.uk
"One lad sent me two postcards, one day after the other, which connected together. That worked well. Simple is fine, but it has to be in context. I had a guy come dressed up as a cockroach. His whole thing was 'sorry to bug you'. Only dress in a costume if you're going to the circus."

36 Don't oversell your ability
Wolfgang Ritter
Executive creative director
Reading Room
www.readingroom.com
"Be honest about what you've been doing. You get these amazing portfolios and hire the people, then you find out what part of the job they did. This has actually happened to us - the guy was just so good at selling himself, but this is not a good situation to find yourself in."

37 Don't blog half-heartedly
Aaron Harper
Creative director
The Weather
www.wearetheweather.co.uk
"If you are trying to set yourself up as a 'thought leader' or expert in your field by having your own blog to showcase art/design from around the world, make sure this content is original, don't just lift it from other popular blogs. Your readers probably visit those sites too."

38 Don't show poor attendance
Eric Karjaluoto
Creative director
SmashLAB
www.smashlab.com
"You need the talent but you also need the sensibility and the attitude. We had a guy recently who had a bafflingly good book, but when I started digging he had held a number of two-week jobs. You know, despite the work, he was probably going to be a pain in the arse."

39 Don't omit your working out
Anton Repponen
Associate creative director
Fantasy Interactive
www.f-i.com
"When you're looking at someone's work, if you click on a thumbnail it's good to see how they got to the solution, maybe starting with the pitch, the wireframe. It takes a lot of work to make even a simple thing that works well. I want to see that you think like that too."

40 Don't forget to pre-flight ideas
Niku Banaie
Chief innovation officer
Isobar
www.isobar.com
"Don't ever be tempted to use a gimmick unless you're totally, 100 per cent confident it's sophisticated and won't leave a naff taste in anyone's mouth. Try out your ideas on friends you know will be brutally honest with you before trying them out on potential employers."

41 Digital promotion
Get yourself noticed with cunning digital and online wizardry