In the marketing industry, your portfolio is as important as your CV, if not more.
It doesn’t matter which college you graduated from.
It doesn’t matter what grades you got.
Heck, it doesn’t even matter if you have a background in media or arts (many of my colleagues are from STEM, finance, and law).
What agencies & brands want to see is your talent in action i.e. the work you’ve done in the past. The clients & industries you’ve managed. The platforms you’ve championed.
Skill application is the name of the game.
But juniors are often clueless about how to present their case studies. Or worse, they follow the wrong practices that unintentionally end up smudging the quality of their work.
In this sense, knowing how to tout your own horn is a must-have skill. Because if you can’t present your work with charisma, you won’t get more opportunities to climb up the ladder.
So in this article, I’ll explain how to craft a stunning marketing portfolio that will increase your chances of getting picked by top agencies or brands.
I’ll also share tips on how freshers with no formal experience can build a base by taking on informal challenges & mock projects.
To keep things hands-on, I’ll dissect the portfolio that got me hired at Schbang, which happens to be one of India’s hottest digital marketing agencies.
We have 800+ Schbangers spread across Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi, and we’ve already started dominating the international market. With clients like Domino’s, Hershey’s, Crompton, Godrej, Upstox, and Fevicol, it really doesn’t get better than this.
How did I, a rookie marketer with hardly 3 years of juice (and zero agency experience), manage to find a spot in the middle of this supernova?
Let’s find out!
Part 1: What exactly is a Portfolio?
Before we begin, I recommend going through my sample portfolio here. I’ll be sharing screenshots from it as we dive into some key points ahead.
But let’s take a step back to understand the real purpose of a portfolio.
A CV lists facts like your designations, skills, and educational qualifications. But since it’s only one or two pages long, prospective employers or clients can’t use it to verify or evaluate your actual work.
This is where a portfolio comes into the picture.
It’s a snapshot of your performances. So by definition, it should be a handpicked curation of no more than 3-6 best campaigns, projects, or clients you’ve managed in your career.
15-20 pages is a good length to keep in mind. All in all, it should take people no more than 5 minutes to sift through.
Going any longer than these benchmarks will cost you the reader’s attention.
Nowadays, you can host portfolios on these popular online platforms:
- Behance: https://www.behance.net/
- Dribbble: https://dribbble.com/
- Clippings (for writers): https://www.clippings.me/
- Unsplash (for photographers): https://unsplash.com/
In addition to having an online page, I recommend compiling everything in a document so that you can also print it out & carry it to interviews. Just import your case study media into Canva, add some supporting text (which we’ll discuss later), and export it as a PDF.
Alternatively, if you’re a video creator, you can create a 3-5 minute “Showcase Reel” of your shots, or compile all your videos into one master playlist.
Part 2: Okay but what about Freshers?
So far so good.
But what if you’re just a 20-year-old freshie with no internships in hand? Or maybe you’re a banker wanting to break into this industry, so you probably haven’t written any ads for big brands before.
I was once in the same spot. Since nobody was willing to give me the initial experience, I decided to practice on my own.
I started creating fake social media posts & campaign ideas for brands I loved (e.g. Zomato, Durex, Dunzo), imagining how they would celebrate occasions like Diwali, Christmas, or Raksha Bandhan.
I researched other creators and tried mimicking their styles, which helped me develop my own unique voice over time. In 6 months, I had a pile of posts to showcase – all of them conceptualized & executed single-handedly by me.
Granted, it wasn’t real industry work, so it didn’t have the same weightage.
But it showed potential employers that I had the hunger to kick my legs when thrown into a pool. If you disregard the rookie quality of my initial work, it was still much better than going empty-handed.
Believe it or not, that’s how I earned my first gig – literally by doing fake work!
In all seriousness, this is called creating “spec ads,” and it’s a common practice in ad schools around the world. In fact, there are many contests & awards for student work nowadays.
My genius colleague, Devargh Mukherjee, runs weekly ad challenges on LinkedIn, so follow him there to see how the game is played.
If you work better with specific briefs, these platforms should help:
- Fake Clients: https://fakeclients.com/
- Good Brief IO: https://goodbrief.io/
- Tumblr Writing Prompts: https://writing-prompt-s.tumblr.com/
- Sharpen Design: https://sharpen.design/
Part 3: Putting it All Together
Hopefully, by now, you’ve got the basics. It’s time to get our hands dirty!
A traditional portfolio follows this structure:
- Cover Page
- About You (self-intro)
- Case 1
- Case 2
- Case 3
- Links to more cases (if people have time)
- Contact Info
- CTA (Call to Action)
Let’s start with my cover page.
I knew I had mere seconds to grab the attention of the wizards working at Schbang, so I decided to ditch the generic cover page, and design one entirely based on Facebook’s UI/UX. This was relevant in my case as I was applying for the role of “Social Media Executive.”
For me, it was all about adding cute little details. I thought it showed an eye for good design, which was stated as a key requirement in the Job Description.
You don’t have to do anything fancy like this, but at the very least, ensure you mention your name and profession so that the document is easily identifiable.
Part 4: Introducing Yourself
Most portfolios directly rush into the case studies without a proper introduction from the creator. There’s no story. No buildup.
But here’s the punch line.
The company isn’t hiring the meal. It’s hiring the chef who made it.
So you need to give them some context about yourself, and maybe drop a few hints about the surprises or topics you’re going to unpack in the next few pages.
A simple 150-word intro sets the tone. It’s like having a prologue in a book.
Remember how the “Star Wars” movies always started with a brief story? They created excitement in our minds, which is the same effect we’re trying to achieve as artists presenting our work.
Case in point, your intro should answer these questions:
- What are your key strengths & skillsets?
- What kind of people have you collaborated with in the past? (e.g. sales, design, SEO)
- What’s the ethos or guiding principle behind your approach?
- What sort of work has been presented in the pages that follow?
- Career ambitions – what are you planning to do next?
If you read my intro, firstly it gives a clear idea about how I view content marketing. Secondly, it outlines 3 types of content styles I’ve dominated in the past. And thirdly, it ends with a specific statement about which role I’m looking to fill up next.
Part 5: Showing Empathy for your Audience
After the intro, you can start putting up your actual ads or campaigns. This looks like the easiest part, but funnily enough, it’s where most of us go wrong.
Merely pasting the screenshots there isn’t going to cut it.
You’re assuming that the person on the other side knows you personally, and understands your language.
That’s a slippery slope.
Just like I said before, employers don’t merely want to look at your captions, packaging designs, or product photography. They’re not here just for the final products.
They also want to know your approach.
The story behind your ideas.
A portfolio is like a CCTV recording of your brain at work. It should also narrate the procedures, steps, and techniques you followed to bring abstract briefs to life, right from research to publishing.
For example, if you used green shades to create the bottle packaging for that soda brand, what made you take that key decision? Which factors influenced it? Did you choose green because the main ingredient of their drink is mint? Or was it because they want to be seen as environmentally conscious?
This is what separates great portfolios from the average pile.
The great ones show empathy for their audience and take the time to explain the context behind certain decisions.
They also show processes. Journeys. They tell stories.
So if you’re a UI/UX designer who wants to showcase a mobile app they made for a beauty client, you should probably start by showing pictures of the hand sketches you drew at the ideation stage. Then maybe throw in some wireframes in Figma. And finally, reveal the end designs that went live on the app.
Here’s an excellent example of this technique for an EV Charging brand. Observe how they break down the thought process, right from understanding the app users first, which makes their final product user-friendly.
In my case as a social media content specialist, I paired my sample posts with short captions that explained:
- What does the brand sell? (my clients were small, so not many people may know them)
- What was the intention behind the post? (engagement, sales, awareness, etc.)
- Who was the target audience?
- How did the post perform (KPIs & outcomes)
Imagine if I had just pasted those screenshots and called it a day. Would they have had the same impact? Never.
Adding those small captions goes a long way in helping employers or clients understand how I come up with ideas for content, which is the key skill they’re actually looking to hire.
To sum up, my point, do put in the effort to add a few lines behind each of the pieces you’re showcasing in the portfolio.
It’s also vital to sensibly organize all the posts/pieces into different chapters or sections. You can have dedicated parts for each individual client or campaign under the spotlight.
Or if you’ve worked for many brands, consider grouping the pieces under unique themes, similar to what I’ve done – I divided my portfolio into six chapters, each containing one style or format of posts: topical content, informative, funny/entertaining, and so on.
When you’re starting your chapters, try to address these points with a small introduction:
- What does the brand do? (don’t assume they know!)
- What was the challenge or objective?
- What were your proposed solutions?
- How did you execute it?
- What were the results & ROIs?
In addition to the overall client/campaign intro, consider adding small captions to accompany each of your individual posts or content pieces.
For example, if it’s a photograph you took, you can explain the inspiration behind the shot, and the intended effect of your chosen angle, lighting, and mise-en-scene.
If it’s a WordPress shopping website you redesigned, a useful way to validate your work would be adding some stats regarding how your upgrade increased their e-commerce sales, say from 10 to 70 per month.
All in all, focus on telling a story.
Part 6: Wrapping it all up
After you’re done with your main case studies, you can use Sejda.com (a PDF editor tool) to hyperlink to more content, which the clients can view if they have more time, or need more samples to make a final decision.
This is also where you can add a page containing 2-3 testimonials from your previous clients or managers, who vouch for your skills and good attitude. This is just to add social proof.
Last but not the least, your concluding page must have your contact details (phone, email ID, and LinkedIn profile URL).
Imagine the horror if the employer is impressed by your work but doesn’t know how to contact you. Don’t make them search for the info, because they won’t!
If you haven’t already covered it in the intro, state the nature of the projects you’re interested in (e.g. freelance, full-time, or contract-based).
Woah, that was a lot of ground we covered there. If you want to go deeper into this topic, I recommend watching this video (and its follow-up episode) by The Futur Academy, in which they dissect design student portfolios & give great feedback that all young artists could use.
To sum up our key learnings:
- Introduce yourself before you go into the case studies
- Pick 2-3 cases that best represent you, but are distinct enough to show some diversity
- Add supporting captions & context beside each of the pieces
- Show journeys & processes rather than merely the end results – tell a story
- Provide contact details to enable the next steps
In the end, remember that a good portfolio reflects the personalities of the artists, so don’t be afraid to be a bit outrageous, funny, or even provocative when designing the document.
If I had played it safe with a boring portfolio, I would’ve never been selected by an agency with such high standards.
But every time I felt like pulling back my punches, I reminded myself that there will be another candidate who won’t hesitate to go crazy. The only way to win in the agency world is to take bold risks.
This is your game. Your chance to dance. Your story to tell.
So make it uniquely yours!
And once you’re done, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want you, padawan!