Giving the next generation a chance

[Image] McCann Johannesburg’s Pierre Odendaal (left) and Karabo Denelane are confident that Portfolio Night will shake up the local advertising industry and open up opportunities for young people.
(Image: Janine Erasmus)

[Image] The face-to-face chats and guidance offered by top people in the industry can make a huge difference to the direction of a new career.
(Image: Portfolio Night 10 Mumbai)

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Janine Erasmus

The South African advertising industry is buzzing with the news that McCann Johannesburg is to be the newest host of the global mentoring and development initiative Portfolio Night, which this year happens on 22 May.

Portfolio Night was started by advertising guru Ignacio Oreamuno, the executive director of the New York-based Art Directors’ Club, and at the first event back in 2003 there were just three Canadian cities taking part. Today it spans the globe and it’s one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the advertising calendar. There are 40 cities taking part in 2013, the 11th edition, and overall, 56 cities have hosted the event.

The main aim of Portfolio Night, which takes place in all host cities on the same day each year, is to give aspiring designers, copywriters and art directors the chance to personally meet with and show their work to leaders in the ad industry – a chance that they, as students, might otherwise have to wait years for.

It’s described as “the largest advertising portfolio review of its kind in the world”. The beauty of the initiative is that on the night, top-level people become accessible and the students are celebrated for their talent, which presents huge opportunities for them and may even lead to recruitment on the spot.

“We hope this event will transform the industry,” says McCann’s MD Karabo Denalane. “It’s a platform for students that will facilitate dialogue and opportunity, but will also allow industry peers to come together.”

The agency’s chief creative officer Pierre Odendaal, who has been involved with overseas Portfolio Nights for some time, says that there aren’t many such events for creative people working in communications.

“It’s an evening of collective knowledge sharing that will help young people boost their careers.”

Johannesburg joins cities including Mumbai, Athens, Tokyo, Paris, Detroit, Dallas, Shanghai and Sao Paolo for Portfolio Night 2013.

How does it work?

Applicants – who may not necessarily be students but anyone wishing to learn and improve themselves – must submit their work for review by the selection committee.

“We won’t automatically choose only the best, but also the ones that we feel have great potential,” says Odendaal. If possible, the agency will help those from out of town to get to Johannesburg.

These young people will bring their portfolios along and get 10 to 15 minutes or so to talk to and get advice and suggestions from top creative directors and art directors. When their time is up with one person they move on to the next – almost like speed dating, but not quite.

There is a minimal fee for the lucky 100 to 150 who make the grade – about R100 (US$11), which is a fair investment into a career, although some disadvantaged students may be fully sponsored, says Denalane.

“It’s different to being in a lecture because there you’re learning theory. At Portfolio Night you get valuable input that’s just for you,” says Odendaal. “It will also motivate students to work hard on their portfolios and make them as good as they can possibly be.”

The small number of participants makes the event meaningful for them, says Odendaal, as there will be enough time for everyone to talk with everyone else. The networking opportunity is also invaluable and for the top people, it’s a night to give back to the industry and remember that at the beginning of their careers, there was someone who helped them too.

Local educational institutions such as AAA School of Advertising and the Vega School of Brand Leadership are coming on board. However, young creatives who are not at a school are not excluded – they can contact McCann for details on how to take part.

All participants have a chance to win the grand prize of the evening, a week-long trip to the Art Directors’ Club in New York where they’ll meet with the best in the world and take part in workshops and seminars.

“That kind of hands-on experience could change a career or a life,” says Odendaal.

He hopes the concept will spread across the country in future years. The aim is for two cities to take part in 2014, with Cape Town the most likely addition. It will continue to gather in other major cities as it goes along.

The venue for Portfolio Night Johannesburg will be announced closer to the time.