Upbeat Mood at Portfolio Night in L.A.

LOS ANGELES Anyone expecting to see a depressing breadline of weary, laid-off creatives at the Los Angeles edition of the ad world’s annual Portfolio Night last Thursday was in for a bit of a surprise.

The atmosphere at indie agency David & Goliath’s office in El Segundo, Calif., was more akin to a party, with the flowing liquor, DJ spinning dance music and trays of jumbo shrimp.

At the event, 25 of L.A.’s top creatives met with about 100 students, account staffers and junior employees who ponied up $35 for critiques of their work in 15-minute, speed-dating-type sessions. Among the local talent: David Angelo, CCO at D&G; Justin Hooper, cd at Mendelsohn Zien; Johann Conforme, cd at Ogilvy; Cameron Webb, gcd at Secret Weapon; Chris Graves, CCO of Team One; and Jimmy Smith, gcd at TBWA/Chiat.

The resounding message from the West Coast ad community? Ironically, it was: “Don’t show me an ‘ad.'”

“Everybody seemed to have [one integrated campaign] in their book, and my message to them is to push on that more,” said Bryan Rowles, cd at 72andSunny. “Look for other ways to engage people outside the token TV or print ad campaign.” He prefers to see a 360-degree plan for a brand in a portfolio, from industrial design to cross promotions at retail to a Facebook hook. “What are you doing that’s different?” is what resonates, Rowles said.

Colin Jeffery, ecd at D&G, explained that the industry has evolved beyond simple TV ads; finding talented staffers who can project ideas across multiple platforms is now key. Ideally, a creative director today should be a conceptual thinker who can tell a story, a designer who’s a skilled craftsman and an innovator who is fluent in the latest technological breakthroughs. Candidates tend to be strong in one or two areas, lacking in others.

“A person might not be great at all three, but we’re trying to bridge the gaps,” Jeffery said. “We try to find a great mix of characters to do this great work.”

Maybe the liquid libations had something to do with it, but students gladly accepted the critiques and the connections. In any case, they clearly arrived with managed expectations.

“It feels a little bit novelty — maybe because of the recession,” said Kevin Behboody, a graduate of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. “With 15 minutes you have time for a quick opinion, but not so much of a connection. I know I have a good book — it just keeps coming back to the climate. A few people here have said, ‘You’ll have no trouble finding work,’ but it hasn’t happened yet.”

“Just getting one request for a card or a callback is worth it,” said copywriter Chris Diaz, a recent transplant from Minneapolis who was told by creatives that he needed a little more art direction in his work. “And the feedback was useful.”

A total of 19 cities, including London, Tokyo and Mexico City, participated in Portfolio Night.