Saturday, June 29, 2013

Portfolio Night: Paris to New York

It was about five weeks before Portfolio Night that I head about it first. Where, I don't quite remember. I had just graduated from Miami Ad School Europe's Hamburg base-school and was in the middle of emailing recruiters and deciding upon my next possible career-destination. I was on vacation in Florence, Italy visiting a friend. The idea of vacation had come from the great Neil French, who believed that whenever things get slow, fast or rough, do what any sensible man (person?) would do - take a vacation ('Sorry for the Lobsters', read it before long). In my case it was the former - waiting for agencies and CDs to respond to job applications, wait for approvals to come in, and the regular delays (chiefly because advertising decision-makers are very often being super-busy dudes) - there was plenty of time to kill. And it's a great idea to replace the endless finger tapping by just visiting a new part of the world. 

Let me briefly explain what Portfolio Night is. Arranged by the Art Director's Club and Adobe, Portfolio Night was arranged in twenty four cities around the globe where, on a common day, the biggest and the best Creative Directors and Agency Heads would young creatives in a speed-dating setting for 15 minutes each. Creatives should show their portfolio to them, and make the best impression they can, to possibly land a job. 

I signed up for the portfolio night in Paris, mainly because I had interned at Ogilvy Paris during my Miami Ad School run, and loved the city. The only other Portfolio Nights in Europe were in Budapest, Stockholm and Lisboa, all cities I hadn't considered working in. In the following days I heard of a few more people from school signing up for the same. 

But no story's complete without Murphy's law. Two days before I was to leave for Paris, my laptop crashed. In a hilarious (in hindsight) chain of events, the Apple Store and my laptop started to play this game of hide-and-seek, and the running around led me to miss borrowing a laptop from Silvia, a fellow MASE student. Long story short, I didn't have a working laptop by the time I boarded the train to Paris. 

I was meeting my friend Pranay there, who was there for Portfolio Night as well on a ticket arranged at the last moment (how it was arranged is another hilarious story, all I would say right now is thank you Gaia!)

By this time I had resigned to the fact that there was nothing to do but to go to the event, shake hands with the CDs and give them the URL to my website, because, well, it's pretty damn impossible to sow them my work out of thin air. It was a matter of coincidence that Pranay's laptop had a defunct battery, and would die as soon as it was unplugged. So we were looking forward to do what could do, and attack the open bar while others poured over screens. 

It's important to mention here at an hour before the event, I almost decided not to go. Had it not been for Pranay's Are-You-Fucking-Kidding-Me-Go-Make-Contacts-It's-Free-Booze speech, I probably wouldn't have gone at all. 

When we reached there, people had started to pour in. We signed up and ran into Ezsther and Marie, fellow MASE students. They had already signed up. On comparing our badges we realized that we were all in different rounds. Which meant that Ezsther and Marie won't be needing their respective laptops and iPads when it was our turn. Pranay and I looked at each other and smiled, and laughed out loud at Murphy.

Ezsther was kind enough to let me borrow her laptop for my turn (CAREFUL if you shake it it will CRASH and then I won't have a laptop for my round!) Pranay was armed with Marie's. Me and Pranay were in the same round. And just as it started, he had another brilliant idea. First we identified the CDs we wanted to meet for sure. Then, instead of the regular 15 minutes set aside for each CD, we decided to spend only 7, and switch amongst each other. This way, instead of three or four, we could meet six to eight CDs. 

I don't know if cutting down face-time with them to meet more was a good idea, but it worked out for me since all I had time for was to give them a brief introduction, show them my two best case movies and then say "If you like the first two pieces, I can show you more. Else, I wouldn't want to waste your time," and then bid farewell and leave. Almost each CD wanted to see more, and (thanks to Google Analytics) did check out my website later in detail. 

Over the next several hours, I met Florent Imbert from from Marcel, Matthieu Elkaim from BBDO Paris, Christophe Perruchas from Publicis Paris, and Yv Corbell from Decisive for DCS. 

Our only miss was Ogilvy Paris, since Chris Garbutt has been unable to come to the event. I had met him several times during my internship there and had been trying to reach out to him with my portfolio since my graduation, but never managed to get past Marine, his wonderful PA. 

There were some good takeaways. Florent told us we wouldn't have any trouble getting hired. Matthieu gave us some constructive feedback - the kind most CDs would keep to themselves in order of being polite. Christophe was very encouraging and gave me quite a bit of freelance over the next few weeks. And Yv, in his own funny way, dispelled quite some wisdom for the rest of that evening. I couldn't have asked for more from that event. 

Everything else from that evening is a blur, thanks to the open bar. I do remember meeting lots of exciting people, (French ADs have a remarkable style, and their work was very refreshing) and making lots of friends. I remember running into Christopher Perruchas later at the bar with the ECD of Saatchi, pointing to me and saying to her, 'This is the guy.' I think he was pointing me out as the fool who wanted to work in Paris without knowing any French. I also remember talking to Yv for quite a while, till the restaurant shut down and threw us all out. Somehow we ended up near a canal with a few beers in hand. 

Over the next several weeks, I traveled to Barcelona and back to Florence. People who've been in these cities know what summer means in Europe. It means you'll see very little sun, since you're out every night till dawn. Needless to say I forgot all about Portfolio Night. 

Except for three weeks later, when I got an email from Brendan Watson, the Director of Education, Art Director's Club, New York informing me that I had been chosen the All-Star of the Paris Portfolio Night. 

The first thing I did was to look up the term 'All-Star' on the Portfolio Night website. I vaguely recalled hearing something about twenty four All-Stars and a competition. Apparently one creative from each of the twenty four cities was chosen All-Star. Come August, these twenty four creatives would be flown to New York city to compete on a live brief for Ford Motors. 

I do remember sitting in stunned silence for at least fifteen minutes when I read this. I was under the impression that I had zero chance of getting hired in Paris, given the lack of any French linguistic skills. Being an AllStar was out of question. I remember Pranay telling me, "Why are you confused. You should be happy, you retard!" 

It still hadn't sunk in till I skyped with Brendan the next day and he confirmed that I, indeed, was going to New York - all expenses paid. 

This whole experience reminded me of my efforts a year ago. Quarter Aways were starting, and I really wanted to go to Saatchi Stockholm. I worked very hard all of my third and fourth quarter at MASE to build a killer portfolio, but due to some reasons I was never selected. That's when I went to Ogilvy Paris instead. But the rejection from Saatchi Stockholm stayed with me even after a year. It's true, the best things in life happen when you're not trying too hard.

In the end, I'm thankful to the CDs for choosing me the All-Star, but more than that to meet me and tell me what was wrong with my work. How they overlooked all the other obviously talented creatives that night is beyond me. But even though I never thought I need it, that night did give me a lot of validation. That's the thing with awards and shortlists. They confirm that what seem like your arrows in the dark are mare underestimations of yourself. And I'm still to meet someone who isn't happy to have such achievements. 

Meanwhile, I have accepted an offer from one of the leading German agencies, BBDO Proximity in Dusseldorf. They've been very nice to me, and my wonderful Art Director partner Zorica is also a Miami Ad School graduate. BBDO broke quite a few records in Cannes a few weeks ago, and their recent TVC for Smart car has gone viral. 

For the past two years, life's been different every few weeks. It always feels like you're in the verge of something new, and you're never disappointed. You meet people and a few of them end up stirring something in you. Not to mention most of them are a lot of fun. That's the good part about Miami Ad School - and those were easily the best days of my life. Now I'm moving on to new things. As of now, life looks pretty damn good. 

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