On Monday, April 30, excited advertising students had the opportunity to sit down with experienced advertising professionals in the Questrom Trustee Ballroom for COM’s Creative Cafe. Prepared with laptops, notebooks, and business cards, students showcased their best ideas and jotted down advice in hopes of polishing their portfolios in time for job and internship application season.
“This is my second Creative Cafe. I came back because the feedback I got last year was so helpful,” senior Colette Smith said.
Colette began building her portfolio last spring and was eager to show off her new, more refined website. As she and other students mingled and made last-minute adjustments to their projects, they seemed surprisingly calm and optimistic.
“It’s always uncomfortable to meet new people and receive criticism on your work, but I’m not nervous,” said senior Katelyn Pilley, a five-time Creative Cafe attendee. “It helps me improve, so it’s worth it.”
Students brought a wide variety of projects, from multimedia campaign outlines to 30-second video clips to out-of-home advertisement mockups.
“Right now, I feel like I just stuck a bunch of my class work onto a website,” senior Eliza White, a first timer at Creative Cafe, said. “I’m looking for help on how to make it work together.”
After students shook hands and sat down with their advertising mentors, the room erupted with chatter. Colette Smith’s mentor for the first round was Jonathan Plazonja, founder and creative director of Courage, a Boston-based marketing collective. After shaking hands, Plazonja began the review with a simple direction: “Always start with your best work. Show me what you’re most proud of.”
Smith started with a few video clips that she had created for a class. Though the clips were advertisements for an insurance company, they were witty and memorable.
“Do more with that,” Plazonja said about the campaign. “The more you can make them resonate with the audience in real life, the more effective it will be. It’s a great start, and I love the tagline. Keep going with it.”
Smith showed Plazonja about five different projects that she had created, and Plazonja told her what he thought worked and what could be improved.
“Your book has no limits,” Plazonja told her. “You have no creative director to report to, no coworkers to compromise with, no account manager, no restrictions. Create that insane Super Bowl spot, aim for a new campaign with a brand you love. Put your best work in [your portfolio], because when you send it out and potential employers see it, you’re not there to explain it. All they have to judge off of is your ideas, so make them stand out. Keep dialing it up.”
In between student sessions, Plazonja spoke about what it meant to him to be able to give back to anxious advertising rookies. Though he has been working in advertising since the eighties, he remembers what it’s like to start off in such a highly competitive field.
“I remember the people who were helpful to me when I first started. Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was constructive criticism because it pushes you to do better. I’m glad to be here to be able to lend a hand, and I hope it helps them out.”
Students met with professionals for about 10 minutes at a time before being booted out and placed at a new table to start again.
Before parting ways, Plazonja gave Smith his contact information and urged her to reach out to him if she ever needs guidance or advice.
Smith seemed pleased with the feedback that she received, and she joined the line to go for another round. Though she plans to pursue advertising on the west coast, she was happy to gain a new, experienced contact in Boston.
“It’s great to be able to show my work to a real-life creative director without any pressure,” she said. “These are my future coworkers and bosses. It’s helpful.”
As the room buzzed with conversation and handshakes, it was clear that the professionals were enjoying the event just as much as the students.
Plazonja’s greatest piece of advice for advertising beginners? “You have more creative freedom right now than you ever will again,” he said. “Think big!”
Dera Silvestre, Staff Writer
Dera Silvestre is a junior in the College of Communication studying mass communication with a minor in Spanish. On campus, she is involved in WTBU Radio and the Student Philanthropy Center. Dera is interested in legal advocacy and activism, and she hopes to earn a degree in law after finishing her undergrad. She is from Rhode Island.