The good book. The problem with a copywriter's portfolio.


by Magnus Shaw.


Here's a problem which only came to my attention this week. Actually I think it has been lingering in the back of my mind for a couple of decades, but it only came into focus a couple of days ago.

Because I write columns here and elsewhere, I occasionally receive questions from folk aspiring to be copywriters. I'm happy to help when I can, but when someone emailed me asking how they should present their copy portfolio, I was almost stumped.

There is an obvious answer and I almost gave it. But suddenly 'Put your ten best pieces of work in an art folder with transparent, removable pouches' didn't make much sense. There's a reason those things (and I have a few of them) are sold in art shops. Because they're perfectly designed for transporting and displaying artwork. Now granted, print advertisements tend to involve artwork, but a copywriter isn't selling layouts, he or she is selling ... you're ahead of me here ... copy. Unfortunately it's human nature to judge a piece of creative work in its entirety. If a copywriter reveals some beautifully crafted prose that just happens to be sitting in a rather mundane layout, it risks losing some of its allure. So why haul a dozen full-design spreads around?

What's more, as so much of a copywriter's work is for digital platforms nowadays, that folder is rapidly becoming increasingly inappropriate. No matter how much care you take, a printed out website always looks ... well ... like a printed out website.  And apps? Who prints an app?

There's a very good chance I'm being a bit of a fusty traditionalist, with all this talk of physical portfolios. And I quite accept they have been largely replaced by PDFs and even iPads for some time now - but still the problem of showing copy surrounded by another creative's design work persists. (I also think a PDF cheapens the work somehow).

Of course, there's no reason the copy in a site or ad can't be extracted and presented in its raw form  - and I have tried this - but then it looks very stark and there's no context. This approach also gives rise to that appalling silence while a client or prospective employer reads several hundred words of A4 text. There's always the option of reading your copy out, but it was never intended to be absorbed that way and the whole meeting can easily resemble a laborious rehearsal for a one-man play.

I suppose you could put all the good stuff up on a website, but what if there's no internet connection or the hosting bombs just when you need it most? A Powerpoint thing? Not unless you're a maniac who no longer wishes to work in the creative industry.

It's quite a paradox.

Now, before you start getting over-excited, thinking I'm about to reveal the solution to this thorn in the copywriter's side, I'm not. As I say, all this only occurred to me a couple of days ago.

So, I'd like to do two things:

1) Ask any or all of the copywriters reading this whether you've ever encountered this problem - and whether you've found the perfect way to overcome it. Just drop a note in the 'comments' box below.

2) And have a look at this tool. It has been suggested as the ideal means for any creative writer to display their wares. I've looked into it, but have yet to actually try the site. Nevertheless, I can see how it would address at least a few of the difficulties I've described.

Obviously Keeeb (yes, horrible name, I agree), falls down when there's no internet connection. However, it does have advantage of looking very slick and being extremely easy to update, whether you've been working on a site, poster, ad or social media campaign. And we all know updating one's portfolio is top of the copywriter's 'Things I must do later' list.

If you're a copywriter and could do one or both of the above, I'd be most grateful. Perhaps then I can put some of those cumbersome, leather-look folders in the loft and have a reasonably useful answer next time I'm asked about portfolios.

Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant.


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