Top ad agencies attend first-ever virtual Newhouse creative advertising portfolio review

Advertising students met with recruiters and creative directors from across the country to review portfolios.

In April, advertising professionals from 24 agencies met with Newhouse seniors and graduate students for the Syracuse University Newhouse Creative Advertising Portfolio Review. It’s the fourth year for the event, but the first time it has been held in a virtual format. Advertising professors Mel White and Kevin O’Neill spearheaded the effort to move the event online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The portfolio review, traditionally held in New York City at the Fisher Center, has been a key experience for students about to move into the highly competitive advertising industry, White says. The event allows advertising students with a creative emphasis to show their portfolios and receive feedback and advice from some of the top agencies in the country.

Zoom screenshot of students meeting for their remote review.
Newhouse seniors and graduate students meet with agency professionals at the Newhouse Creative Advertising Virtual Portfolio Review.
Photo courtesy of Mel White

“We at McCann are so proud of our relationship with Newhouse,” says Guillermo Perez, vice president and director of creative recruitment at McCann Worldgroup. “The ability for the class of 2020 and the professors to pivot to a virtual review so quickly showcased exactly why the graduates of this program are so prepared to succeed in our ever-changing industry.”

“I was very pleased with the large amount of ad agencies who attended,” White says. “It gave our creative advertising students an opportunity to talk about their compelling ad campaigns and show just how talented they are.”

Emily Elyshevitz, career development manager and creative internship manager at Ogilvy & Mather in New York, says that despite being online, Newhouse students brought energy and enthusiasm to the event. “The virtual portfolio review proved that whether in-house or working remotely, these future creative giants are prepared to make their mark,” she says.

A total of 50 creative advertising professionals, representing agencies like DDB, Wieden + Kennedy and Saatchi & Saatchi, attended the review sessions. Each student met with around nine agencies throughout the day, which is comparable to what has happened during in-person events.

O’Neill says the virtual portfolio review was a success because some agency representatives who might not have made the trek to New York were able to join online. “In some ways, it outperformed our annual portfolio review in New York,” he says.

One of those agencies was Goodby Silverstein & Partners, located in San Francisco. This was the first time the company’s staff members have attended the review, and senior Zach Driscoll was happy they were there.

“It was such a great opportunity,” Driscoll says. “With it being online, the fact that we got to talk to companies that weren’t only in New York City was really great.”

One of the students, senior Amy Schwartz, was originally nervous going into a virtual review because she was unfamiliar with the process. But once she started her meetings, she says, she relaxed.

“Everyone was really diligent,” Schwartz says. “We showed them certain campaigns, and everyone had a lot of feedback or compliments or specific things that could be changed on the campaigns that we showed them, and it was nice to get a bunch of opinions.”

Professors White and O’Neill worked with the creative advertising students in the Portfolio I, II and III courses, where they taught the students how to create compelling ad campaigns with big ideas across many mediums, and mentored the students to help the campaigns become portfolio-worthy.

“The high caliber of the student portfolios is a testament of the success of Newhouse advertising education,” says James Tsao, advertising department chair. “The virtual portfolio review represents an innovative and excellent strategy to prepare our students for the real world before their graduation.”

Schwartz says any feedback students receive right now is beneficial. She’s especially thankful that White and O’Neill spent time prepping them for the review.

“They’re doing everything they can to still put us in the best place possible for when the industry does open up for jobs again,” she says.

Seniors Olivia DeLorenzo and Mike Gaines, a student copywriter and art director team, say the feedback they received was invaluable.

“It was definitely exciting, getting a chance to finally show our work to professionals and get another opinion, different from our classmates,” Gaines says.

Both DeLorenzo and Gaines were glad that the review was still able to happen in a virtual setting and thanked both White and O’Neill for making it work.

“The fact that they put it all together, especially with the kind of last-minute switch to virtual —that’s extremely helpful just to be able to make connections,” Gaines says.

Juniors Isabella Leon, Ben Lin, Sam Luo, and Shaoli Yusaf operated as a support team, helping to plan the event, creating student bios with portfolio links to give to the agency representatives and teaching students how to present their online portfolios on Zoom.

“The ability to have one-on-one meetings allows recruiters the chance to find out if the students’ ideas, creativity and personality will fit in with their ad agency,” White says. “The ad industry relies on young creatives entering every year.”

Each year White provides her students with a 70-page list of available creative advertising internships. She created the first list in 2016 and updates it every spring. This is one of the tools that the advertising program uses to help students enter the industry.

Driscoll is one of those students. “It’s been so helpful with the internship list than she creates every single year. I truly don’t think I would have gotten any of the offers or interviews I did without Professor White’s help,” he says.

White says that the virtual format, which has allowed for more participation from more agencies regardless of location, could work into future portfolio reviews that could combine the New York event with an online element.

“Whatever is needed to give our creative advertising students every opportunity possible to help launch them into the ad industry, that’s what we’ll do,” White says.

Hannah Lees G’20 is a recent graduate of magazine, news and online journalism master’s program at the Newhouse School.