The Chicago Portfolio School


Our school's a little different. But, so are you, otherwise you wouldn't be here. Try on a few eyeballs and check out Chicago Portfolio School.

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How to Explain Portfolio School


Everyone at Chicago Portfolio School has run into the same awkward situation - someone asking what you’ve been up to. It’s hard to tell them that you’re spending a year doodling and making fart jokes to get a job most don’t know exists.

So here’s a letter that might come in handy:

Dear (Mom/Uncle Stanley/That-Neighbor-You-Ran-Into-Last-Time-You-Went-To-Your-Parents’-House),

The other day, you asked me what I had been up to, and more specifically, “What the heck is portfolio school? Like, investments? Copyright law?”

I’m sure you sensed my discomfort as I struggled to define what I do every day.

You know those funny ads you see on TV, or the ones that make you cry?


Okay. The stuff you mute while you pee? That’s made by writers and art directors at an advertising agency. My goal is to get a job making those ads - the kind you choose to watch.

But at advertising agencies, the demand for talent is high.  Even junior-level “creatives” have to show samples of ads they’ve made before they can get jobs. Inexperienced creative people go to school to practice making ads to show during job interviews.

How does that work? First, a creative partner or team and I sit in a room, and talk about the merits of basketball over hockey and vis-versa. We draw pictures of elephants playing instruments, and then throw them away. We write a list of the porn-version of popular movie titles and sketch with markers.

With enough time, these thought exercises lead to creative ideas that help us meet our goal. Sometimes it’s selling more popsicles. Other times it’s raising awareness of testicular cancer.

We present our work in class, to our instructors who are all industry professionals. Their feedback helps us find the areas with the most potential for being interesting. From there, we make sample ads to put in our portfolio and with any luck, get a job.

That’s it!

Oh! And then we drink booze. Sweet, sweet booze.

I hope this helps! It sure helped me.
(Your name)

Written by David Mattera

By heather : April 21, 2014

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CPS students take home merit from oneshow student competition

Congratulations to two CPS teams who will get merit certificates for their work for the Young Ones competition.

Molly Stapleton, Chris Warner and Chris Glomp were recognized for their work on the Organic by John Patrick brief and Rachel Bottlinger and David Mattera were recognized for their Save the Arts print work.

Their work, along with all of the finalists from around the country, will be featured at the One Show Awards Ceremony on May 6th in New York City and will go up on soon.

Written by David Mattera

By heather : April 17, 2014

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Portfolio Night Chicago - Tickets On Sale Now

Portfolio Night is an evening of student portfolio review held on May 21st in a couple dozen cities all over the world. People from Athens to Tokyo sign up to get face time with creative directors and recruiters and hear some feedback.

Luckily, Chicago is one of the cities taking part. Luckier still, Chicago Portfolio is our city’s sponsor.

4th and 5th quarter students will get a $20 refund if they sign up and attend. The event will take place at Razorfish at 5:00pm, so sign up, get your three or more campaigns in shape to show off, and go. You won’t regret it.

For more information, email Christine Barrett .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Written by David Mattera

By heather : April 16, 2014

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Best of Quarter is up and there is some amazing work this time around. Looking at our own work all comped up and beautiful and spending hours looking at annuals and trade magazines every week makes a few things clear about some of what makes good work great.

For example, we hear it all the time - “Concept is king.” And it’s true. But to extend this metaphor, design is the castle and the cape and the intricate gold mace that gives the king credibility. A great concept depends on great design. Otherwise, it’s just another fat guy with a beard.

My theory is that non-verbal communication came first. That’s how every other animal on Earth can get a sense of one another’s mood without ever needing to speak a word. Design is tail wagging for humans. It speaks to the animal part of the brain - the part you can’t control - and piques interest and sends messages before copy can get to the human part. It’s completely primal.

That’s why a book full of great ideas without polish won’t get you as far as one that’s been shined and buffed until it glows.

No one is free from the rule of a credible king. Not even creative recruiters.

Blog written by David Mattera
Dippin’ Dots packaging designed by Alex Lee

By heather : April 03, 2014

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At CPS, we hear a lot of feedback. It’s a hard process to endure sometimes - people you look up to and your peers all picking apart the work you’ve spent hours making. Everyone’s aim is to get the work better, but that doesn’t dull the sting. After watching and participating in many critiques, the pattern for smooth presentations start to appear. They are:

Our instructors don’t teach for the money. They do it because they want to help the industry noobs whose shoes they filled not long ago. It’s best to be thankful for their time, for the class’s time and all of their feedback - even if you don’t agree with it. Be good to each other, people.

If you think they’re wrong, say why.
Creative is subjective. Maybe your class doesn’t like the way you are using the word “moist” in your headline. But they could be wrong and you have a reason for thinking so. Say it. When you can do this and not get fussy and defensive, your creative choices might make more sense to them.

Mood affects the way a presentation goes.
No one will force you to take their advice. So there’s no use trying to change feedback by arguing. If you feel it in your soul that you’re right about your choices, go for it. But know that you may need to defend your ideas if you get the same feedback again. Keep the mood light.

Being clear.
If your work isn’t working, it’s nine-times-outta-ten because it’s not clear enough. If it seems like you’re bickering over a critique, it’s probably because you’re not stating your thoughts clearly. Do that more…

Written by David Mattera

By heather : March 19, 2014

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The end of another quarter is upon us. As students hurry to get their campaigns finished before the end of the classes (read: End of Quarter Party), our 4th quarter students will make the transition from full-time students to full-time job seekers.  Much like the transition from little baby caterpillars into beautiful butterflies, it can be a scary emerging from the cocoon CPS provides into the perilous world of looking for work.

That’s why CPS offers not just one-whole-year of instruction from real-life, honest-to-goodness industry professionals, but also a full extra quarter – for free - to help students polish their books, get contacts, get interviews, and ultimately, land sweet ad or design gigs.

During the 5th quarter, students still have access to all of the school’s resources, like printing, nice computers, and the library of award show annuals, industry magazines and reference books. They can also get feedback from visiting creative directors and teachers in a periodic portfolio review.

Finally, CPS offers a class specifically for 5th quarter students with our Director of Learning, Christine Barrett - a former creative recruiter with Wieden+Kennedy and Leo Burnett, among others. In her weekly class, called Marketing Your Book, students learn to promote themselves, make contacts, and thrust their books into the laps of the right people who can get them work.

It’s not mandatory to stay all 5 quarters, but this isn’t college, and there’s no such thing as a CPS diploma. So until you’ve got a job, there’s no pride or money lost as a super senior. And unlike the others before it, in the last quarter, you’ve got a full ride.

Good news, these students no longer need jobs. Gotta love their positive vibes.

Written by David Mattera

By heather : March 10, 2014

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The Winners Among Us

We are all winners in one way or another. Well, kind of. Think way back. Like, little league. No? Still nothing? Okay. Well, I think you’re great.

Some of us however are more winner-y than others. Like Eric Pagsanjan, Jeff Roy, Jake Roland and Felicity Pal - AKA Team AbstractBrainChild - who won a 2nd place Student Silver for their work on the January 2014 Young Glory Brief. You can see their brilliant interactive mobile idea, RuleOfThumb, for the client SquareCash on Eric’s portfolio. Nice work, BrainChildren!

Check out the winning work here:

Written by David Mattera

By heather : March 05, 2014

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It’s Freaking Freezing! What Chicago Teaches Us About Finding Interesting Human Insights.

This winter sucks. Pretty bad. It’s still cold. Like, single-digits-for-days cold. Which sucks. Did I just say that? But putting yourself in the place of an ordinary person who is frustrated and busy and cold all the time also opens up new insights and ways to sell things to other frustrated, cold, busy people.

Everyone’s fingers get cold and chapped, so texting gets harder when Chicago turns Chiberia.

That’s what we call a human insight. It’s something most everyone experiences. And we use these relatable realizations to make our ads target specific consumers who might benefit from what we’re selling. Then we use that truth to make a concept and use that concept to make ads to sell, let’s just say, men’s moisturizing soap.

The soap that keeps your manly hands soft, so you can text all year. (An equally important lesson is learning to kill bad ideas quickly.)

Using truths about the frozen-human condition wisely is a critical skill to learn so the ads we make are smart and strike a chord with people that is surprising and interesting. Learning to spot interesting truths is big part of the reason it’s worth spending a year living in a city-sized freezer to draw pictures with friends.

Written by David Mattera

By heather : March 03, 2014

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What is OUR Agency Culture

DDB says,”[W]e are guided by playbooks, not rule books. Rigid methodologies minimize creativity. Paint-by-numbers gets you the same painting every time.”

EnergyBBDO says, “Energize People. Energize Brands.”

Leo Burnett says, “Creativity has the power to transform human behavior. “

The way we work at Chicago Portfolio School is not dissimilar from the way creatives at agencies do, so don’t we also have a culture?

I’d argue that we do. And here it is:

We are scrappy.

You have to be. You have only one-year to produce work that will get you hired. The only way anything we do gets produced or funded is by thinking creatively and making it happen. We don’t have scholarships (yet) or big donors. That makes us a pretty good bet when there’s a need for creatives who can both pitch good ideas and know how to make them happen cheaply.

We are cooperative.

There’s a strong emphasis at CPS on working together. Not just with your partner, but with everyone at school. There’s no holding ideas close to the chest here. We all know that a great book from any CPS student makes our whole school look better and that working together makes all of our work better.

We are independent.

Our teachers are busy professionals. Many have office hours and they are all willing to help or give guidance whenever they have a second, but no one at CPS is going to sit you down and make sure your work is good enough except you.

So what’s our motto? (if I may propose one):

At Chicago Portfolio School, great work comes from working better.

Written by David Mattera

By heather : February 26, 2014

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Melanie Sims is awesome

CPS is a strenuous feat for students, staff and faculty alike. Late nights, long commutes and endless critiques wear on nerves and immune systems. But some students don’t tire - they get stronger. Like Melanie Sims, a 3rd quarter writer whose Associated Press about the Braxton family was recently picked up and published on Huffington Post. It takes special talent to write great ads. It takes heaps of it to get news stories published at the same time. Keep it up Mel!

Written by David Mattera

By heather : February 26, 2014

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