The Chicago Portfolio School


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See it through the eyes of:

The Great Schlep

This morning, I was Googling around with no real aim in mind because FALL BREAK! – When I came across a certain news headline. The headline read, “Advertising is a poison that demeans even love – and we’re hooked on it.”

“Harsh,” I thought. But then I remembered that I was initially very skeptical about getting into advertising. You know, there’s that whole idea that the big “ad giants” are milking the world for all its worth; then there’s the idea that the industry is completely obsessed with money, and so on.

Obviously, I made the decision to attend portfolio school – at the of the end of the day, the only career path that’s 100% wholesome involves living in a nunnery – but as I’ve been learning, it turns out that advertising isn’t all about, well, deception and dollar signs. Sometimes, advertising can serve a purpose bigger than selling a good or service. Sometimes, it can… get presidents elected.

Yeah, you read that correctly. In 2008, the award-winning agency Droga5 created “The Great Schlep” –  a campaign to help Barack Obama win the presidential election. The agency targeted the state of Florida, specifically, its older Jewish population. They filmed a video starring Sarah Silverman that featured young Jews visiting their grandparents, explaining to them things like- “just because Obama’s middle name is Hussein doesn’t mean he’s a Muslim.” Debunking such myths must have been exactly what the older Jewish population needed, because in the end, the video went viral, the Great Schlep Facebook group had 25,000 members, and, most importantly, Obama received the highest percentage of Florida’s Jewish vote in 30 years. Pretty impressive.

So there’s that. Advertising DOES have the power to do “good.” To not just make consumers reach for their wallets, but to provide powerful storytelling that has the potential to REALLY change the game up.

(Thanks to Teressa Iezzi’s “The Idea Writers” for making me aware of the whole Obama-and-the-state-of-Florida thing!)

Written by: Amanda Burger

Watch the video that went viral here:

By heather : September 30, 2014

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What’s in my Office Thursday: Rick Hickey

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet CPS Alum, Rick Hickey, Junior Copywriter at Schafer Condon Carter, who just reached his one-year anniversary 2 days ago!

Check out his advice below:

“I’ve spent the last year working on some awesome Chicago-based clients, specifically the Cubs, Giordano’s and Ideal Industries. As a Junior CW I’ve had the chance to work on everything from campaign concepting to below-the-line email blasts and social media to print and OOH campaigns. I’ve even had the opportunity to work on TV, radio and digital copy for a range of websites and projects.”

“My Art Director and I are currently working as the leads on the 2015 campaign for the Chicago Cubs and just did a shoot at Wrigley Field for next year’s TV campaign (see the attached selfie).”

The advice I always offer young creatives is as follows:

- Be nice. You can learn a lot from listening and you never open doors with a bad attitude. If you don’t think a partner’s idea is a good idea, just write it down and move on. The bad ideas weed themselves out. Just keep pushing. There’s no need to be a jerk.

- Stay Humble. Young creatives aren’t entitled to anything. You earn what you get by working hard and thinking differently. Don’t ever be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Don’t get comfortable, there’s always something that can be done to improve.

- Nerd out and love what you do. This is a soul-sucking industry where you’ll see some of your best ideas crash and burn because somebody important won’t see your vision. Stay sharp by keeping up with the best work in the business (Adweek, AdAge, Cannes, Comm Arts, etc.) and remember that some of the greatest ideas are built on the bones of early concepts and crumpled up marker comps. Not everybody thinks the same, so be patient and keep doing what you do best, and eventually you will push something through that you can be proud of. This is a fun industry, but it’s also an emotionally draining one. Stay positive and good things will come to you.

Check out his awesome work:

By heather : September 25, 2014

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What’s in my Office Thursday: Megha Kumar

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet CPS Alum, Megha Kumar, Junior Copywriter at Anderson DDB in Toronto!

Check out her advice below:

“My name is Megha and I’m a Junior Copywriter at Anderson DDB (DDB’s healthcare division) in Toronto. I usually work on vitamin brands, psoriasis cream, and fun products like that. The biggest challenge in advertising is getting past the regulatory team. Great ideas do get rejected, but you have to keep at it. You never know when a client may feel experimental. Just recently, my art director partner and I competed with other senior creatives for a big, non-healthcare pitch and won it. So “miracles” do happen if you work hard.”

“My other piece of advice to all aspiring creatives is to be interesting. Don’t be afraid to be assertive and quirky, because it’s your personality that makes you stand out. Also, don’t forget your veggies. There’s a lot of free pizza and donuts in advertising. We can’t eat like we used to.”

By heather : September 18, 2014

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A Feature Friday: 4th Quarter Art Director, Jeff Roy

A Feature Friday: Meet 4th Quarter Art Director, Jeff Roy and learn about his awesome, time-consuming talent.

Time isn’t always on your side. But don’t worry, they are always making more of it.

Time management seems to be the biggest hurdle in Portfolio School and that is no different for 4th quarter Art Director, Jeff Roy.  Jeff’s book has some intricate work in it including some very cool hand drawn typography that had to take years off of his life (although you wouldn’t know it from that flowing mane of his). The highlight of the work for me is the Claytoon videos. Who doesn’t like claymation, am I right? Jeff has about 20 videos on his Vine site and has made probably around 60 in total.

“Each video can take anywhere from 45 minutes, to 4 to 5 hours.”

Painstaking work for sure, but it’s something that he has been doing for years and is what eventually led him in to the ad world. 

In talking to Jeff about managing his time, I discovered a unique method to knowing how to compartmentalize your time-

“I park in the metered parking so I know that when I have feed the meter, it’s time to switch gears.”

Sorry bikers… save your hippie nonsense for another day.

As far as advice for incoming students-

“At the end of the day, it’s your work, your voice, your book. As much as you have to be open to criticism and not fall in love with your first idea, you have to realize when to stand up for your work.”

Be sure and check out Jeff’s book here:

His vine videos here:

And be sure and ask him about an incredible experience when Wes Craven tweeted him and asked him to make this:

Written by: Jeff Polaschek

By heather : September 12, 2014

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What’s in my Office Thursday: Alfonso Zapata & Conor Clarke

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet CPS Alumni Alfonso Zapata (Copywriter) and Conor Clarke (Associate Art Director) – who are apparently two hot babes at FCB Chicago.

Check out their advice below:

“We’re Alf and Conor, five-tenths of a team at FCB known as the Hot Babe$. We both went to CPS and then we interned together and now we work together and, sometimes, we even take naps together. Alf never cleans his desk. Conor hates him for it.”

Here’s our advice:

“Even LeBron couldn’t win a championship by himself. You need to work well with others in order to succeed. If you have a great idea, someone else could have a way to make it better. Stop. Collaborate. Listen. Don’t assume your way is the only way of doing things and especially don’t assume that you’re always right.”

“Also, always go to the bathroom before a big meeting.”

“Alf always does. Conor hates him for it.”

Take a gander at their work:

By heather : September 11, 2014

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What’s in my Office Thursday: Colin Merdian

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet CPS Alum, Colin Merdian – a very busy young man!  Colin is currently a full-time copywriter at SPM Marketing & Communications in LaGrange and a personal trainer at LA Fitness in Broadview.  He also does freelance work for Hopothesis (a local craft beer) where he runs their Twitter handle as well as Dollar Shave Club!

Check out what Colin has to say below:

“Two of my co-workers at SPM are former CPS alums, including my immediate subordinate. It’s a pretty great thing to bond over, and I attribute a lot to CPS in my ability to get hired at such a great place.”

“My advice for current students & aspiring ad people would be, ‘Advertising is kind of like baseball. 3 hits out of 10 plate appearances is a pretty good job. It’s ok if you strikeout a lot, cause when you finally hit that home run, which you will, it will make all those wiffs totally worth it!!’”

Take a look at Hopothesis Twitter: @Hopothesis
And Colin’s Portfolio:

By heather : September 04, 2014

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XOXO Let’s Not Be Gossip Girls

It’s no secret that many of us within these hallowed non-door halls will be vying for the same positions after school. Most of us want to be in the shiny agencies of Chicago, so it’s no wonder you see the side-glances and hear the whisperings of gossip in this small school.

For those who look at their CPS peers as pure competition, you’re doing it wrong. Yes, we’re all after the same thing and that leads to a lot of scary self-doubt and wanting to put down others and their successes. Resist that. The only competition you have here is yourself. Come up with better campaigns than you did last week. Push past that mediocre headline to the greatness that’s sitting on the tip of your tongue. Saying someone else is crappy doesn’t make your book any better. We’re all guilty of this temptation to slide down the rabbit hole of negativity, but as a wise old fifth quarter I can say we’ve all done it and it’s never a good look. Use each other to vent frustrations but at the end of the day you’re in the trenches together and that’s something to bond over.

When the time comes to canvass LinkedIn and start getting those interviews, stay positive. No one stole a job from you; it wasn’t yours to get.  It’s just fine to feel bummed about opportunities that didn’t come to fruition, but god bless the broken road, right?  While it’s hard to see the forest through the trees of talent and creativity all around you, try to adopt the Zen belief that your time will come. If you put in the work, and congratulate your friends, this will all work out.

Written by: Rose Schuchat

By heather : September 02, 2014

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What’s in my Office Thursday: Madeline Maser

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet Madeline Maser, Freelance Designer, Illustrator & Photographer at Hausfrau – a comedy/photography magazine in Brooklyn, NY.

Check out her advice below:

“My biggest career goal has always been to be able to combine my passions (art and comedy) and use them in a way that I can make a living. Chicago Portfolio really helped me figure out how that can be done. I learned how to hone my aesthetic so it was more commercially viable, and I learned many tricks of the trade and insights into the fields of design and advertising that I would have never picked up on my own.”

“My classmates and I truly bonded and I made some amazing friends that have and still do lend a hand, both professionally and personally. I landed an internship at Walrus NYC with one of my favorite Copywriters/humans Brett Williams, and then decided to stick around in Brooklyn to pursue my passions. Currently I work (mostly) from home as a Freelance Illustrator, Photographer and Editorial Assistant for Hausfrau Magazine, a start-up venture that celebrates Brooklyn-based comedy, photography and art/media. I’m very thankful to Chicago Portfolio for leading me in that direction!”

“As for advice, I would say to not be afraid to get weird. Some, if not a majority, of the best work is that which challenges the audience and goes beyond the norm. Give your audience the benefit of the doubt.  They do not need to be spoon-fed. A good campaign or design is one that makes you think and sticks with you, or at the very least contains something new and exciting. We are constantly bombarded with mediocrity.  Challenge yourself to make work that will chip away at the current status quo.”

By heather : August 28, 2014

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A Student Feature: Bonnie Culhane

Welcome to week numero tres of our student profile segment!  I recently interviewed 4th quarter copywriter Bonnie Culhane. Bonnie’s a cool gal who’s always down to give advice to 2nd quarter youngins’ like me, so I thought – why not pay it forward by featuring her on the blog?

Bonnie and I talked a lot about the personality traits that make for a good copywriter. “Copywriters need to be inherently curious and always have an opinion on things, and I also think it’s important for them to be empathetic.”

Well said, Bonnie – especially, the inherently curious part. As a copywriter, art director or designer, you’re faced with a wide scope of projects. You could be working on anything from diapers, to light bulbs, to… funeral homes. So being a naturally curious person will go a long way.

Back to Bonnie - she chose to show us an integrated campaign for Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey that she completed with fellow copywriter Melanie Sims and art director Eric Pagsanjan.

Here’s one of their print ads for the campaign:

“It came from the insight that Fireball is something young people drink while partying. It’s not like other whiskies that old people sit down to drink by the fireplace. The tagline at the bottom is Put Some Fire on Your Chest, which obviously plays off of Put Some Hair on Your Chest… making it all about the idea that Fireball gets people at the bar pumped up and ready to make moves.”

And here’s a clever ambient ad idea:

If you would like to peruse Bonnie’s other work, her portfolio is at (which was custom-designed by her friend!)

Thanks for tunin’ in.

Written by: Amanda Burger

By heather : August 25, 2014

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What’s in my Office Thursday: Dan Donahue, Colleen Keesey & Sarah Dembkowski

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet a dynamic trio of Creative Interns at DDB Chicago – Dan Donahue, Colleen Keesey and Sarah Dembkowski.  They decided to share some words of wisdom together, along with a group selfie – the more, the merrier!

Check out their advice below:

“If any part of you thinks your idea could be better, make it better. It could be the difference between being killed and being sold.” -  Dan Donahue, Copywriter Intern @ DDB

“Make a habit of getting to school by 1 p.m. if possible everyday, especially when you think you have nothing to do. Boredom and creativity go hand in hand.” - Colleen Keesey, Art Director Intern @ DDB

“Be aggressive with your ideas.  It’s easier to scale them back a few notches than try to make them more interesting. Brainstorming-wise, don’t be that guy/girl that stomps an idea into oblivion. Even if the idea seems totally bizarre, keep the ball rolling and try to find a nugget to work off.  There’s nothing that kills creativity or chemistry within a group quite like someone shooting down everything. Oh, and be nice to your art director.” - Sarah Dembkowski, Copywriter Intern @ DDB

By heather : August 21, 2014

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