How to get your portfolio noticed by a boutique ad agency

This year is anything but ordinary. With the advertising job market starting to come back around, Hunt, Gather Account Director Alexis Dorenter, who has been running our hiring process, put together some of the key learnings she’s come across after reviewing over 800 resumes this year. (Thanks, Alexis!)

Throughout my tenure applying for jobs in this industry, I never really considered the intricacies on how to best cater your resume/portfolio when applying for a position at a boutique agency versus a large agency. But after leading up our hiring this past year, I wanted to pass on a few tips and tricks for those specifically looking to land positions at boutique agencies like ours.

When applying at a smaller shop, you’re likely submitting your resume directly to someone on the team other than an HR manager. We don’t use recruitment software and we open and review every single resume and portfolio. We’re not only looking for someone who fits the job description, but someone who’s checked us out, gets what we do and is excited to embrace the challenges and opportunities that come with working at a smaller shop.

We’ve been fortunate enough to grow our team during these unprecedented times and have been making a concerted effort to provide creative feedback on resumes/portfolios to those who ask. Here are some things to consider when applying at a shop like ours: 

  • Quick Apply, but not so quickly. LinkedIn Quick Apply is a great resource for candidates to quickly apply to prospective jobs, but going the extra mile to submit a short cover letter indicating why you’re a fit for this particular position definitely helps you stand out. While cover letters may feel a bit old school, it helps you stand out from all the applicants Quick Apply positions yield. That’s especially true if you’re applying for a position where you may not meet all the qualifications (ex: location, on-paper job experience, you’re overqualified, etc.). Taking a few minutes to explain why you’re qualified helps your cause. Out of the 800 Quick Apply resumes I’ve reviewed this year, less than ten have included a cover letter. I promise, I read them and it does make you stand out.
  • Do a bit of research. The current job market is tough and spending time researching each and every company may sound daunting, but spending a few minutes understanding the agency to make sure they’re doing the type of work that you want to be a part of is important for everyone. Read and digest the job description, browse the case studies on the website, see what the agency is sharing on LinkedIn and Instagram. You don’t need to spend hours researching, but if you do interview, it’s assumed you’re familiar with the work and at minimum are interested in the responsibilities listed in the job description. Bonus points if you can weave how you can contribute to the agency based on the work into your cover letter.
  • PDF…please? This may be one of the biggest differences between applying at a boutique agency and a large agency. We don’t use recruitment software and have a person downloading and reviewing every resume, so keywords are less important. For us, it’s always preferred to review a resume in PDF vs word to ensure your formatting sticks. Triple check that all your links are working properly (make sure your portfolio URL is front and center) and that your email address can be copy and pasted. While this would never deter me from selecting a candidate, it makes things so much easier for the reviewer and it’s appreciated.
  • Save As! Saving your resume with your full name, title of the position and the company you’re applying for may seem like an arbitrary step, but shows that little extra attention to detail. It also makes your resume very easy to search, which you want, right?
  • Make it nice. It may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re applying for a position in creative, your resume is our first glimpse into your aesthetic and creative chops. Color, logo and unique typography always help. It’s your calling card, make sure it reflects you.
  • Your book 
    • Make sure I can see it. I can’t say this enough: make sure your portfolio URL is front and center, clickable, working correctly and if there’s a password, you note it directly on your resume. I want to be able to quickly flip your book to my creative directors. It’s surprising how many applicants overlook this really important step.
    • Show us the works. As an agency that specializes in digital, we’re always looking for people who have experience developing full digital journeys from ideation, to banners, to emails, to photoshoots, to websites, to social. While banners and emails may not be the sexiest creative in your book, know that at a small shop, you’ll likely be touching every part of a campaign, so show us.
    • What did you do? It’s important to note the role you played in each campaign: did you oversee it, write it or design it? Depending on the position we’re hiring for, we’ll be looking for specific experience, but also those who are doers and touch multiple aspects of the work.
    • Make it move! Show us some motion! If you’re designing for digital, you’re likely incorporating motion into most of your designs anyway. Motion isn’t just visually eye-catching for your portfolio, it helps bring your work to life. 

Things are picking up out there despite the challenges of 2020. And while the tips we’ve put together might not be what every shop is looking for, they’ll serve you well at smaller agencies like ours and help you jump to the top of the stack. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reading your cover letter.

Can Gen Z save us from ourselves?

It’s starting to look like Gen Z are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Not that they have much choice; climate change is no longer merely a threat; it’s here in the form of Cyclone Idai, Tropical Storm Imelda and the devastating floods in India last year. Equally urgent is the need to end systemic police violence against BIPOC, eradicate school shootings, fight voter suppression…and the list goes on.

Lucky for us, Gen Z considers political and social engagement a priority—even an obligation. A 2019 report found that almost 75% of Gen Z believe that being politically and socially active is “very important” to their identity. From Greta Thunberg to Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old who filmed George Floyd’s murder, digital natives want to do more than take a personal stand; they want to influence others to create change. 

Ziad Ahmed, the Yale student who founded Redefy at 14 as a hub for student activism, put it like this: “We’re looking at a world where there is so much injustice and brutality and unfairness and bias, and we’re saying, damn it, we can’t just let this keep going.”

When it comes to the behavior of politicians, celebrities and even brands, it’s not about cancel culture, it’s about accountability—and it’s thriving, in large part due to social media. Here are some of the recent ways Gen Z has used social media to disrupt and change the world.

Time to rally

At President Trump’s June rally in Tulsa, OK, out of one million RSVPs, organizers expected 100,000 attendees. When only 6,200 ticket holders showed up, Gen Z TikTok users and K-pop stans claimed responsibility. Savvy enough to boost video views, they spread the word to register and no-show via Alt TikTok, K-pop Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, then deleted their messages 24-48 hours later. Stunts like this are both a powerful form of protest and a way to participate in politics for those who can’t yet vote. (And now Trump wants to ban TikTok…is it really about data security and privacy?) 

Beyond boy bands

K-pop fans have a bigger agenda than simply embarrassing the president. They’re also active supporters of Black Lives Matter. BTS, a K-pop boy band so big they represent 0.3% of South Korea’s GDP, donated $1 million to BLM and the BTS “army” swiftly responded by raising another million. K-pop fans have also drowned out racists by flooding Twitter with videos and photos of the band tagged with #WhiteLivesMatter and #ItsOkayToBeRacist. As a result, Twitter’s algorithm now categorizes those hashtags as K-pop trends. They’ve initiated mass emailings to universities like Harvard and Yale to advocate for the expulsion of racist students and, when the Dallas Police Department asked for videos of illegal activities at protests, they flooded a Dallas police app with dance videos, temporarily disabling it.

#NeverAgain

After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, surviving students launched a movement that reenergized the country behind gun control. Using social media, they garnered massive public support for specific gun control legislation, registered hundreds of thousands of high school students to vote, coordinated a massive school walk-out and organized the March for Our Lives protest in D.C. that drew hundreds of thousands of participants and spawned 800 sister marches. Gen Z is bold and fearless; survivor Cameron Kasky went head to head with Sen. Marco Rubio on national TV in a live town hall, asking if he would turn down money from the NRA. (Rubio stuttered and flailed, and was booed.) Major retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods pulled assault-style rifles from their shelves as a result of pressure from the campaign. 

Postscript

Watch Deutsche Telekom’s new spot starring Billie Eilish; it’s both a recognition and a celebration of Gen Z’s dedication to doing good.

Pandemic Pivot

The Top 5 Advertising-in-a-Pandemic Pivots

With the aggressive spread of COVID-19, brands the world over found themselves facing an unprecedented question: how do you adapt your marketing strategy to a global pandemic? Without a blueprint of any kind to guide them, businesses who have pivoted successfully have done so by placing the customer’s needs at the heart of every decision. “What do our customers need right now?” and “How can we make their lives better?” are the two questions smart brands are asking themselves. 

Here are five of our top favorite pivots (plus one to grow on).

#5: Madewell

Not everyone needs (or can afford) to buy new clothes right now, but we could all use a little more self-care. Madewell recognized this and adapted their emails to include more than just products and promotions. From skincare masks you can DIY at home to playlists that give you a mental vacation, Madewell tried to offer customers a respite from stress in the form of (free) ways to look after yourself. This kind of added value invites goodwill and keeps customers loyal.

#4: Girlboss

In mid-April, Girlboss, an online community of professional millennial women, launched a new content series focused on all things lockdown. The Girlboss Guide to Now included five days of tips, resources and support for community members coping with a variety of COVID-related challenges. They shared videos, Q+A and other content about topics like pivoting to a new career and tightening up finances, doing their best to inspire their followers during uncertain times.

#3: Lunya

Luxe pajama maker Lunya used the idea of being at home—their forte, of course—as a jumping off point to peek into their own homes. They got real about lockdown in blog posts about their employees’ quarantine life and sought to lift up their audience with #sharealittlehope, where each use of the hashtag triggered a donation to COVID-related job retraining. Between fancy pajamas and a hashtag of feel-good posts, we couldn’t help but feel a little better.

#2: Visa

Poised to launch a massive campaign ahead of the summer Olympics, Visa hit pause and instead rolled out  “Do Your Part Like an Olympian,” a series of social media videos that show Olympic athletes adapting to lockdown by working out at home—and using hand sanitizer. Using a tactic many would eventually follow, the athletes did the filming themselves on their phones. 

#1: Apple

A master class in how to showcase features and benefits without being sales-y, Apple addressed the many challenges of WFH with humor and compassion in The whole working from home thing. Picking up where last year’s The Underdogs left off, they reflected back to us what it’s really like to collaborate at a distance. The narrative is both entertaining and authentic, and it shows off Apple’s entire ecosystem of products beautifully—and leaves viewers hoping for a third installment. 

Bonus: Chipotle

At Hunt, Gather, we hustled to help long-time client Chipotle roll out a number of customer-centric programs, starting with Delivery Kitchen. To address early concerns about the safety of takeout and delivery, they created a kitchen-within-a-kitchen solely dedicated to to-go orders, with extra protective measures. In July, we supported the launch of Farmers Market where consumers can buy direct from Chipotle farmers. Customers get access to sustainably-raised food, farmers get access to new customers and Chipotle gets to live and breathe its commitment to sustainability and transparency in new ways, even in the midst of a global pandemic.

A New Reality

For more than two months, most of us have been social distancing, far from friends, co-workers and even family, in an attempt to squash the spread of novel coronavirus. Though most states have begun to reopen, experts warn we may be in for social distancing measures on and off through 2021. As we all try to reimagine what that kind of life might look like, here’s our take on what will matter to consumers in the months ahead, and how brands can prepare.

 

Trust and transparency

While some folks are ready to embrace the post-social distancing era, many will reemerge cautiously, keeping their circle of trust small as they wait to see how relaxed measures affect contagion levels. Customers will be paying close attention to how vigilant brick and mortars are about cleanliness and safety measures. Though Texas restaurants and some retailers were allowed to reopen at 25% capacity as of May 11, Austin businesses like the Peached Tortilla and milk + honey spa opted to open on their own schedule once they could develop their own health and safety guidelines. Businesses who are transparent and enjoy a history of customer trust will have a leg up.

 

A healthy lifestyle

Until there’s a vaccine, COVID-19 will remain a threat, and preventative measures to preserve health and boost immunity are fast becoming a priority. Supplement makers like HumanN have reported spikes in sales of immunity strengthening-products including vitamin C and elderberry extract. With people eating at home as much as 50% more often, sales of organic produce went up 22% in March alone (compared with 1.8% in January and February). At-home gardening and chicken farming are both on the rise, too, with egg wholesalers reporting a rise of up to 600% in purchases. Click and Grow, who sells smart indoor gardens, is selling out as soon as they restock. Health and wellness brands stand to benefit here, as do businesses who can pivot their products in this direction.  

 

Save or splurge?

With so many job losses (and the threat of more looming), consumers have seriously curtailed spending. Out of necessity or uncertainty, many will remain frugal, cutting out whole categories of expenses (mani-pedis, for instance) and depending more on value brands like grocery store generics. At the same time, people are desperate for comfort and finding it in relatively inexpensive things like alcohol and sugar: purchases of beer, wine, ice cream and cookies all boomed in late March. As the economy reopens, those who can afford to will be primed to splurge, but the tension between spending and saving will remain. What was once considered a necessity has now become an indulgence, with hair cuts currently topping both lists. Be prepared for less expensive treats to outsell splashy purchases for a while yet.

 

Connection, connection, connection

Socializing has never been as strictly curtailed as it has been lately. In the absence of safe opportunities to gather in small groups of friends, large groups of strangers or virtually anything in between, maintaining virtual connections has become more critical than ever. Individuals report bumps in screen time that range from 33%–185%. In Italy, Facebook Messenger calls with three or more people increased by more than 1,000% in March and both Instagram and TikTok reported a 25% increase in engagement in the same month. So did Zoom, who rocketed to the top of Apple’s App Store downloads, breaking previous records. Finding ways to create connections between people, such as with a Facebook Live Q+A or demo or a TikTok challenge, is where brands need to be. Chipotle launched Chipotle Together, a series of virtual lunches with celebrities that allow fans to connect over a shared experience. It’s the same reason why we put together the Social Distancing Channel: to help folks find free online content like concerts and classes. 

 

Less celebrity, more real

Watching Oprah cook and drink wine can make us feel like we’re all in this together, but the lockdown has also underscored the vast chasm between the well-to-do and the rest of us—for example, the Twitter backlash inspired by videos of JLo and A-Rod qurantining inside his posh Miami compound. On the other hand, celebs like soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who is holed up with partner Sue Bird in her Connecticut apartment, is broadcasting content like The Wine Down on Instagram Live to entertain people (including themselves) and raise money for Hunger: Not Impossible. Now is not the time to partner with out-of-reach celebrities, but to focus on celebs, micro-influencers and social media stars who we can relate to as real people. 

 

A social conscience 

If ever we needed local companies to step up and meet the needs of our communities, now is it. Local restaurant and butcher Salt & Thyme has reinvented itself as a pop-up grocery store. Democratic candidate Julie Oliver has reached out to folks here in District 25 to offer support in the form of food delivery or errand-running. Chipotle gave their employees a 10% raise and more paid sick leave, and donated 200,000 burritos to healthcare workers on the frontlines. Offering free value-added educational content is another form of community giving; think of the many salons and stylists doing online tutorials so customers can DIY. Those companies, too, are poised to reap the rewards of customer loyalty whenever business gets back on track. The kind of behavior that has been considered nice-to-have in the past will become the default by which companies big and small are judged.

 

Advertising 101

A quick recap of the basics: recent research found that only 8% of people believe companies should stop advertising. When you do, focus on streaming TV and social media, including gaming and live content. AR and IR have a role to play as long as social distancing continues (for-sale house tours, anyone?) and you can get away with a lot less polish when it comes to production value (see also: Parks and Rec’s recent episode and SNL at home). One cool new ad venture worth mulling over? Quibi. They’ve bet big on mobile-only short form content with mega stars like Chrissy Teigen, Liam Helmsworth and Cardi B signed on for 10-minutes-or-less snackable shows, but with their on-the-go millennial and Gen Z target audience stuck at home with nothing but time on their hands, some industry analysts think it may have hit at the wrong moment. Only time will tell. 

Business not as usual

It’s hard to believe that just 10 days ago we were still driving into the office every morning, grabbing lattes and complaining about the french fries being left off of our lunch order. 

And now here we are, cocooned inside our homes with our people or our pets or maybe just ourselves, plus the neverending stress from the ever-changing rules and not knowing when and how this will end or what the world will look like when we finally emerge.

We are grateful to have work and grateful that it is work we can do from home. Grateful for virtual wine dates and free online concerts and for our fur babies who still think chasing a ball is all you really need to be happy. 

We are also lonely and anxious and missing out on a lot. We are worried about our health and our families and our sanity and about what will happen when the TP finally runs out (sidenote: sales of bidet attachments are 10 times what they were pre-coronavirus). 

Along with the gratitude and fear, there is also joy. We are finding things that make us laugh and let us forget for a moment what’s happening in the world. 

Here is the tribe’s list of what’s making the days hard and what’s helping us make it through. 

Alexis

Rose: More walks with my dog, Frankie. It’s nice to put some music on and go for a stroll around the neighborhood. Everyone is especially friendly and I’m meeting a ton of neighbors (from our respective sides of the street, of course), giving me a great sense of community.
Thorn: It can be especially lonely for someone who lives alone during this time of social distancing. Daily facetime sessions with friends and family are helping me get by. 

Cambrea

Rose: I’ve been enjoying the extra time to be quiet in my thoughts. Slowing down and “doing nothing” sometimes is a great thing. Despite what may seem like a hard time, I think we can all be thankful for this opportunity the universe is giving us to be still.
Thorn: I didn’t get to see my nephew born. I had things canceled that I was looking forward to. I can’t see my parents or my friends. I have had moments of fear where I’m concerned for the state of our economy and country. The future is very unclear and that’s an uncomfortable thought. 

Cat

Rose: Connecting with friends whom I haven’t spoken to in years over virtual wine dates, sunshine and birdsong, and homebrewed iced coffee.
Thorn: Hanging out with my friends and being in a room full of strangers, hearing the chatter and feeling the energy. I’m also sick of being in the same few spaces endlessly. 

Emily

Rose: Being able to ride my bike through the neighborhoods around my apartment and seeing other families also outside enjoying the outdoors. It reminds me of a much simpler time.
Thorn: I sadly had to cancel/postpone my wedding. Not only was it an incredibly hard decision, but we also lost thousands of dollars. However, everyone’s safety is more important, and we’re looking forward to celebrating in 2021. What’s 10 more months of waiting? 

Jason

Rose: Feeling like I outsmarted the apocalyptic toilet paper hoarders, who I assume are the same people that toilet papered people’s yards on Halloween, by ordering a Bidet.
Thorn: Not splurging for the warm water option on the Bidet.

Jo

Rose: Slowing down and taking much-needed time for friends, family and newfound creative outlets. Plus, baking things that make my apartment smell amazing, like cookies and bread.
Thorn: My partner and I planned a big move to Australia in April to be closer to his family. We had to postpone, which was sad for both of us. On the bright side, we procrastinated big time, so we still have our couch, TV and houseplants (the important things).      

Kathy

Rose: So, on the bright side, my neighborhood started social distancing dance parties. We’ve met neighbors we never did before and learned that none of us are good at dancing.
Thorn: On the not-so-bright-side, watching the businesses we love in the neighborhood (and beyond) struggling is awful. Needless to say, everyone is getting a gift card to a local restaurant for birthdays/holidays for future use.

Lynna

Rose: I’m really enjoying the camaraderie with clients, creatives, and the community to hustle problem-solving. Nothing like a good pandemic to bring people closer together… while being apart (I felt I needed a bad mom joke).
Thorn: I’ve been talking about a staycation of sorts for months, I just didn’t think that it would force everyone into isolation to make it happen. I’m missing face-to-face time with my team the most–but everyone is really thriving and going above and beyond to pull it all together daily.

Paola

Rose: It’s comforting to see that in a time that seems very self-driven, we can still all come together for a common good, even though it’s a dramatic pause on all of our lives.
Thorn: As a college senior, it’s hard to realize that I was unaware of my “lasts” as they happened. Last class, last walk across campus, last time seeing my friends together. My parents may not see me walk the stage at graduation. I wish I’d lived in the present rather than wishing that time away.

Sam

Rose: How communities and businesses have pulled together. There’s a stronger sense of community that brings a lot of hope to a frustrating and scary situation. I’m finding new ways to connect with friends and family, like Jackbox games that you can play virtually across time zones.
Thorn: The not-knowing. Not knowing when we can stop social distancing, not knowing if my partner will still have a job next week (he’s in the restaurant industry), not knowing when I might be able to see my family again. There’s no telling where (or when) the pieces will end up falling. 

Terri

Rose: I’m using this time as a learning tool for my young children to become more compassionate and understanding of the situation and the consequences for the world.
Thorn: Homeschooling. I can only answer about ¾ of the school questions that they need help with (that fraction was the extent of my math expertise). I’m a terrible teacher. Can I fire myself?

 

Here’s to all of us keeping the faith, keeping it together and keeping it real.

The evolution of sustainability: where we predict brands will go in 2020

Sustainability has been a big deal for a long time, but there’s more pressure than ever for brands to take it seriously.

The U.N. has issued dire warnings two years in a row about the devastating effects of climate change that we’ll face if we don’t make drastic changes, fast.

Plus, both Millenials and Gen Z — who together account for nearly $350 billion in spending power in the U.S. — now demand sustainable business practices in exchange for their loyalty.

It’s no longer enough to “green” a product by using recycled or responsibly-sourced materials; sustainability has become table stakes, and those who sidestep their environmental responsibilities will quickly become as irrelevant as BlackBerry. Forward-thinking brands who want to stand out have to push the bounds of what’s possible.

Here are three emerging trends we predict we’ll see more of in 2020.

Focus on Local

First, it was eat local, then it was buy local. Now companies are cultivating supplier relationships that support local communities. Madewell’s Hometown Heroes Collective gives local artisans and makers from all over the U.S. a chance to grow their businesses by selling their products on madewell.com, and IKEA partnered with London designer Tom Dixon to design an experimental model for urban farming in the hopes of spurring more people to take it up.

Transparency

There is no sustainability without transparency since true sustainability requires understanding the full impact of a company’s value chain, from manufacturing to marketing. Danone/Dannon releases a report that shows their successes as well as shortfalls in striving for a net-zero carbon footprint. Chipotle launched the Young Farmers program to ensure an ample supply of meat and dairy that meets their “food with integrity” guidelines, including the responsible use of antibiotics and giving animals room to roam. Farmers under 40 who meet these standards get seed money and three-year contracts.

Zero Waste

This is one for brands that are looking for a stretch goal. While few companies will hit net-zero, more and more are trying to cut waste as much as possible. Adidas has pledged to use only recycled plastics in shoes and clothing by 2024. MAC takes the empties customers bring back and turns them into pencil sharpeners and other beauty tools, and Nestlé has created the first recyclable candy bar wrapper.

At Hunt, Gather we’re trying to up our sustainability game by focusing on reducing and recycling. It’s easy enough to say no to ketchup packets or plastic utensils and stash reusable bags and coffee cups in the car (and publicly shame tribe members who don’t). And we welcome partnering with clients like Chipotle who continue to push sustainability forward and do their part to create a better world.