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The most talented kid in LA: One year later

Submitted by Portfolio Night 7 on June 11, 2009 – 9:05 pm

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Portfolio Night is an evening where thousands of aspiring art directors and copywriters come together to meet face-to-face with renowned creative directors, make contacts and gain advice on how  to make their portfolios better.

Of course there’s always the possibility of an agency hiring an extremely talented individual at Portfolio Night, but last year in Los Angeles, it was more than a possibility… it was a guarantee.

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Yes, the folks at 180, hosts of Portfolio Night 6 Los Angeles, promised to hire the person with the very best book they saw that evening. And after a long and arduous process, they made good on that promise. The lucky individual? An extremely talented copywriter named Ben Barney.

But now it’s one year later. How’s it all working out for Mr. Barney? What was his Portfolio Night experience like? Is he still at 180? What does he have to say to this year’s batch of aspiring copywriters and art directors? We caught up with Ben recently and got his thoughts.

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benbarneyFirst of all Ben, gimme a little bit of your story. Where are you from? What made you interested in advertising in the first place? Once you knew what you wanted to do with your life, what next?

“I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Some kind of writer. So I went to the University of Texas for their comm. program. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But knew it would be a safe place to dabble for a few years and leave with my head screwed on straight.”

“So I began trying jobs on for size. First journalism. Then politics. Which is advertising with more responsibility and less fun. And when I was sick of wearing a suit to an internship every day, I stumbled onto the Portfolio program at Texas. It seemed like a writing gig. I wanted to be a writer. So I gave it a try.”

“I built a portfolio while taking regular, liberal arts classes. Graduated. And started sending my book out.”

“Soon thereafter, a recruiter from Crispin gave me a call. She didn’t offer a job. But they needed an intern. And fast. I already had two ad internships prior. But it was a foot in the door at Crispin, so I jumped at it.”

“I packed my only sweater into a suitcase, loaded up the car and arrived in Boulder 36 hours later.”

So how was Crispin? I mean, it’s a dream place for just about every young creative we talk to. Did it live up to the expectations? What was the biggest surprise about working there?

“Crispin was an adventure. In a lot of ways.”

“I came into the internship fresh out of school and flat broke. So I had to devise new ways to live on the cheap, going way beyond college thrift. They ordered a lot of Wahoo’s for people working late. And there’d always be a tray of rice and beans left over. So I’d spoon rice and beans into disposable coffee cups, pack ‘em into my backpack and smuggle the leftovers out of the office.”

“Crispin isn’t for the faint at heart. 12 hours at the office is a light day. But you really learn the craft.”

So what brought you out from Boulder to Portfolio Night LA last year? Was it solely the 180 promise to hire the best book? Did you  think about attending it in another city, or was LA your dream locale?

“I was in LA that week meeting people, showing my book around. A friend of mine was getting his book together to show at Portfolio Night New York and he turned me onto the event. Just so happened that Portfolio Night LA was going on the day after I was scheduled to leave. I rebooked my flight and slept on someone’s couch for another few nights.”

“It’s funny. I didn’t know about 180’s promise to hire someone until after I’d bought the ticket.”

Very serendipitous! How would you describe Portfolio Night to this year’s group of attendees? What was it like? How were you feeling? What was the vibe you got from your co-attendees?

“It’s the way high school tryouts would feel if the coaches gave you booze before practice.”

And then there was one: you were deemed to have the best book at Portfolio Night. What was that like? Were you pretty confident going in?

“It was a weird night. I walked in hoping there’d be free booze and walked out with a job. They were like, ‘Ok. Come in tomorrow, we’ll start the paperwork and give you a desk.’ And I said, ‘Whoa. Hold on.’ I was supposed to fly out the next morning to visit my girlfriend. So they gave me the weekend and I started work on Monday.”

“I spent the weekend worrying the job would disappear by the time I got back to California. I’d show up for work, and they’d say, ‘Who are you?’”

And now, looking back a year, how has it all been? What have you and the 180 gang been up to?

“The last year has been killer. I’ve got to touch everything here, across the board. Bombay Sapphire, Boost, Sony, Adidas. I couldn’t have landed at a better place to cut my teeth.”

Any words of advice for this year’s batch of hopefuls? I mean, they might not be involved in a “best book wins” situation like you were, but surely that experience has given you some nice Portfolio Night insight.

“If I had any words of advice, it’d be meet as many people as you can. Not just the tenured industry folk. Get to know your fellow Portfolio Night attendees. In a year or two, some ad kid in that room will be your foot in the door. Give it a couple more years and one of those kids will be a CD. So make friends.”

“Don’t be cocky. Stay humble. There’s always someone better than you.”

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