The other side of the table

by Stefani Zellmer
December 18, 2017

It's always an honor to be asked to judge the final portfolio critique at UT. As a graduate of the Texas Creative program in the College of Communications' School of Advertising, I'm met with a tsunami of nostalgia each time I step into the Grand Ballroom at the Student Union and see all those portfolios laid out on tables. What's astounding to me, even more than how young everyone looks, is the fact that nothing has changed about the critique process since I graduated. The students spray mount their ads to mat board and lay everything out on tables. Then two judges from the industry come in and go table to table, scrutinizing their work in front of everyone in the class, including their friends and lovers, while they stand on the other side of the table and take the bullets. 

Last week I got to be one of those judges. I'm a copywriter by trade so they paired me with Stu Smith, an art director/designer who is now Creative Director at Cratejoy. We've had different career paths, mine more traditional, at larger agencies such as BBDO, Ogilvy, Crispin, Porter & Bogusky and GSD&M, and his at smaller, tech-ier firms such as Sputnik and Cratejoy and in-house at Able Lending, helping them fund some of the Fortune 500 companies. So we brought an array of experience that I hope was helpful to the 39 students we met that day.

We were there to judge Portfolio 2, the second of three or four semesters the students use to build their portfolios. And I have to say. I was honestly impressed. Something I wasn't able to say when I judged Portfolio 3 several years ago. Ryan Romero has done a fine job as their professor, working alongside Chad Rea, both of them ad veterans themselves. 

I wish I had taken more photos of their work. I wish I had memorized more of their quippy taglines. Because there were so many good ones. Here's what I do remember. I remember a beautifully art directed campaign for Houzz that was one call-to-action short of being ready for the real world. I remember a tagline for the New York Times Crossword: Play niche. And I remember a line that I wish hadn't been buried in the description of a storyboard: The ocean yawns into the deep. I don't even know what that means but it deserves to be a headline.

More than anything, it felt nice to give back to my alma mater. I think it's important to do that and I think it's important to remember the guiding principles I learned in the beginning, the ones I don't remember until I say them out loud in the Grand Ballroom at the Student Union. 

Be memorable. 

Speak human. 

Keep it simple.

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