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Portfolio Night matches ad execs with the talented

A job fair like speed dating - but more quirky and fabulous.

Picture the typical job fair in these tough times, when unemployment runs at 9.9 percent and the average person who loses a job is out more than six months.

Job seekers, in suits, with briefcases, their expressions hovering between a courageous show of bravado and a resigned fatigue, line up in impersonal hotel ballrooms, grabbing the occasional hard candy from a bowl on a recruiter's desk.

No job. Maybe the candy was OK.

Then there's the advertising industry, which threw a job fair its way Thursday.

Global, quirky. Fabulous business cards in many hues and interesting type fonts. A job applicant wearing a tie - pink, puffy, and floral - with two different colored layered pink T-shirts, topped with buttoned-up black vest. An interviewer sporting checkered sneakers and a porkpie hat.

Two hundred people gathered for Portfolio Night in Philadelphia, one of 39 cities in the world where young illustrators, copywriters, graphic designers, and Web designers showed their portfolios to seasoned pros in the advertising industry as other guests hung out, drank, and networked.

The vibe was festive. The venue was different.

Why? Hiring is up.

"It's bouncing back," said Saul Jacobs, president of S.H. Jacobs & Associates, a Jenkintown recruiting firm specializing in advertising professionals. "Client budgets seem to have increased over 2009. As a result, agencies have to respond quickly and bring people in."

Jacobs, who has worked through three recessions, said: "2009 was the worst, by far. No comparison."

In 2008 and 2009, agencies shed their staffs, especially senior members. Opportunities for newly minted designers and copywriters dried up.

Now, "we are making a lot of full-time placements," said Melissa Burke, co-owner of Blue Plate Minds Inc., of Paoli, another recruiting agency specializing in advertising talent and one of the sponsors of Portfolio Night in Philadelphia.

"Agencies are very conservative about the people they hire," she said. "For them to hire, they have got to have the [client] contract signed and they have got to have the money in the pipeline."

Portfolio Night, organized by the Philadelphia Ad Club's Young Professionals, was more than a job fair.

It was a global statement, because it matched events in 39 other cities, among them Athens, Greece; Tunis, Tunisia; Mumbai, India; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Shanghai, China; Seattle; and Montreal, home city to the organization that started Portfolio Night,

For local organizers Dana Weber, of Razorfish Health, of Philadelphia, and Zachary Kinslow, of Masterminds Inc., outside Atlantic City, the event was a way to assert that Philadelphia has a vibrant creative scene, separate from New York's, which casts a long shadow on the region's advertising community.

That's why setting and vibe mattered.

Instead of a hotel ballroom, Weber and Kinslow substituted a reception hall on the club level of Lincoln Financial Field.

No picked-over hard candy. People drank beer and nibbled from platters of unusual cheeses served with eggplant dip, followed by chocolate-covered pretzels, sprinkles included.

No long dull lines. The format moved like speed dating.

Each of 90 people who paid $30 to attend had three 15-minute sessions with 35 art directors from agencies, among them Razorfish Health, Tierney Communications Inc., the Brownstein Group, Digitas Health, and Customedialabs.

The art directors reviewed portfolios, offered suggestions and, in some cases, scribbled down names and phone numbers. Job offer or not, at the very least it was like having a seasoned job coach critique a resumé, remembering that for these people, the resumé is a folder of advertisements, either for real products or made-up ones.

It had been a big day for David Adams, 23, of Philadelphia's Olney section.

Earlier, he attended his graduation at the University of the Arts. The ceremony ended at 4 p.m. and by 4:30 p.m., the illustrator was on the subway, with his portfolio, headed to Lincoln Financial Field, dressed in a stiffly pressed purple shirt, his hair arranged in neat cornrows.

"I'm going straight for a job," he said. "I've done a little freelance work, but this is my first time to get into the corporate side."

Adams captured the attention of Manos Sifakis, president of Customedialabs, an interactive media agency in Wayne.

"This is very good," he said, as he turned the pages in Adams' portfolio. "Very impressive. You are a superstar. I'll try to hook you up. I do see a lot of potential here."

Later, Sifakis said he enjoyed the event, and was both tired and energized from reviewing nine portfolios in less than three hours.

"It's a rare occasion to have such an event," he said, "because we're not considered a creative capital, but we need to show the rest of the world that this area has talent."

In this economy, he said, his agency managed to save every job. "We threw profit out," he said. And now, like other agencies, he has an opening or two, which is why he wants to help guide the young people.

"It's so critical to have that good first start," he said.

As for the applicants and their attire?

"It's almost expected," he said. "The creative world is a highly expressive world. In advertising, you are a brand. Especially when you are starting out, because you don't have a lot in your portfolio, you have to carry your brand with what you are wearing, how you carry yourself, even your glasses."

Like the other professionals at Portfolio Night, Sifakis praised the talent he saw, but, he and others said, there is a shortage of skills and strategic thinking in relating the digital experience to advertising. "The educational institutions are not providing that," he said. "It's a shame."