Here’s How an SOJC Major Got a Prestigious Advertising Job

hands wearing gardening gloves hold a copy of The Garden, a magazine portfolio project by Charlie Nguyen
The Garden, a portfolio magazine created by advertising student Charlie Nguyễn, highlights his work as a creative. Photo courtesy of Charlie Nguyễn.

Not many students can say they’ve published their own magazine, but fourth-year advertising student Charlie Nguyễn can. Inspired by the idleness he felt while tending to his parents’ garden, Nguyễn spent five months working on The Garden, a portfolio of the photography, writing and designs he created over the years.

“I guess if you’re a creative, at some point in your creating process, you feel like you’re hitting a wall and you feel stuck, like, ‘Is this it? Is there a way out?’” Nguyễn said. “So the magazine is a reassurance that it’s OK to be idle, it’s OK to be bored for a bit, because I think that’s a part of the process. And I feel like instead of stressing about it, people should start appreciating it more, because resting is a part of the creative process as well.”

portrait of Charlie Nguyen
Charlie Nguyễn is a fourth-year advertising student at the SOJC, who recently published The Garden, a portfolio magazine showcasing who he is as a creative. Photo by Jeremy Parker.

The Garden is not your average student portfolio. With 40 pages of creative work that Nguyễn said he had “kept in the closet,” the magazine marks a checkpoint in his work and represents the artist he has become. Business student Phượng Nguyễn assisted him in arranging sets, lighting and behind-the-scene photos, but the publication of the magazine — both digitally and in print — was managed solely by Nguyễn.

“I was not rushing,” Nguyễn said. “I started realizing that it’s OK to be slow and take your time to perfect your craft. That’s what I learned from making (the magazine). Learning to coordinate everything by yourself is a difficult task, but I managed. I actually learned a lot from making that.”

He also learned to be patient with the creative process.

That process is important to Nguyễn and a key reason why, after originally entering the University of Oregon as a business major, he switched to advertising at the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC). Business wasn’t for him.

“I still wanted to stay in the business world, but I want to make money in a creative way,” Nguyễn said. “I just stumbled upon advertising freshman year and I’ve been doing it since.”

Student-run ad club key to getting an advertising job 

As he started taking advertising classes, Nguyễn found he enjoyed the work-play environment and noticed that courses like Idea Smithing, Advanced Portfolio and Creative Strategy particularly resonated with him.

“Those are kinds of the big classes that showed me the process of making ads in general,” Nguyễn said. “They also showed me how to think, how to look at things, and the process, and that’s super important.”

Charlie Nguyen shoots photos of a fellow student model in the Allen Hall studio
Advertising student Charlie Nguyễn takes photos in the Allen Hall production studio for his portfolio magazine, The Garden. Photo courtesy of Charlie Nguyễn.

Along with his classes, Nguyễn also joined several student organizations to see what types of work he enjoyed. He wrote a few pieces for Flux magazine and shot photographs for Align magazine, but it was his work with Allen Hall Advertising (AHA) that truly introduced him to the industry.

“That’s when my advertising world came to life,” Nguyễn said. “I’m really blessed that I got to experience that, because I don't think many students get the opportunity to work in a real client environment. It’s a rare experience. You grow a lot through that.”

AHA is a student-run advertising firm that pairs students with real advertising clients. Nguyễn started out as a producer, creating videos and working in post-production before moving into art direction, where he focuses on the big picture of campaigns.

“You’re kind of the vision of a campaign. You’re the reason why people are looking at the campaign from this perspective,” Nguyễn said. “You’re the person who dictates that (perspective). I have fun in there.”

Currently, Nguyễn serves as the director of production for AHA, and he believes that experience helped him land an art direction position at BBH New York after graduation.

“Right now, even though I have a job, I know it might be intimidating to step into the real world after school, but I feel prepared because of AHA,” Nguyễn said. “I’m not saying I know everything, but I kind of know how things work already.”

magazine spread from The Garden by Charlie Nguyen with the headline "every day i am learning to become more and more myself."
magazine spread from The Garden by Charlie Nguyen with the headline "Summer Solstice""

Spreads from The Garden, a magazine created by advertising student Charlie Nguyễn, feature his photography, writing and design skills. Images courtesy of Charlie Nguyễn.

Putting in extra work pays off with advertising recruiters

Along with AHA, Nguyễn said it was the work he did on his own that got him this position.

One project that earned him accolades was a hypothetical campaign he created related to Duolingo focusing on liberating language, which impressed the recruiters he interviewed with.

In the ad campaign he uses compelling photography to illustrate how phrases can take on different meanings depending on context. For example, he shows how slap can be the physical action of hitting, or something that is really good in colloquial terms.

“The recruiters and the people interviewing me, they actually talked about it, and they found my Duolingo campaign pretty funny,” Nguyễn said. “It’s spec work. It’s the stuff that you do on the side.”

Nguyễn actually enjoys putting in extra work to create designs and campaigns to include in his portfolio. “There’s a lot of outside work that you have to put in, because, at the end of the day, you’re doing it for yourself,” Nguyễn said. “If you put in the effort, then you’ll get something out of it at some point.”

As Nguyễn gets ready to move to New York City, he said the experiences and the support he received from the SOJC helped prepare him for his post-grad life.

“These things in the SOJC, they get you used to the process and understanding how things work,” Nguyễn said. “I had a great time with the people, the classes, the professors — Bob Rickert, David Ewald, Dave Koranda. Those are some of the biggest supporters in my life in terms of educating me and being a friend and co-worker. There’s a lot of support around here. That’s why you always see me here, because it’s nice.”

—Ella Norton, public relations ’24

Ella Norton (she/her/hers), a recent graduate of the SOJC, is from Kansas City, Missouri. She majored in public relations and French and is the executive print editor for Align magazine, an account supervisor for Allen Hall Public Relations and an ambassador for the SOJC.