What Does an Advertising Agency Art Director Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of an art director: The ability to work well with a copywriting partner, an exceptional eye for detail, strong ideation and conceptual ability, strong background in design

The Balance / Jiaqi Zhou

An art director, commonly known as an AD, usually works hand-in-hand with a copywriter. Together, they're responsible for conceiving and creating every conceivable type of ad campaign.

Approximately 90,300 art directors worked in the U.S. in 2016, but almost 60% of them were self-employed. Only about 13% were employed by advertising agencies.

Advertising Agency Art Director Duties & Responsibilities

Art directors' responsibilities can depend on whether they're self-employed or work for an agency, but some common duties include:

  • Create and maintain the visual look for all work on an account, making sure the client's marketing materials are visually engaging and that the selling message is clear.
  • Direct the visual elements of the campaign whether it's designing ads, websites, outdoor media, and brochures for an advertising agency on behalf of its clients.
  • Instruct a team of designers to execute the vision. Give clear direction to designers and Mac operators. Some ADs also get hands-on, producing many elements personally.
  • Meet with a copywriter to develop concepts for ad campaigns.
  • Attend brainstorming sessions with other members of the creative team to develop concepts for a new business presentation.
  • Pitch concepts internally to the creative director or account team.
  • Direct photo shoots and video shoots.

Advertising Agency Art Director Salary

The salaries of art directors overall are more than respectable, but those in the motion picture and video industries are compensated most highly. Those working in advertising agencies are still above the median for all art directors at $95,150 annually, however.

  • Median Annual Salary: $92,780 ($44.61/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $172,570 ($82.97/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $52,160 ($27.08)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training & Certification

Education and experience are both required for a successful career as an AD, but certification is not necessary.

  • Education: Some agencies, usually the larger ones, require a bachelor's degree with an emphasis on design, fine arts, graphic arts, or communications. Other agencies will evaluate your career experience or accept a bachelor's degree in other fields.
  • Experience: Agencies usually ask for at least three years' experience, and many ask for at least seven years of experience in advertising or design.

Advertising Agency Art Director Skills & Competencies

You should have several essential qualities to succeed at becoming an AD.

  • An affinity for teamwork: The ability to work well with a copywriting partner is especially important.
  • Strong ideation: Conceptual ability is particularly important for long-term campaigns.
  • Insight: The ability to translate marketing strategy into persuasive layouts, logos, and packaging is also important.
  • Computer skills: Experience with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, and other programs can be critical, as well as with HTML and PHP. An AD will often work with a programmer or a user experience designer when developing websites with multiple applications and pages to ensure that the site's graphics and technology work together seamlessly to achieve the desired goal.

Job Outlook

Employment in this field is expected to grow by about 6% from 2016 through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The publishing industry is an exception. Employment in this area is expected to decline as the popularity of print media continues to drop.

Work Environment

Art directors get to travel the world directing their teams' visions on photo shoots and video shoots. They're often the first to be invited to attend gallery openings or movie premieres because their visual expertise produces excellent feedback.

Work Schedule

Art directors don't have a typical nine-to-five job. A willingness to work long hours and weekends is required.

How to Get the Job


You might want to intern at an ad agency to get your foot in the door and make contacts.


Build a portfolio of your work by freelancing for agencies or directly for clients. A portfolio of great concepts and designs can overcome a lack of experience.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: 

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018