Advertising Agency Art Director Career Profile

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You've heard the term, perhaps in movies and on TV. You may even know several people who are Art Directors. But do you know what an Art Director actually does from day-to-day? Here's the lowdown on one of the most sought-after roles in any advertising agency. 

Job Description:

An Art Director (commonly known as an AD) usually works hand-in-hand with a copywriter. Together, they are responsible, as a team, for concepting and creating every conceivable type of ad campaign. However, it is the AD's job to 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, the AD will instruct a team of designers to execute his or her vision. Some ADs also get hands-on, producing many elements personally.

The AD creates and then maintains the visual look for all the work on an account, making sure the client's marketing materials are visually engaging, and the selling message is clear.

In a world increasingly driven by computer and mobile phone screens, the visual component of marketing has become even more important, elevating an AD's importance. A good art director translates marketing strategy into a visual language that speaks to the target audience and expresses the brand equity.

Often when developing websites with multiple applications and pages, an AD will work with a programmer or a user experience designer to ensure that the site's graphics and technology work together seamlessly to achieve the desired goal.

Salary Range:

Between $65,355 - $125,451 for art directors with at least five years experience. Many ADs earn more than that top end figure though, when you factor in experience, benefits, bonuses, and location. Also, senior art directors working in TV and film studios in markets like New York or Los Angeles usually earn upwards of $150,000 a year.

Special Skills:

  • Ability to work well with a copywriting partner
  • An exceptional eye for detail
  • Strong ideation and conceptual ability
  • Ability to translate marketing strategy into persuasive layouts, logos, and packaging
  • Strong background in design
  • Willingness to work long hours and weekends
  • Experience with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, and other programs
  • HTML, PHP, and other Web experience is often required these days
  • Ability manage a project from concept through production, in multiple media

Education and Training:

Most art director positions require a bachelor's degree in advertising, design, graphic arts and/or related experience. Agencies usually ask for at least three years experience and many ask for at least seven years of experience in advertising or design.

Typical Day:

  • Meet with a copywriter to develop concepts for ad campaigns
  • Design ads, websites and other materials
  • Give clear direction to designers and Mac operators
  • Attend brainstorming sessions with other members of creative team to develop concepts for a new business presentation
  • Pitch concepts internally to Creative Director or account team
  • Direct photo shoots and video shoots

Common Misconceptions and Suggestions:

People don't realize that art directors are often responsible for total campaign concepts, developing headlines and suggesting taglines, as well as developing the look.

Although it helps to be able to draw, many art directors are poor illustrators, relying instead on computer skills and photography to communicate the message. Also, it's the AD's job to select illustrators if the layout calls for it.

Some agencies, usually the larger ones, are going to require a bachelor's degree with an emphasis on design, fine arts, graphic arts, or communications. Other agencies will evaluate your career experience and/or accept a bachelor's degree in other fields.

To get your foot in the door and make contacts, you might want to intern at an ad agency. After college if you can't land a job, build your portfolio by freelancing for agencies or directly for clients. A portfolio of great concepts and designs can overcome lack of experience.

Fringe Benefits:

Art Directors do not have a typical 9-5 job, and while that can mean long hours, it also means a lot of perks. Art Directors get to travel the world directing his or her team's vision on photo shoots and video shoots. Art Directors are often the first to get invited to attend gallery openings, or movie premieres, as their visual expertise produces great feedback. And the's very good.