Career Profile: Creative Director

What is a creative director, and what do they do?

A Creative Director
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The creative director is responsible for overseeing all creative products produced by an advertising agency. Creative directors, whether in ad agencies, in-house departments, or any other business, ensure that the agency produces high-quality creative content. If you think you are ready to take on that level of responsibility, here's a closer look at the job that lies ahead.

Job Description:

A Creative Director or CD for short oversees the creative team to help develop the agency's creative product for clients. This team includes copywriters, art directors, and designers. The CD also works with Account Executives to make sure the client's needs are being met, and the creative goals are on track. CDs are also deeply involved in every aspect of an ad campaign and will conceptualize those ideas for clients, assign projects to staff, and verify the client's deadlines are being met. A CD generally gets the glory when a campaign is a success, and conversely, takes the blame when it's a failure.

Some creative directors have become industry celebrities (think Ogilvy, Bernbach, Bogusky, Deutsch, and Beattie) and go on to become partners in the agencies in which they started out.

Salary Range:

This varies greatly, depending on the location, the size of the agency, and the experience of the candidate. On the low end, a base salary can be around $76,000, but with benefits, this will easily jump into six figures. On the high end, some creative directors can easily earn half a million dollars a year, especially with stock options and benefits. But a typical creative director with a solid resume and many years of experience typically earns at least $120,000 per year.

Special Skills:

The job of a creative director is not a role anyone can simply step into straight out of college. Skills acquired whilst working in advertising agencies over a number of years need to be utilized. They include:

  • The ability to lead, and inspire, a team of creative people
  • A solid background in copywriting or design and art direction
  • Must have knowledge of agency terminology and the creative process. 
  • Must be up on the latest trends in emerging technologies and social media channels
  • Willingness to work long hours and weekends
  • Travel often required
  • Experience with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, PowerPoint, and other programs is usually (but not always) required
  • HTML, PHP, and other Web experience is quickly becoming required of Creative Directors
  • Knowledge of each step of an ad campaign's process to give creatives direction, work on schedule and meet client's advertising expectations

Education and Training:

Most Creative Director positions require a bachelor's degree in creative design, advertising, or a related field. Agencies usually ask for at least five years of experience, and the trend shows many ask for at least seven years of experience in advertising. Larger cities tend to ask for at least ten years experience.

Typical Week:

As with many roles in advertising, things can vary greatly from one day to the next. However, during a typical week, the creative director can expect to:

  • Attend strategy meetings for new business
  • Meet with creative team to check the status of current projects and assign new projects
  • Lead brainstorming sessions with creative teams to develop ad campaigns based on client's needs
  • Create advertising proposals for clients
  • Pitch concepts to clients

Common Misconceptions:

Many people confuse Creative Directors with Art Directors. CDs oversee the entire creative department, including Art Directors, designers, and copywriters.

Getting Started:

Creative Directors don't step into this job title right out of college. CDs are usually promoted to this management position after working in copywriting or design roles for many years. Expect to spend 5-10 years in an agency before being eligible for this position.

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

Begin interning at an ad agency to get your foot in the door and make contacts. After college, become a copywriter or designer to begin working your way up to Creative Director.

Perks Of The Job:

Aside from the pay, and creative control, creative directors can experience many perks during their daily routine. It's not uncommon for creative directors to attend photo and video shoots, and some of these can take place in different countries around the world. All travel and accommodation are paid for by the company. Creative directors can demand hefty speaking fees for conferences and professional organizations, and CDs are often asked to judge award shows. Once again, travel, food, and accommodation are provided.

As a CD you will also get to place a great deal more work in your portfolio, as you are overseeing many projects at the same time.