Have you ever wondered exactly what a creative director does? Being the creative director of a successful agency is the ultimate goal of many designers, and for good reason. It takes all of the creativity, talent, and drive that are necessary to succeed in design, plus high levels of organization. Here is some sage advice from a few people who are already working as creative directors; heed their words to prepare yourself to achieve this career goal.
Be An Idea Guru
As a creative director you will be working with ideas and integrating them into business strategies, so you need to know how to mold, shape, and manage ideas so they work for you and your clients. Jon Paley, Chief Creative Director and Managing Partner at The Vault comments:
“You need to understand a brand’s strategy and be responsible for bringing that strategy to life with great creative. You need to shepherd ideas. Kill the really bad ones. Make the bad ones better. Make the good ones great. Make the great ones sellable and then sell them. Keep doing that at a higher and higher level and your career trajectory will climb at the same pace as your work.”
Realize you are part of a constantly changing process
Creative directors have the unusual and interesting task of blending organization and task management with creative inspiration, and this means being part of good ideas evolving into great ones. Bryce Keil, Creative Director at Amplify Relations describes it this way:
“We pave the way to greatness by starting with the simplest of ideas, taking into consideration the ebb and flow of the organic growth of ideas, and we present something truly unique: perspective. We let the work speak for itself by allowing consumers to introspect—to change their opinion.
Day to day, I work closely with my team to achieve clients’ goals. You learn in the creative industry that the first attempt isn’t usually the final attempt, so I am constantly working with my designers, copywriters and producers to find a better solution. As a department manager, I seek to make sure my team is working together to produce optimal results.”
Persistence pays off
Selling people on creative ideas about their business isn’t always easy, and when you’re putting your own creative ideas out there for scrutiny it can feel scary. Don’t give up—a creative director has to keep trying to succeed. Tom Geary, ECD/Partner at School of Thought comments:
“It’s hard. This is a subjective business. Creatives can be fickle. I can be fickle. Great ideas routinely get shot down for one reason or another. It happens. The thing that keeps me going is mental baseball. I remind myself and everyone involved that each project is a new at-bat. Tough day with client x? Let’s see what we can do on client y.
Nobody bats 1000. But we do our damnedest to hit .450 or so, and keep stepping up to the plate, walking into the next office, with work that will drive our clients’ businesses forward. And the other part of our job, the fun part, is, when you do get a hit—and we just had one, on Monday—soak it in. Make sure everyone celebrates the win.”
You’re probably going to wear many hats
Although many people may imagine that the day to day work of a creative director is all creative work, for many people in the role—especially at smaller agencies—there are extensive administrative and project management aspects to the role. Greg Corey of Porchlight describes it this way:
“Today, even though my role is creative director, it’s actually pretty far from being creative—I’d say only 25% of my time is spent thinking creatively. Instead, I’m more focused on team, client, and budget management. I wear so many hats that I could be discussing photography with a vendor, calling a client about an invoice, checking in with the accountant on payroll issues or reviewing a first creative proof with an art director. All by noon. I really look forward to spending time being creative, but I’m really just guiding the art directors and designers and maybe putting a few of my fingerprints on their work.”
Mastering various creative roles and then mentoring others
Creative directors need to understand and be proficient with the work of other creatives; that’s the only way they can direct them in their work and pull the creative team together. Mentoring and inspiring are also big parts of the job. Randall Hooker, VP Creative Director at Brunner explains:
“It’s inspiration. Producing it. Leading people to it. Unless you inspire your team, your ideas make no difference. It’s picking good talent. And cultivating it. Any CD can hire great talent. However, taking someone who shows just an ounce of talent, and then unlocking it, encouraging them to be not just good, but incredible, is a talent in itself. Only professionals should attempt it.
It’s setting standards. Give the creative team something to shoot for. Then evolve their talent. Move the bar ever upward and you make your creative team ever better. It’s doing some of the work yourself. But don’t take the premium assignments. Take the ones nobody wants. It shows the department that no one is above doing what has to be done. If it happens to turn into something engaging and fun, it shows the creative folks that great creative assignments are made, not given.”
Feeling inspired about the creative director role yet? Now that you’ve seen what a day in the life of a creative director looks like, keep the advice from the professionals in mind. If you are flexible yet persistent and think that being a source of inspiration and a gardener for great ideas sounds like your dream job, aspiring to be a creative director may be ideal for you.