Job description: Creative director

Creative directors come from many backgrounds, but core skill-sets are essential.

The day-to-day
The day-to-day role of a creative director requires connection and communication with a variety of specialists both within and beyond the creative team.

You likely came up through the creative ranks, as a designer, copywriter or other specialist focused on your own deliverables. But as a creative director, your role will extend beyond the generation and execution of your own work to encourage the best from teams of creatives. 

Your daily routine will include reviewing the status of campaigns with your teams. It also means working with the leaders of different disciplines within your agency as well as clients.

That means keeping track of multiple projects at different stages of completion, presenting the work to internal and external stakeholders, and communicating their feedback to the teams you manage. Every day can present new challenges on fresh fronts, and you'll need to apportion your time accordingly.

Key things you'll need to be able to do:

    1. Lead creative teams from vision to execution
    2. Understand the business objectives of campaigns and communicate them to creatives
    3. Pitch ideas effectively to clients
    4. Help guide the career track of individual creatives
    5. Manage budgets 

Key skills
Carlos Tornell, creative director at Grupo Gallegos, first got the title at Ogilvy & Mather at age 27 and was named a member of Ogilvy's Worldwide Creative Council at 33. He describes the shift from individual contributor to CD as a series of contrasts:

    1. CDs are not supposed only to give ideas to solve a brief. Their job is to make a team's ideas better, making the team better.
    2. CDs are not supposed to give the work that comes out of the agency a specific style. Every brand must have its own style. 
    3. CDs are not supposed to impose a way of working on their teams because the creative process is based on connections between products and personal experiences. Each person has their own way of summoning muses.
    4. CDs are not supposed to let success go to their heads or their teams. They should face every brief as if it were the first chance to prove themselves.

You need communication skills that will resonate with professionals who are focused on different aspects of a project, from the business to the brand.

Your management skills must take into account the varied personalities on a creative team. You'll need to know when to lead by example and when to step back and allow your team to generate fresh ideas. You'll also need to take a personal interest in the career development of the members of your team.

Your organizational skills must be equal to tracking multiple moving targets: different projects with different clients facing different deadlines, each with its own challenges. That also means being able to delegate effectively to your teams as well as to raise questions promptly with internal and external stakeholders.

The qualifications for a CD vary, but they generally entail some years of practical experience in a creative discipline such as copywriting, design or multimedia. First-time creative directors are often promoted from within, as agencies look to individual creatives who demonstrate a flair for communication and an ability to see the big picture.

Relevant experience
A solid portfolio is important when making the move to creative director, and you will have to be able to explain the business goals your work addressed and the brand parameters you needed to adhere to. As you advance to other CD roles, the focus of the conversation will increasingly be about how your leadership brought projects together and about the business results those projects generated. 

Do you have what it takes? Find your next creative director job now!

According to, the median salary for a creative director as of December 2016 is $114,000, with a range of about $95,000 to $136,000.

Working hours can be long, especially if you're coordinating with teams and clients in different time zones or facing down deadlines. As a leader of teams and a senior voice for projects' creative vision, you'll need to be ready to match the schedules of the people you work above and alongside. That said, some flexibility in your daily schedule can set a good example for your teams—and demonstrate the kind of work/life balance that allows them to recharge their imaginative batteries.

Typical Working Hours: 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Career opportunities
The path to advancement for creative directors is generally to take on increasingly large sets of creative teams: from a single office within an agency to a regional role encompassing several offices to a global position overseeing multiple regional creative directors.

Your next steps

    • Executive creative director
    • Regional creative director
    • Chief Creative Officer

A creative director's perspective
"I really believe that a creative director's role is about helping the people around you make a great work," said Ricky Vior, VP, executive creative director at cross-cultural agency the community.

"It's about encouraging other creatives to take risks, to do things in a different way, and ultimately to make them see things in a way they're not used to. In order to do this, one needs to understand what makes their teams tick, how to get the best out of them, and to pick them up and inspire them when they are down. And of course, it's about helping them grow both personally and professionally.

"In terms of my own personal career, there have been various inputs or experiences which have helped advance my career. However, I have found that exploring other creative outputs has probably had the largest influence in terms of advancing my career. Owning an art gallery, directing commercials, writing, talking to musicians, film directors, and creating my own art have all helped me understand other creative methodologies which I have tried to incorporate into my work and my process.

"I have also found that changing your routine is vital to ensuring one's perspective is always evolving. I try to do things differently every day, whether it's taking a different route to work or trying out new things ranging from fencing to going to a Jai Alai game—basically anything out of the norm that stimulates and inspires the mind."

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