Becoming a Creative Director: A Comprehensive Guide

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Becoming a creative director for an advertising agency is no easy task. It takes many years of hard work, dedication, and creativity to make it happen. But how do you know if this is the right path for you?

Creative directors do more than supervise a team of designers—they lead creative projects on behalf of corporate executives, brands, and entire companies. The role of a creative director is a multi-faceted one and requires a well-rounded individual who never stops learning and growing.

Here’s how you can become a creative director:

  1. Seek higher education.
  2. Apply for an internship or entry-level job.
  3. Get to know your fellow creatives.
  4. Constantly keep learning and improving your skills.
  5. Consider pursuing a master’s degree.
  6. Update your resume and portfolio.
  7. Apply for creative director positions.
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Throughout this article, we’ll talk more about becoming a creative director and provide you with info regarding common industries that need creative directors, the education requirements for the position, where to look for entry-level jobs, and which valuable skills you’ll need to be successful.

What Does A Creative Director Do?

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As a creative director, you’ll be responsible for managing the ideas and strategy of how an ad campaign will work.

You need to get everyone on your team in line with how they can help get that concept across through advertising channels like print ads, television commercials or social media marketing campaigns.

The job requires some leadership skills because of how many people are involved in how the creative process will go. You’ll have to manage how everyone is working together and how they can come up with ideas that work best for what you want to accomplish.

Check out our article on how to give creative direction for more info on how to be a creative director everyone actually wants to work with.

What Do You Need In Order To Become A Creative Director?

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A creative director is one of the highest positions in advertising agencies. They are responsible for creating original ideas that captivate their audience, as well as how these concepts will be executed through different mediums.

This role requires creativity and leadership skills, so it’s important to have a solid education before applying for jobs at an agency or company.

Most creative directors have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, advertising, or communications, according to the BLS. Additionally, courses in business, management, finance, computer science, and graphic design can equip creative directors with skills in technology, design, and more.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Creative Director?

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To become a creative director, you need to gain anywhere between five and ten years of experience. This can happen in any field that has something related to the creative field, such as: graphic design, photography or even art!

Start by applying for an internship at your local studio as well as other entry-level jobs available within the industry – these will give you key skills needed before moving up into bigger roles with more responsibilities on them.

Can You Be A Creative Director Without A Degree?

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It is possible to become a creative director without having (or even pursuing) a degree. There are many successful creatives that have made it into leadership roles at advertising agencies with little or no college education. It all depends on how you pursue your career and how motivated you are to succeed in the industry.

Most creative directors who reached their positions without a degree have extensive experience in the agency world, starting from junior positions such as internships and assistants. Working your way up through the ranks is how most creatives become a creative director at an agency.

However, if you’re looking to pursue a career as a creative director there are some things you can do that will give you an advantage. So let’s talk about them below!

1. Seek Higher Education

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To become a creative director, you will be at an advantage if you have a college education. The majority of creative directors have a bachelor’s degree or higher. You can’t just choose any random field, however. There are creative directors in dozens of areas. Before choosing a major, think about the industry in which you’d like to work.

Here are some common industries for aspiring creative directors:

  • Advertising
  • Communications
  • Digital marketing
  • Digital media
  • Graphic design
  • Journalism
  • Marketing
  • Visual arts

Bachelor’s degrees in advertising and marketing are the most common degrees among creative directors, but these aren’t the only skills you’ll need. In addition to a major, you’ll want to acquire additional knowledge to take you one step further. Consider minoring in other fields of study such as: 

  • Business –  Being a creative director is about more than creating—it’s about business. As a creative director, you’ll need to know and understand how your clients make money and integrate that into the design process. You’ll need to speak business and finance, as this is the language your clients will speak.
  • Strategic and Interpersonal Communication – As a creative director, meetings with stakeholders, clients, and other executives will make up most of your weekly schedule (which is why we are happy to remain product photographers). You’ll need to be comfortable speaking publicly and leading with your voice. Written and verbal communication skills are highly valuable in this field.

2. Apply for an Internship or Entry-Level Job

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A bachelor’s degree in design doesn’t mean that you’ll immediately land a position as an executive creative director. Most companies require at least seven years of experience in the creative field before advancement is possible. It’s best to start small and work your way up to a more prestigious position.

As mentioned earlier, you’ll find creative directors in many different industries, so you need to pick a niche. Choose an industry and then apply for related positions that offer growth opportunities within the industry.

Many creative directors begin their careers as graphic designers working for advertising agencies. These positions have you working with a creative team to create, inspire, and develop your skills.

An internship or entry-level position allows you to get your foot in the door working with brands and building a reputation for yourself. You can move up within the company, eventually making your way up the ladder to that desired position as creative director.

3. Get To Know Your Fellow Creatives

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Spend time networking with your creative team. Learn as much as you can—listen, take direction, and observe how the machine works. Once you become a creative director, this knowledge allows you to create an environment where everyone meshes and works well together. Interpersonal communications are absolutely necessary for this career path.

Creative directors run the show in terms of creative design, but they also manage and oversee the creative minds of their team. Creative directors must go beyond understanding their team’s abilities as creatives but also who they are as individuals. By knowing your team, you learn how to better manage different personalities and egos. 

When you become a creative director, it is part of your job to ensure that your team is well-balanced, happy, and growing. You must be a good leader to make that happen.

In addition to getting to know your team, consider networking through professional organizations and guilds. By collaborating with other professionals, you open the door to new resources and opportunities for professional growth. You’ll create connections with other creative minds, learn new skills, and gain inspiration.

4. Constantly Keep Learning and Improving Your Skills

Advertising/Hero shot taken in our photography studio

Once you’ve completed your internship or moved up in your entry-level job, you don’t want to stop there. You should constantly seek out new opportunities that expand your horizons, improve your skills, and inspire you to reach new heights before aspiring to be a creative director.

Creative directors are involved with so many different types of people, from corporate executives to graphic designers. They do more than manage the creative team; they manage the machine as a whole. The industry is constantly changing, so to keep the machine well-oiled and running efficiently, you’ll want to obtain more skills to continue expanding in your career field.

Below, we’ll discuss some valuable skills for aspiring creative directors.

Leadership

As a creative director, you need to understand leadership. You cannot be an introvert that works on creative projects alone in a room all day, like us. You need to be present to lead, carry, and guide the work without being overbearing. Leadership skills are an absolute must-have for creative directors.

Decision-Making Skills

Creative directors are executives that work with other executives to make visions a reality. They lead projects and sign off on the finished designs, so decisiveness is necessary. If you find yourself deferring decision-making to others, a creative director may not be the job for you.

Technology

Many aspiring creative directors assume that they do not need to learn or understand technology because their field doesn’t require it. For example, a creative director that designs product packaging may not necessarily need programming skills—however, he would benefit from them. Staying up to date with the latest technology, design tools, and project management applications puts you one step above the rest.

Art & Visual Communication

As an executive in a creative field, an eye for art is an absolute necessity. You needn’t be Picasso, but you should be able to interpret words and bring those visions to life in an art form. Drawing, painting, and writing are all important skills for creative directors. Visual communication skills must be highly developed.

5. Consider Pursuing a Master’s Degree

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Once you’ve gotten a bachelor’s degree in your chosen industry, landed an internship or entry-level position, and expanded your skills, it’s time to pursue a master’s degree.

A bachelor’s degree is a great stepping stone for the industry, but a master’s degree gives you an advantage over other aspiring candidates.

Opt for a Master of Arts in design or marketing or a Master of Business. These programs put learned skills to the test through real-world projects, giving you additional hands-on experience and qualifying you for higher-paying positions.

By furthering your education, employers recognize that you’re committed to your career, which puts you one step ahead of the competition.

6. Update Your Resume and Portfolio

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Once you’ve achieved enough education and work experience in your field, put together a resume and portfolio. Include any relevant work from your internship, entry-level job, and schooling.

Your portfolio showcases your design skills, work samples, and additional talents. It’s the key to the next door in your career and should represent your abilities and signature style. Include different mediums and projects, from mobile advertisements to product packaging.

7. Apply for Creative Director Positions

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With enough education, work, and experience in your field, you can start applying for a creative director position. Use your pre-established networking contacts, and search for jobs online. 

If you intend to advance beyond the stage of creative director, continue updating your portfolio as you progress in your field.

Final Thoughts

Creative directors are more than leaders of creative teams. They are responsible for handling multiple departments, diverse people, and significantly differing projects.

The skills that creative directors need are vast and ever-changing. It’s a challenging position and requires people who can network, speak business, and hone their skills and creative minds.

On your path to becoming a creative director, learn as much as you can—listen, take direction, and observe. Expand your knowledge, work hard, get to know people, master your skills, and never stop growing. By doing all of these things, you’ll make yourself an asset to any creative team.

And once you become a creative director, you can thank us for this knowledge by hiring us for your next project that requires product photography! See what we did here? 🙂

Benjamin

Benjamin

Hi, I'm Benjamin, Digital Media Strategist and product photographer for Skyline FBA. I have been involved in content creation for over 10 years and love helping people develop strategies to grow their business. My wife and I are Product Photographers that are experienced in Amazon FBA, eCommerce, Lifestyle, and Advertising photography.

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