Creative directors are the most important members of a marketing agency. They lead and inspire their team to create what is needed for each campaign. Creative Directors have many different responsibilities, from developing storyboards and copy, to managing deadlines and budgets. But what does a Creative Director actually do?
There is a common belief that some creative directors end up becoming “creative dictators” who rule with an iron fist and a rockstar attitude, but that’s not usually the case. Creative directors don’t sit around and give orders to their team—they involve themselves throughout the entire process, from planning to final approval.
A creative director does the following:
- Leads the creative team.
- Develops ideas.
- Meets with brands to discuss campaign visions.
- Builds and maintains client relationships.
- Establishes the project budget.
- Ensures that the team is meeting deadlines.
- Approves the final project.
These creative professionals do more than oversee the creative team and their projects. They have numerous job responsibilities. Let’s take a closer look as to what a day in the life of a creative director might look like.
What Is The Role Of A Creative Director?
A creative director leads their team of graphic designers, illustrators, art directors, writers, and other members. It is their job to ensure that their team maintains a cohesive brand vision that achieves the client’s desired goals.
From the earliest stages of planning to full-on execution, creative directors see the project all the way through. They speak with brand executives to determine their dreams and visions for the project and then craft that vision with the creative team through digital art, print, and film.
Creative directors work closely with the design team during active projects and guide them through the creative process.
A creative director’s focus is always on the “big picture,” and at the conclusion of the project, they make sure that the visuals, message, and designs align with the brand’s goals. They have the final say on whether or not the final project is approved.
In addition to supervising a creative team, the creative directors manage client relationships and regularly meet with executives, stakeholders, and clients. They also establish the project budget and deadlines.
What Field Does a Creative Director Work In?
Creative directors work in what is known as the “creative field.” This term covers a wide range of roles and job titles, including:
Art director, Illustrator, Graphic designer, Web developer, Copywriter, Creative technologist, UX/UI Designer, Analyst, Animator, Photographer, Social media manager, Strategist, Developer, Video editor, Motion graphic artist, Game developer, Content strategist, Digital marketing specialist, etc.
When most people think of creative directors, they think of advertising and marketing. While these industries do utilize creative directors, there are dozens of other fields that employ them.
Creative directors work in:
- Movie production
- Journalism (i.e., magazines)
The most common industries that employ creative directors are advertising and marketing agencies.
Most large brands hire creative directors to maintain their brand’s overall image, voice, and identity, so you’ll find these professionals in hundreds of different industries. They work for luxury brands like Chanel and Gucci and corporate tech giants like Apple and Microsoft.
Some unexpected organizations and agencies, like Harvard Business School and even the White House, also employ creative directors.
What Does A Creative Director Do Exactly?
Being a creative director is all about working closely with the brand and its project teams to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It’s not unlikely for this professional to work from morning until midnight—and even later if there are last minute changes or edits being made.
A creative director’s responsibilities vary depending on the industry in which they work. In general, however, most creative directors have the following job duties:
- Plan and develop advertisements, brand campaigns, and marketing materials.
- Lead creative teams during campaigns.
- Submit ideas for projects.
- Supervise teams during the development of creative content.
- Work with brand executives and managers to set goals and deadlines.
- Present projects to executives and clients.
- Recruit and train leads and managers.
- Oversee and manage project budgets.
- Manage the creative team and the creative process.
- Monitor production schedules.
In addition to the above-mentioned job responsibilities, a creative director is responsible for pitching creative ideas to clients and stakeholders. They meet with them regularly to discuss the progression of the project.
If clients offer criticism or feedback, a creative director instructs their team on how to translate this information into edits.
Creative Director Skills and Qualifications
It’s a given that creative directors need to be creative and skilled in advertising, but what other skills and qualifications do they need? Because of the many aspects of the job, creative directors need expertise in other areas as well, including:
- Business/Finance: Business and finance might be equally important to creativity when it comes to being a creative director. Not only do they oversee the project budgets, but they’re essentially helping brands and businesses earn money through their campaigns.
- Leadership: A strong sense of leadership is necessary when supervising a team of other professionals. Creative directors also regularly meet with brand executives and stakeholders, so it’s imperative that they have a strong presence and can hold the floor.
- Interpersonal communication: Meetings are a huge part of a creative director’s daily work itinerary, so speaking publicly is a must. They work with different industries, including creative, finance, and analytics, so it’s essential that a creative director can explain ideas and visions in a way that a broad range of people can understand.
- Technical skills: Software, tools, and other virtual applications play an important role in the design process. Therefore, a creative director should stay up-to-date and feel comfortable with the latest creative technology.
In addition to the above-listed skills, creative directors should have a good grasp of art and design history, pop culture, and current events. These subjects may not always play a role in what a creative director does, but sometimes they can—and it’s important to know when to integrate them into the design process.
Finally, a knowledge of current trends in advertising and design is critical. As the world changes, so does the world of marketing—and clients aren’t going to want the same, tired concepts.
For example, a creative director may come up with an idea to base one of their ads on the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Or they might see what other brands are doing and want to use similar styles or techniques in order to keep themselves competitive.
How Does A Creative Director Work?
The daily duties of a creative director depend on the industry, company, and whether there are any active projects.
Early hours often consist of checking and responding to messages, emails, and voicemails. These messages may be from executives, stakeholders, business partners, clients, or members of the creative team.
If you’re a product photographer like us, this may be a great time to pester them about hiring you for the next job.
Once the creative director responds to all time-sensitive messages, they usually review their campaign calendar.
They look at project deadlines and check in on the creative team to ensure they’re on track. If the team needs assistance, the creative director will guide them through any problems. During active projects, they may also provide creative feedback.
Meetings make up the vast majority of a creative director’s day.
Throughout various parts of the day, a creative director meets with executives to brainstorm ideas for future projects, discuss current project progress, or present completed projects. They’ll also get together with the creative team to pitch ideas for upcoming projects.
Sometimes, they’ll host one-on-one meetings with the creative team to ensure that everyone is happy and developing professionally.
When they’re not checking messages, helping the creative team, or engaging in meetings, a creative director completes project research or production work.
Challenges That Creative Directors Face
Being a creative director isn’t all about creation and design. The job can be very demanding, labor-intensive, and fast-paced.
One of the biggest challenges that creative directors face is adapting to client expectations and communication styles. Every client is different, so creative directors must be prepared to work with very diverse people—and sometimes, they want things done a certain way.
Such is the life of a creative director. This is why it’s so important that they are flexible with a broad perspective.
Another common challenge is prioritizing, and sometimes a creative director has numerous projects running at once. The workload is often very high, so it’s a balancing act. Every company has its own objective, and jumping between each of them can prove challenging.
Do Creative Directors Make A Lot Of Money?
Generally, it’s common for creative directors to have six-figure salaries. According to Glassdoor, creative directors make between $68,000-$232,000/year. This wide range of pay is due to the fact that what a creative director does varies so much from industry to industry and company to company.
Some factors that influence what a creative director makes include:
- industry (advertising, marketing, etc.)
- location of the company’s headquarters
- size of the company and its budget
- what industry the creative director is creating work for
- what company they are with
- how many years of experience they have
- what projects they have worked on
Creative directors are generally hired because of their extensive knowledge of art and design, so it’s safe to assume that any creative director with a lot of experience has an impressive portfolio.
Their work also tends to be very well recognized. Creative directors who have been in the industry for a while have a lot of industry connections, so they may even be able to hire themselves out for projects.
Creative directors do more than brainstorm ideas for marketing projects. Their job is diverse, fast-paced, and demanding. It requires a well-rounded, business-savvy individual that possesses leadership qualities and excellent communication skills.
A creative director spends most of their day managing a diverse group of people, meeting with clients and stakeholders, developing innovative ideas, and translating client ideas into clear objectives for their team.
Check out our article on how to become a creative director to get more tips on what it takes to be an excellent creative director.