Creative directors are organisers of ideas. Usually sitting within a marketing agency or as a senior member of a brand’s marketing team, they take a ‘zoom out’ approach to working.
What is a Creative Director?
A creative director is the glue that holds a marketing team together. You’ll be the difference between a confusing mish-mash of thoughts and a well-thought-out, organised approach to a campaign.
Creative directors work closely with a creative designer, copywriters and other directors to decide what ideas are worth pursuing. You’ll make the decision about whether that smoothie packaging design idea from your design director is going to work with the copywriter’s tone of voice, and whether the marketing director’s idea for a giant billboard campaign across the country makes sense with a new smoothie flavour. You’re the keeper of the keys when it comes to turning ideas into reality, and your salary reflects that worth.
Once you start on your career trajectory towards creative direction, your training and development will come through your company.
While the overall role of a creative lead is fundamentally the same across agencies and brands, actual responsibilities will vary depending on what project you’re overseeing.
Here are some key responsibilities you’re likely to see in a creative director role:
- Building (and often line managing) a team of creatives within a company.
- Sustaining good lines of communication between different creatives.
- Identifying current trends within the industry and ensuring campaigns fit within them.
- Facilitating and leading meetings between different departments.
- Being responsible for keeping to a brand’s vision, philosophy and values throughout all projects.
- Keeping track of the budgets given for a creative project and ensuring different departments don’t overstep them.
- Liaising with clients or senior directors to keep them informed of how a project is going.
- Pitching final marketing plans to clients (if you’re an agency) or directors (if you’re working for a brand).
A creative director is a senior position within an organisation, so you should expect to be paid accordingly. Equally, you should expect to have to work your way up to the role.
Pay, as with many jobs, will be location-dependent. A creative director salary in London will pay more than those in smaller cities. Salaries will also depend on the size of your company or agency. The bigger the company, the higher the salary.
A marketing executive can expect to receive a salary of £25,000 to £35,000. This, or a similar junior role, would be a necessary stepping stone to achieving the higher salaries you see in creative lead roles.
The average creative director salary sits at around the £40,000 to £60,000 mark. As you progress and show your abilities, you can expect to reach higher salaries of £80,000 to £100,000 and more.
Being a creative director takes a wealth of industry experience that you can only access by working your way through the ranks.
As creative director jobs are senior positions, the onus here is on experience and prior performance, as opposed to qualifications.
However, in order to reach a senior position like this, you’ll likely need to have been a graduate when you started. While current creative directors may have reached the top without higher education, the competitive job climate of 2022 means a degree will really make you stand out.
There are two routes to a career in creative direction. Firstly, is one beginning in junior levels of marketing, which would usually require a marketing, business or humanities degree:
- Advertising degrees
- Business Management degrees
- Communications degrees
- Digital Marketing degrees
- English Literature degrees
- Fashion Marketing degrees
- History degreess
- Marketing degrees
- PR degrees
Alternatively, many creative directors began work within a particular creative discipline, eventually building up leadership experience and taking on a director role. This could be the case with degrees such as:
- Creative Writing degrees
- Digital Design degrees
- Graphic Design degrees
- Journalism degrees
- Product Design degrees
Training and development
Once you start on your career trajectory towards creative direction, your training and development will come through your company. The trajectory usually begins with a junior role, leading to specialising in a particular area like social media or design, leading to a team leadership or account management role, and onto creative direction.
Much of what you learn when you’re figuring out how to become a creative director will come from observing your senior colleagues, taking on additional responsibility as you go.
Some marketers choose to complete accreditations and further study to bolster their own portfolio. Those offered by the Chartered Institute of Marketing are often popular, as they are a recognised industry qualification and help you stand out from the crowd. Alternatively, those who have worked their way up the career ladder may take postgraduate courses to add academic study to their CV alongside their work experience, such as masters degrees in business, psychology or marketing itself.
A creative director is a senior position within an organisation, so you should expect to be paid accordingly.
As a creative director who has worked their way through the ranks, you’ll have a serious skill set under your belt.
- Excellent communication skills in written and verbal format: You’ll put together detailed reports and deliver these to directors and clients. You’ll need to adjust your tone of voice and delivery depending on the type of client you’re working with.
- Confident presentation skills: You’ll be pitching strategies to clients and directors, and you’ll know how to do this persuasively.
- Negotiation and diplomacy: Not only are you directing ideas, but you’re also a creative manager. You will regularly have to make decisions that involve choosing not to take the ideas of your colleagues forward. To keep a great working relationship, you’ll know how to do this without making it personal.
- Software knowledge: As the person going between different creative areas, you’ll need a decent understanding of various types of software, from design platforms to search engine optimisation and productivity software. While you won’t need to be a photoshop pro, a basic understanding is vital to speak the language of your colleagues.
- Product knowledge: You’ll need to know the product you’re advertising inside out in order to advocate what’s best for the client or business.
- Resilience: Marketing is fast-paced and involves working with large budgets. As such, tensions can be high at times. You’ll need to be able to cope with this.
- Inter-departmental relationships: You’ll be liaising between various departments, from finance to HR, so it’s good to have a working knowledge of how they operate.
Being a creative director takes a wealth of industry experience that you can only access by working your way through the ranks. Keen to get your foot on the ladder? Here are our top bits of advice.
Begin with a degree or an apprenticeship: These courses give you the basic information you’ll need to access most junior-level roles, as well as the connections within the industry that will help you find them in the first place.
Learn, learn, learn: Whether you’re in a junior role now or you’re studying towards it, take every opportunity to build on your skills beyond your job description. Get to know your managers well, and ask to shadow new projects. Be ready to take on pieces of work that weren’t originally in your skill set if you’re given the opportunity to train on the job. A role like a creative director requires a decent knowledge of many areas within your company, so start learning as soon as you can. This will not only add to your CV but give you further connections that could take you in multiple directions.
Network: This one goes hand in hand with learning, but take all the opportunities you can to network with other professionals. Digitally, this can look like following those in your field on LinkedIn and getting chatting. In-person, attend industry events that put you in front of other marketing leaders. The Chartered Institute of Marketing put on regular mixers and events to get involved in, while your employer or educational institution is likely to promote opportunities to get to know others in your field, too. Take every opportunity you can!
A creative director is the glue that holds a marketing team together.
If you’ve reached the point of creative direction, you’re a senior marketer. There may be additional roles within your company that separate the role of creative director, like the executive creative director (more senior) and associate creative director (more junior). It may be that your first port of call is moving to the more senior of the two.
The next roles up within an organisation you’re already in are likely to be chief marketing officer (CMO) or chief executive officer (CEO). For many, though, the next step might be setting up your own agency with the support of additional senior staff.
Alternatively, many marketers step sideways and take the opportunity to move to a new country for an extra challenge. This might look like a role in the US, where New York and San Francisco are major marketing players in terms of location. In Australia, you’re looking at Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. A quick search across international job sites will usually show you where marketing jobs are based in your country of choice.