Tenacity and drive are key skills for any art director in the competitive world of creative advertising

As an advertising art director, or 'creative', you'll produce innovative ideas for the visual elements of advertising campaigns in all kinds of media, including:

  • cinema and television
  • internet (digital/viral marketing)
  • posters
  • press
  • radio.

Usually, you'll work alongside a copywriter to form a creative team. Traditionally, the copywriter produces the words to go with visuals created by the art director. These days however, the division between the two roles is increasingly blurred, and it's likely both will have an input into the visual and written content of the advertising campaign.

Responsibilities

As an advertising art director, you'll need to:

  • work on the campaign from the outset, managing details about the client, product, target audience and required advertising message
  • work closely with the copywriter to generate creative ideas and concepts to fulfil the client's brief
  • produce sketches or 'storyboards' (television), or 'roughs' or 'scamps' (print) to communicate ideas to the client
  • gain an understanding of the target audience and business that the advert is aimed at
  • meet with the creative director and account managers before presenting ideas to clients
  • pitch ideas to clients
  • brief other members of the creative team
  • commission photographers, artists or film-makers to work on projects
  • visit and assess locations for potential shoots
  • work on location
  • attend meetings at production houses and with other directors
  • work in editing suites to oversee the finished product
  • advise new creatives, review their books and manage new teams on placement with the agency.

Salary

  • The range of typical starting salaries for junior art directors is around £20,000 to £25,000.
  • Salaries for middleweight art directors vary between £25,000 and £45,000 depending on experience, successful campaigns and any awards earned.
  • Senior art directors can earn anything between £45,000 and £120,000, although very few reach the upper end of this range as the highest salaries are only paid by leading agencies.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are generally 9am to 5pm. However, extra hours are required in the evenings and at weekends in order to meet deadlines and specific needs, e.g. being on location at a certain time.

Unsocial working hours may cause some disruption to your personal life. Busy periods when long hours are required may also be very stressful.

What to expect

  • Some art directors are self-employed and work freelance. While this is a more flexible way of working, it may also be less secure, as advertising is a very competitive industry. Freelance work is a more feasible option for well-established art directors.
  • Work is primarily office-based, but this will depend on the type of project and the employer. Some out-of-office work may be needed, on location, for example, or to meet with clients, which may involve a certain amount of travel.
  • The dress code varies, depending on the employer or agency, but is generally relaxed.
  • Jobs are available throughout the UK, although many of the larger agencies are based in London or other major cities. Employment opportunities also exist abroad.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree in one of the following subjects is likely to increase your chances:

  • advertising and marketing
  • advertising design
  • fine art
  • graphic design
  • illustration.

A postgraduate qualification isn't essential, but if you have an unrelated first degree a relevant postgraduate course may help to give you some experience in the area and help you build contacts.

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • the consistent ability to produce and communicate fresh ideas and visual concepts
  • high levels of motivation and perseverance with a strong belief in your ideas, plus the skills and confidence to express them
  • excellent organisational skills with the ability to prioritise work and multi-task
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • the ability to take rejection and criticism and to be able to adapt ideas to clients' and colleagues' needs
  • the capacity to deal with stress and work well under pressure in order to meet tight deadlines
  • enthusiasm about advertising with a desire to keep up to date with new developments in the media
  • an integrated and creative approach to the media and how the media can be used in advertising
  • IT skills in relevant art and design packages, such as Photoshop and Illustrator
  • an understanding of the advertising process
  • acute observation and an eye for detail.

Work experience

Relevant experience is essential in getting your first creative job and potential employers will expect to see a portfolio of your work and ideas. It's advisable to team up with a copywriter to produce your portfolio, so that employers can see finished concepts, rather than just your visual ideas.

Employers sometimes recruit creative teams rather than individuals, so if you can establish a good working relationship with a copywriter this may be a good first step. Agencies favour people with big ideas, enthusiasm and a 'can do' attitude.

It may take a lot of time to get your first job. Usually, you'll need to establish your team and then build a book together and complete a number of placements within different agencies. You could start by contacting creative teams and asking for a 'book crit' - a session of feedback on your work. This may be a disheartening process as it can be difficult to arrange meetings with busy professional creatives.

Employers

The majority of advertising art directors are employed directly by advertising agencies. For a comprehensive list of all advertising agencies see the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA).

Other employers of advertising art directors are some large companies that have specialist creative teams working in-house on their campaigns.

More established advertising art directors may opt to work on a freelance basis. The ability to do this will depend on your reputation and on having excellent contacts within the industry.

Look for job vacancies at:

Many agencies advertise jobs on their websites. Specialist recruitment agencies that handle opportunities for junior, middleweight and senior creatives include:

Professional development

For career planning tools and advice for creatives at all levels, see the National Advertising Benevolent Society (NABS). NABS offers one-to-one coaching and mentoring and a series of workshops throughout the year, with some sessions aimed at creatives who need a creative partner.

D&AD gives talks on various topics designed for new entrants to advertising, including working in the industry, art direction and copywriting skills, and what makes a good idea. The New Blood Academy, also provided by D&AD, is an award programme for students and recent graduates, which leads to a two-week intensive training course.

Training is often on the job, and it's likely you'll be expected to develop your own skills as you work. In some large agencies, there may be structured training programmes, with in-house courses available.

External training courses are available. Candidates may study for the IPA Foundation Certificate qualification. This is aimed at new creatives who have been in the role for up to one year. Members of the IPA have access to the professional development programme, which has specifically-designed training courses and workshops.

The advertising industry is constantly evolving, so it's crucial to stay up to date with industry trends. Attending exhibitions and conferences, and reading trade publications, can help you keep abreast of new developments.

Career prospects

Art directors start with their copywriter partner as a junior creative team, typically working on lesser campaigns but gaining valuable experience, building up their book and working on a variety of brands.

Tenacity, confidence in your ideas and being an enthusiastic team player are essential if you're to progress to be a middleweight art director. This may take four years - or less, if you win awards or work on particularly successful campaigns.

From being a middleweight, you can rise to a senior creative position and then, if you're successful, you could become a creative director. Not all creative agencies have executive creative directors, but the role exists in large global agencies.

Many advertising agencies now provide an integrated service to clients and career development very much depends on your ability to think conceptually and produce ideas that translate across multimedia platforms. It's important you understand the possibilities that are offered by internet and mobile platforms as well as traditional media.

Freelance work is available but may be insecure unless you're well established. It may be possible to specialise in your field, by focusing on areas such as trade or recruitment.

As a senior creative you could set up your own agency. You could also move across into directing adverts, television or cinema.

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