Tenacity and drive are key skills for any art director in the competitive world of creative advertising
Advertising art directors, often known as 'creatives', produce innovative ideas for the visual elements of advertising campaigns in all kinds of media, including:
- cinema and television
- internet (digital/viral marketing)
As an art director you'll usually work alongside a copywriter to form a 'creative team'. Traditionally, the copywriter produces the words to go with the visuals created by the art director. These roles are now becoming more blurred and it is likely that both will have an input into the visual and written content of the advertising campaign.
The advertising art director works on the campaign from the outset and manages details about the client, product, target audience and required advertising message, which helps to shape the advertising campaign.
Your role may vary depending on the agency that you work for and the client brief, but typical tasks may include:
- working closely with the copywriter to generate creative ideas and concepts to fulfil the client's brief
- producing sketches or 'storyboards' (television) or 'roughs' or 'scamps' (print) to communicate ideas to the client
- gaining an understanding of the target audience and business that the advert is aimed at
- meeting with the creative director and account managers before presenting ideas to clients
- pitching ideas to clients
- briefing other members of the creative team
- commissioning photographers, artists or film-makers to work on projects
- visiting and assessing locations for potential shoots
- working on location
- attending meetings at production houses and with other directors
- working in editing suites to oversee the finished product
- advising new creatives, reviewing their 'books' and managing new teams on placement with the agency.
- 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 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.
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
A postgraduate qualification is not essential but if you have an unrelated first degree, a relevant postgraduate course may help to give you some experience in the area, as well as provide contacts.
You will 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.
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 is 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.
It may take a lot of time to get your first job. Usually, you will 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.
You will need to be resilient as ideas will be rejected, but this feedback is vital when building a book that will get you noticed. Key to getting a placement is building relationships. You are far more likely to get a foot in the door if you stay in touch with creative teams and take their advice on board. It is a good idea to research different agencies and target those whose work you particularly admire or identify with.
Teams on placement are not always given the most exciting work, but this is an opportunity to get noticed. Agencies favour people with big ideas, enthusiasm and a 'can do' attitude.
For career planning tools and advice for creatives at all levels see the National Advertising Benevolent Society (NABS). They offer one-to-one coaching and mentoring for those who are new to the industry and they also run a series of workshops throughout the year.
NABS offers sessions aimed at creatives who need a creative partner. This is a good opportunity for art directors who still need to partner up with a copywriter.
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 are offered by D&AD. They also run workshops and produce guides that give advice on getting into the industry.
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:
- Design Week
- The Drum - for jobs throughout the UK, especially in Scotland.
- Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)
- Mad Jobs
Many agencies advertise jobs on their websites. Specialist recruitment agencies that handle opportunities for junior, middleweight and senior creatives include:
Training is often on the job, with new recruits expected to develop their skills as they work. In some large agencies, there may be structured-training programmes, with in-house courses being available.
External training courses are also on offer. 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 New Blood Academy, provided by the D&AD, is an award programme for students and recent graduates, which leads to a two-week intensive training course.
In addition to attending workshops and courses it is crucial to stay up to date with industry trends by going to exhibitions and conferences where you have the chance to network.
The advertising industry is constantly evolving so it also helps to read trade publications to keep abreast of new developments.
Art directors start with their copywriter partner as a junior creative team, probably 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 are 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 are 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 is important that 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 are well established. It may be possible to specialise in your field, by focusing on areas such as trade or recruitment.
A common career move for many senior creatives is to set up their own agency. Many also move across into directing adverts, television or cinema.