Creative directors are big-picture people, managing teams across multiple accounts with an inspiring 'book' or portfolio of work

Creative directors are the creative leads at advertising agencies or in-house for the marketing department of a company. They work with the creative team to create, plan and deliver a strategic vision for clients.

In this role you'll be involved in planning advertising, supervising the entire creative process and guiding the team that works under you. The creative team includes art directors, copywriters and designers.

This is a senior role for creative thinkers and proven leaders. The role carries fast-track promotion, international opportunities and a salary to match.

Responsibilities

Work activities may vary depending on the size of the agency or company and the number of clients, but responsibilities include:

  • building a creative environment for the creative team to work in and overseeing ideas and projects
  • taking responsibility for the creative philosophy and the standard of creative output across the agency or department
  • developing ideas for advertising or promotional campaigns
  • pitching concepts to clients if you work at an agency, or presenting to directors if you work in-house
  • overseeing several projects from start to finish, keeping to deadlines, and signing off on these projects before they are presented
  • liaising with clients to keep them informed and to highlight any issues
  • understanding the commercial aspects of the agency or marketing department
  • hiring and managing the creative team.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for advertising creatives are between £20,000 and £28,000.
  • Experienced creative directors, who manage small teams, can earn between £40,000 and £60,000.
  • Experienced creative directors can earn higher salaries of £80,000+, depending on the size of the agency.

Rates can vary depending on the size of the agency and the geographical location. The majority of roles in advertising are full-time, contracted roles with less than 20% of staff in freelance roles - more so in marketing and editorial.

Income data from the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising).

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually 9am to 5pm, although evening networking events are a big part of the role. As a creative director, you'll be expected to live and breathe the role, working long hours on major campaigns. Paid overtime is rare, although some organisations offer time off in lieu.

The industry has evolved to accommodate more flexible working.

What to expect

  • You will be busy working to tight deadlines and juggling multiple projects. This high-pressure environment can be stressful at times.
  • The role is office based but you will be expected to network and socialise regularly with clients and attend a range of industry events and exhibitions.
  • The office environment is young, dynamic and increasingly multicultural. It's a work-hard, play-hard culture.
  • Working at the cutting edge of new technology you will be expected to grasp changes in technical innovation across multiple platforms.
  • Travel within a working week is common. Overnight absence from home may occasionally be required. Working for a larger agency may mean periods of international travel and will open up opportunities globally.
  • You will have the satisfaction of seeing what you and your team create in the marketplace e.g. on billboards or on television and other media.

Qualifications

According to the IPA Agency Census, 80% of advertising agency staff are graduates. A postgraduate qualification has little effect on earning potential.

While the traditional route for a creative director, namely a humanities degree and several years of hands-on experience, still holds true, graduates now come from a variety of creative backgrounds, management and technological roles.

New job roles, such as content strategist, producer and app developer, offer new routes to senior roles. Key technology skills are increasingly a fast-track route to the industry.

Competition for roles remains fierce.

Skills

As a creative director, you will need to show:

  • excellent leadership and interpersonal skills as well as the ability to inspire the creative team to give their best
  • strong written and verbal communication skills, as well as presentation skills in order to make outstanding pitches
  • plenty of creative ideas and an understanding of the clients' vision
  • an awareness of current trends in advertising and design
  • a self-starting attitude and an open outlook
  • resilience under pressure and against deadlines
  • an understanding of how creative roles complement other departments, such as finance and data management
  • knowledge of the software and applications involved in the creative process
  • skills in managing people, projects and resources.

Work experience

The demand for advertising and marketing roles far outstrips availability, so potential employers are looking for well-rounded candidates with life skills and professional experience. Work experience is a big part of this. Start by attending industry events open to students and networking with industry people. Running a well-read blog and speaking at industry events will also get you noticed.

There is no formal, cross-industry scheme but short-term placement opportunities may be available. Contact individual agencies directly by sending a CV and cover letter.

Demonstrating you are already practising in the area is vital. Consider developing your social media profile, your website or personal blog to give your online brand a more professional feel. Show your commitment while still at university by taking a communications role through the student union or other societies.

Annual industry events, such as Advertising Unlocked, whereby top agencies open their doors, is a good way to make contacts. The National Advertising Benevolent Society (NABS) runs workshops for newcomers to the creative industries.

Employers

Creative directors work at advertising agencies and also at in-house marketing departments of large companies.

Employment opportunities and recruitment are handled by each individual agency. They have their own graduate recruitment schemes with applications at the start of the final year of study. Competition is fierce so apply early.

Many graduates start out in advertising and marketing through internships. Once you have gained experience in an agency and built up a professional reputation and network of contacts, there may be opportunity for freelance work. See further information on self-employment.

Networking events and speculative applications, followed up by an informal face-to-face meeting, are established methods to find new opportunities, especially for senior roles.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important, especially keeping up to date with technological changes. Follow industry trends by reading the trade press.

Most agencies offer training on the job but there are many other providers of development schemes.

The IPA offer the MBA level IPA Excellence Diploma, which is aimed at those with three to five years of experience in the industry who want to develop a broader understanding of how brands work and create value for clients. The IPA also offers a range of short courses and seminars for experienced staff.

The Communication Advertising and Marketing (CAM) Foundation runs the Diploma in Marketing Communications and Diploma in Digital Marketing. Design and Art Direction (D&AD) offers continuing professional development schemes.

You can also showcase your work to gain industry status and foster networking opportunities at the annual CIM Marketing Excellence Awards.

Career prospects

Advertising has three key roles: creative director, finance director and chief executive. As a creative director it is most likely that you will seek to either capitalise on strong international prospects or set up your own agency in collaboration with a finance director and chief executive.

The opportunity to become a regional head of an agency to reinvigorate an established, or emerging, market is an attractive one. The advertising world still regards the UK as a centre of excellence and much client business is conducted in English. Singapore is the hub for Asia, although Shanghai is growing, while San Francisco and New York remain the American hubs.

You could do a two-year stint in another market to broaden your experience and widen your perspectives within five years of joining an agency.

In marketing, you could become a chief marketing officer (CMO), and, ultimately the chief executive officer (CEO).

In an editorial environment, you could become a creative director across a whole publishing group.