What Does the Creative Director of an Ad Agency Do?

creative director

What are we talking about in this article?

Ad agency lingo has become increasingly accessible for a myriad of people who don’t have any link to the industry. This can be somewhat confusing for people from related fields since they think they have a semblance of a grasp of what a term means but are not fully aware of its complete meaning. Tech developers, financial employees from other departments, engineers, and other professionals from multiple fields work with creatives at some point in time during projects. Let’s take a look at a very important position, and what its actual scope of responsibilities are.

Resource Management

What Is a Creative Director?

Creative directors are in charge of leading the creative department. This means they are responsible for supervising and managing the visual and narrative overarching aspects of campaigns. They also have to control that every asset aligns with the greater and ultimate message a brand or business is conveyed. Creative directors work as leaders, managers, teachers, supervisors, and mentors. On top of these multiple hats, they also carry the weight of achieving a successful endpoint alongside their team.

Another important aspect of the creative director day-to-day involves the administration and development of innovation initiatives, from original ideas to deliverables. They are also in constant communication with clients, gauging their needs and discerning what they really want from the creative service the business provides. They pass these findings along to their teams and oversee brainstorming sessions, manage budgets, supervise creative decisions, and produce projects.

Creative directors craft the message and tone for a business’s branding concept, or a film, and can be involved in setting the creative path for multiple pieces, like videogames or albums. In advertising, marketing, and/or creative campaigns they delegate the smaller creative tasks and supervise the long-term narrative and vision. And to be able to do this seamlessly, they need to be great leaders and engage their teams to motivate them, grant them the resources they need, and inspire them to create the best work they can.

What Does an Advertising Creative Director Do?

In the advertising industry, the creative director role is an enormously important position. The job title carries the weight of making sure that the creative teams have the resources needed to craft the client’s vision of their Ad, and most importantly: to execute it with the highest standards of creativity and efficiency. A creative director’s job in an agency also centers around the development of creative ideas, as well as paving the road for a streamlined internal process and project management.

To raise to the height these responsibilities demand, the person occupying the creative director position needs to employ all of their vast comprehension of design, language, general knowledge of the world, and the cultures the agency’s work will reach, so they can lead and take care of their team.

They also take great care supervising that every aspect of an Ad is done organically, cohesively, and correctly: from the aesthetic conception to the practical and functional design ideas. A creative director manages and oversees the full spectrum of departments and fields inside their creative teams: copywriters, graphic designers, art directors, even UX designers creating web design.

A successful creative director position requires observation and experience, they set the quality var for the rest of the advertising agency.

Skills Needed To Become A Creative Director

A creative director job description will list a lot more than just creative vision, it is a position that requires incredible soft skills in project management and leadership, as well as a deep understanding of design or fine arts. The creative director is who needs to guide a team through the creative process, in order for the client’s message to be delivered correctly, all the while pushing for innovation in design, resourcefulness, and aesthetics. To do this, there are certain skills every creative director needs to count with:

  • Visualization: When we say visualization it is not only in the graphic aspect of the word, we mean the capability of visualizing the future and thinking several steps ahead. It is important to keep track of daily tasks and projects, but having a bird’ eye view is what sets creative directors apart. they need to know what goals the agency has, and how to get there. And for this, they need to be updated on what are the industry trends and the shifts in their desired market. They must keep this up while coordinating their teams, keeping them on track, and overseeing the development of each part of the agency to create a great design. For this, knowledge about cinematographic techniques, art history, design trends and tropes, illustration and classic media, narrative know-how, and other creative crafts are needed.
  • Great communication skills: A vital aspect of Creative direction is communicating: with their team, their agency, their business, stakeholders, the client, and the target audience for the client’s message. It is not just about visual communication. Giving and receiving feedback is essential, if the creative director misunderstands the client’s vision it could mean a vast amount of lost time and resources, as well as possibly hindering the business relationship. Speaking skills are also a must since a creative director is responsible for making regular presentations. Going beyond the basics of communication, interpersonal skills and networking can greatly help a creative director, it can improve morale across the teams, making them more comfortable in their office space, thus fostering collaboration.
  • Leadership: In design, leading a team while keeping an eye out for time management is the way of succeeding towards any creative goal or endeavor. Creative work is not easy, and it is especially hard to quantify and conceptualize into time slots and tasks. That’s why creative directors need to take a proactive role and stay one step ahead, employing their experience in the field to guide the more efficient way until the project is complete.


Creative Directors In Different Fields

Creative direction is needed in multiple fields and industries, in film for example they are known as production designers.

Their main responsibility is the visual appearance of the film and overseeing a great team of employees and creatives that are constantly developing new concepts and ideas. The goal for a production designer is to translate innovative ideas and creative concepts into a cinematographic metaphor and content. But for a production designer to reach a maximum quality they need to correctly allocate their budget efficiently and effectively. Organizing the sequences and sets during the shooting, managing the prop budget, and making the most out of it.

In the advertising industry, creative directors are the developers of campaigns and marketing plans for the client who requested the services of the company. They would work with the creative department, and in most cases, they could also act as project managers supervising the team of employees and employers, as well as being charged with the generation of concepts and ideas for the ads, and taking care of the holistic needs of the client. In advertising, creative directors are usually promoted from within the talent lines of the agency, they could start as copywriters, art directors, and sometimes even media technicians.

A background in communication, visual arts, journalism, language, or animation is not uncommon. Executive creative directors, or chief creative officers, also have administrative responsibilities for the entire department.

In the music industry, creative directors usually have multiple jobs that amount to a bigger role. For example, they might be responsible for directing the music as an orchestral conductor, planning and selecting the symphonic pieces, guiding the rest of the musicians in the ensemble. So they end up performing, as well as directing and also instructing and teaching.

In the video game industry, which has done nothing but grow since the early 80s, you can find game designers that also double as creative directors, they can also be referred to as game directors, or executive designers. The scope of work needed for creating a mainstream video game is astounding, the teams involved can be gigantic. For example, Ubisoft’s “The Division 2” from 2019 had a development team of around 1000 people. And these teams are very diverse since you need multiple disciplines and specializations, from narrative writing to animation and programming. A company’s main creative director usually handles multiple projects at once, since product development is a long-lasting effort. So a creative director acts as design authority.

In the fashion industry. The creative director is the top-ranking creative job. They do not design clothes, rather they are in charge of the development and communication of the concept the brands want to convey for each of their collections as well as the label design as a whole. The most important task they must execute is the conceptual ideas that must be carried out into completion and what is going to be appealing for the market they target. This also involves managing partnerships with spokespeople, fashion designers, celebrities, and networking.

5 Steps to Becoming a Creative Director

The road to becoming a creative director is not short, nor easy. It will take years of experience and honing your leadership skills, problem-solving capabilities, delegation, and project management attributes. And the best teacher for these last skills is only time and first-hand job experience. Some things that will be vital along the way are:

A bachelor’s degree

Getting a degree is not always a requirement in creative fields, since the experience gained from working can often trump an inexperienced degree having possible hire. But for this position, having a bachelor’s degree or a master’s can be a requirement. It depends on the industry, but some usual fields are fine arts, marketing, graphic design, photography, or fashion, and visual arts. A master’s degree in business management can also be beneficial for a creative director. This is complementary to several years of creative experience in your industry, from around 7 to 10.

Professional Experience

Creative directors are made, and going through the creative grind of a starting position is an excellent way of getting the necessary experience. You can start applying for an internship, a junior role, or any entry-level job at an agency. This exposure to different types of clients, and of demands can help you understand if this is something you want to pursue in a career capacity, and it will also work for building a network of contacts. Getting to see the work firsthand is truly important. If one day you’ll be delegating and assigning tasks, you will have a better understanding of how the proverbial sausage gets made, and that can be invaluable when taking the shots.

Craft a Portfolio

This will be your CV. As with many jobs and positions in the creative industry, your portfolio will speak for you, and it will showcase your skills and work experience. This is what potential employers will want to see, the actual pieces and projects you carried, as part of a team or as an individual. Be sure to edit your portfolio for each occasion, it is your marketing strategy after all, and what you show will depend on the area of work you want to pursue.

Time tracking & estimation

Hone your skills

Developing your skills is extremely important. Creative direction is a position of multiple levels and requirements. You will juggle many departments, and the best way of helping your team members is to know a little of what their jobs actually involve. And this can be easy for more traditional roles in your field. But many digital and programming tasks are still hard to comprehend for people outside that field of expertise, so think about diversifying your understanding. This can have a multifaceted approach, you could try and learn a little bit, or you can take leadership courses in order to better understand how to collaborate within your creative teams. Broadening your horizons doesn’t particularly mean specializing in hard skills, soft skills are also important for a creative director.


Creative directors need to be well connected with other creative professionals in their and other fields. But getting to a comfortable point can seem unachievable in the beginning. Although it will take time, it will pave the way for nourishing professional relationships that will give you inspiration, innovation, experience, and could even help you create partnerships with brands or find a better and new job. Use social media, like LinkedIn and Instagram. Join professional organizations and conventions, if there’s a guild at least check it out, and if there are talks about innovation in the field go and listen. Chances are you will find like-minded people who are serious about their job and who also want to connect with you.

At COR we understand just how important working in creative fields is, as well as the multiple complexities it carries. We made it our mission to help agencies and professional service businesses reach their full potential while staying a healthy and profitable endeavor. If you find yourself having problems delegating, and allocating resources, take a step in the right direction and request a demo today.


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