A creative director is a position usually found within the advertising, media or entertainment industries, but may be useful in other creative organizations such as web development and software development firms as well. The job entails overseeing the design of branding and advertising for a client and ensuring that the new branding and advertising fits in with the clients requirements and the image they wish to promote for their company or product. The main aspects of this role are to interpret a client's communications strategy and then develop proposed creative approaches and treatments that align with that strategy. Another is to initiate and stimulate creative ideas for and from everyone involved in the creative process. Creative directors normally oversee creative service agencies or departments within a corporation. In advertising agencies, this consists of copywriters and art directors. In media design firms, the team can include graphic designers and computer programmers.
A creative director is ultimately responsible for the quality of the final creative work. They are often praised highly when their team's efforts win awards, but conversely, the creative director shoulders the negativity when a project goes wrong, response falls short of expectations, or an important individual dislikes the idea.
Advertising Creative Directors are usually promoted from copywriting or art directing positions, and while most have a command of one of the two disciplines, they are more than familiar with the other, and in some rare cases they are equally adept at both. Long lists have enumerated the qualifications a creative director should have, but the lists can be as illuminating as they can be confusing. It is agreed, though, that creative directors should be more than just masters of their craft, they should also be inspired people-managers. Nevertheless, at the very least, art directors who become creative directors should have developed an extremely fine ear for good copy, just as copywriters who become creative directors should have an educated eye for design.
The acclaimed David Ogilvy once advertised for creative directors for his agency, and called them "Trumpeter Swans." This may highlight the difficulty of having a universally accepted set of qualifications. There simply isn't an easily understood qualification similar to an MBA for creative people. While independent advertising and graphic design schools do graduate people with their own degrees and diplomas, there is no known degree or diploma in "creative directing".
Art directors usually possess a communication design or fine arts degree. Copywriters may have degrees in journalism, language arts or may develop more emphasis on advertising copywriting while pursuing a communication design degree. The discipline of creative directing may be at best a career goal and as such, a minor may be included in one's studies while pursuing a communication degree.
The role of a Creative Director
The advertising process itself may cast light on this. Since the advertising agency exists to produce advertising, the creative director plays a pivotal role: he or she is called on to be the key participant in, and contributor to each and every part of the process that results in the advertising. Good creative directors are a key part of the formulation of the brand and advertising strategy, the formulation of the design brief or creative brief, the actual process of creating the advertising, the presentation or selling of the advertising to the client, and its final execution for release in media.
While a creative director must professionally and personally be the very epitome of the idiosyncratic, out-of-the-box dynamic so essential to arriving at advertising ideas, he or she must also possess and display a healthy and clear-headed grasp of the business plans of the company, and an appreciation of its financial realities. While this is a tremendous challenge for anyone, it is particularly demanding on a creative director who must balance the chaotic and pell-mell dynamic of shepherding path-breaking ideas to fruition, but also cause it all to be profitable to his company. Many Creative Directors expend all their energies on 'creativity' and leave the money issues to the more traditional designations in the agency. The Creative Directors who can display an eye for profits can make it to the very top of the company. It is argued that an advertising agency must perforce be led by a 'creative' individual, as leaving this function to a 'non-creative' person is akin to asking the commander of a 747 to manage a theatre company.
A Creative Director must also have the force of personality to prevail over the advertising process, playing part protagonist and part mediator, picking his or her way between currents of differing ideas, personalities, and agendas. The advertising process can be fraught with people with different agendas, and creative directors must have their way with force and grace when contrary views are expressed with fervency.
A creative director's lot is a complex one: there is also the matter of credit and blame: while clients and awards can be won or lost for many reasons, the win is frequently attributed to many reasons but a loss can be place quite squarely on the creative director's doorstep. Creative directors are more often than not a lightning rod for the ire and blame game that can follow. It is not unheard of for an entire creative team to be fired when an agency loses an account, and when that happens, many creative directors have realized that their own team also looks at them askance.
Awards and portfolio
One aspect that deserves mention because it rules not just the fate of creative people but also the agency is the matter of advertising awards. For good or for worse, awards have become a ubiquitous way to "rank" a copywriter or art director, and of course, a creative director.
Mentioning awards in the context of advertising may be pulling the pin on a conversational grenade. As much as advertising agencies desire awards, most are painfully aware that the winning of an award can be as capricious and accidental a phenomenon as any. The noted international award shows get entries in the thousands from key parts of the world, and the ones that win have sometimes been known to engender a storm of controversy. (The judges at these shows are, more often than not, creative directors.) Since winning a handful of awards is not considered enough, agencies are forced to enter in multiple shows. To host an awards show can be a very profitable thing for the hosting body, and to be invited to judge can be a marked indication of the industry's acknowledgment. To compete in the awards circuit requires not just labour and time, but a staggering outlay in entry fees. Many creative professionals chafe at the fact that the individual within the agency with the power to refuse to sanction entry fees for awards (more often than not, the General Manager) is the individual with the power to censure a creative person for not winning awards. And that censure can be professionally fatal: it can cost a creative person a raise, a promotion, a wasted year, and the acknowledgment of his or her peers.