How to Become a Creative Director

There is no set path for becoming a creative director; every great creative director has found his or her own individual path for getting into the role.


In most cases however, you’ll launch your career from a hands-on creative position such as copywriter or designer, and work your way up from there. It helps if you have a degree in an area such as graphic design, fine arts, marketing, management or communications.


Whichever path you end up taking to start your career, you’ll need, among other skills and abilities, strong creative vision and the ability to lead and inspire others in order to succeed.


If you’re interested in learning more, this career guide can help you get started. We've included helpful information for this occupation, such as salary expectations, an outline of the skills you’ll need, educational requirements, a list of possible employer types, and much more.



Education Needed to Become a Creative Director

There is no specific education needed to become a creative director in general, and requirements may vary from job to job. Many employers however, prefer to hire creative directors with knowledge of marketing techniques as well as knowledge of art and graphic design.


A bachelor's or master’s degree in marketing, communications, fine arts or graphic design can serve as an excellent foundation for a career as a creative director, as it can allow you to gain skills, knowledge and competencies in these areas.


As this is often considered a senior-level career, employers prefer to hire candidates with at least 5 years of relevant work experience in addition to their degree. In many cases, the more education you have (provided it’s directly relevant), the less experience employers will require you have, and vice versa.


Success Tip: Having a strong educational background as well as relevant experience in positions of progressive responsibility is the best way to ensure you qualify for work in this field. 





General Job Description

The role of a creative director is very different at every company and within every industry, but in general these professionals are responsible for determining the overall vision and style of their employer or client’s brand; it is their job to determine the best way for a company to visually represent itself.


In general, the role of creative director typically involves the development of concepts for design projects, as well as the management of creative resources, which includes the budget, internal design teams, and 3rd party design and communications firms.


Creative directors may also be involved in working one-on-one with executive management or the client, in order to gain a thorough understanding of their identity and their needs, as well as to pitch ideas to them.



Typical Duties of the Job

The job duties for creative directors can vary substantially from one company to the next. In general however, creative directors are responsible for the following:


• Overseeing quality control of concepts and projects

• Managing team members and 3rd party service providers

• Establishing creative direction of the company’s online presence

• Managing multiple projects from outset to completion

• Leading creative sessions for project kick-offs

• Developing creative programs and design concepts that meet the business objectives of the organization 

• Working with the account team, strategy team, and copywriters to develop concepts and present to management



Who Employs Creative Directors?

Creative directors are typically employed on a full-time, permanent basis, and may work for a wide variety of organizations, ranging from advertising agencies to theatre companies. Creative director jobs, or positions of similar responsibility with different titles, can often be found with the following types of organizations:


• Dance and theatre companies

• Television and film production companies

• Advertising and marketing agencies and consultancies

• Management consultancies

• Visual design companies

• Software companies

• Newspaper, periodical, book, and website publishers

• Public relations and communications departments of large organizations

• Public relations and communications firms and consultancies





Experience Needed to Become a Creative Director

The job of Creative Director is one that is notorious for being one of the most amorphous within the advertising industry, and typically involves different tasks and a different level of responsibility from one employer to the next. Because of this, there is no set path for 'breaking' into this field. There are however, ways that are easier to break into this role than others. 


Typically, one must climb the ranks within an organization by progressively working jobs with more responsibility, such as desktop publisher, graphic designer, copywriter or art director. 


A good place to begin your career is to land an entry-level job in one of the aforementioned fields. Once you have a stable position within an organization, learn as much about the job you are working as you can; master it. For example, to become a creative director you must show competence with tasks such as developing campaign concepts and design briefs, as well as design and work with software such as Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver and other software.


Regardless of your job title, think like a creative director; think beyond your individual assignments and take responsibility for the entire assignment or account, and ultimately the creative success of your employer or client.


Ensure that you maintain expert level skills and proficiency in software that is necessary to perform your job. When an opportunity for advancement presents itself, be sure to apply for it; you may even be recommended or handed the job if you demonstrate the necessary competencies on a regular basis. 


Success Tip: When working in an entry-level job, go the extra mile to show your dedication. Come in early, stay late and do whatever it takes to get the job done. This will show management that you have leadership qualities and that you are committed to the organization and its mission. 



Skills Needed to Be Effective 

To find success as a creative director, it is fundamentally necessary to have a strong creative vision and the ability to lead and inspire others to execute that vision. You will need skills and knowledge in areas such as marketing, advertising, digital media, art design, visual communication and graphic design. You don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert in all of these areas however. You will likely have to be an expert in some of these areas, and have good working knowledge of the others. 


When employers look to hire creative directors, they know that every candidate brings something different to the table. For example, some may be stronger in management, others in creative vision; there are talented people all along the continuum. Regardless of their areas of strength, those who are successful in this line of work have most, if not all, of the following skills:


Art and Design Skills: Creative directors must be able to come up with campaign concepts and design briefs, as well as design and work with software such as Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver and other software.


Marketing, Communication and Advertising Skills: A good creative director must be able to make emotional connections with the consumer. They do so by paying attention to social and cultural trends, and absorbing subtle shifts in these trends, ultimately building on these influences to create work that feels both new and relevant.


Management and Leaderships Skills: A good creative director can look dispassionately at their work and throw away bad ideas, putting project first and ego second. They must be able to direct the workflow of team members and third party contractors, such as design studios. In addition to leading these individuals, a good creative director can inspire them.



Characteristics of Successful Creative Directors

In order to enjoy your work, you will need certain personality traits. Taking enjoyment from your duties, and ultimately your job, is important, as it allows you to maintain a positive attitude towards your work. The importance of this cannot be understated, as it’s something that can get you out of bed during even the most difficult of weeks.


• A passion for new ideas and the relentless drive to make them real

• Willing to take accountability and ownership of projects

• A sense of what it takes to connect with people

• Tremendous self-confidence

• The ability to commit to a direction, defend it and then sell it to your clients

• The ability to excite clients and make them believe in new ideas

• The patience and focus to work towards an upper-level career

• Interest in a career with a high salary

• The ability to handle large amounts of stress, such as when facing tight deadlines



Job Postings - Current Opportunities in Your Area

Our job board below has "Creative Director" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.



Typical Salary Level Typical to This Profession

The salary level of creative directors can vary, typically depending on the following factors:


• Their level of education

• Their level of experience and aptitude

• The size and type of their employer

• The region in which they work


There is no salary information available from reliable sources specifically for the career 'Creative Director'. We can however, get a good idea of what they earn by looking at the salary level of workers in closely related occupations.


Creative Director Salary Canada: According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Professional Occupations in Business Services to Management occupational group earn an average salary of $90,800 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories. 


Creative Director Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of American workers in the Art Directors occupational group is $80,880 per year.



Similar Career Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to 'creative director', as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Art Director


Graphic Designer

Marketing Director

Public Relations Specialist



References for This Career Guide

To find out more about what a creative director does, how much they earn, and other details of this career, please consult the following resources:


Occupations in Alberta:Marketing Manager.” (March 31, 2018). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Arts & Design:Art Directors.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Small Agency Diary:The Route to Creative Director Starts With a Passion For New Ideas.” Phil Johnson (May 31, 2013). AdAge website. Retrieved November 8, 2019.

Please Note: Much of the information for this career guide was gathered from actual job postings, which due to the brief nature of their online presence, are not listed here as sources.



Scholarships for Becoming a Creative Director

The 'Relevant Fields of Study' section below lists areas of academic focus that pertain to this career. Scholarships matched to those fields of study can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a creative director. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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