A creative director
is a position usually found within the advertising
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 client's 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. For this reason, they get the lion's share of acclaim when their team's efforts win awards, but conversely, the creative director shoulders the negativity (and the blame) when a project goes wrong, response falls short of expectations, or an important individual on the client's side dislikes or vetos an idea.
Much has been opined about the qualifications a creative director should ideally have, but the lists can be as illuminating as they can be confusing. The acclaimed advertising legend David Ogilvy once advertised for creative directors for his agency, and called them 'Trumpeter Swans', which underscores the difficulty of having a universally accepted set of qualifications. To compound the matter, there simply isn't an easily understood qualification similar to an MBA
for creative people. While the many advertising and graphic design schools do graduate people with their own degrees and diplomas, there is no degree or diploma in "creative directing".
Of course, Creative Directors must have a superb command of the technical aspects of their business, because many a time the impasse or 'block' that stymies a project from moving on is solved by a Creative Director who knows the technical side of his craft inside out. Creative Directors who are extremely familiar with a graphics software, for example, can simply personally sit at the computer and achieve a 'look' for an advertisement that is the center of a new strategy for a brand, but is eluding everyone.
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. 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. All advertising Creative Directors must have a more-than-passing grasp of film-making, because it helps them evaluate film ideas and their plausibility, and helps them ensure that the final television commercial is consonant with the verities of the brand.
Creative Directors rise to become Executive Creative Directors, a position with executive responsibility for the entire creative department. (This position is sometimes known as Chief Creative Officer.) There is a trend now where Creative Directors have become the Chairman of the company. This is the result of a long-held view that advertising is a creative business and an advertising agency's principal officer is at best an individual whose appreciation of the business is a creative one and whose stake is squarely in the creative part of the business. It is argued that an advertising agency, whose fundamental DNA as an organisation is a creative matter, 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. Even if the top spot of the agency is not on the cards, a Creative Director has to demonstrate both: he or she must professionally and personally be the very epitome of the idiosyncratic, out-of-the-box dynamic so essential to arriving at advertising ideas, and 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 choose to expend all their energies on the 'creativity' and leave the business and money issues to the more traditional designations in the agency. The Creative Directors who can display an eye for profits are usually on their way to the very top of the company.
It is agreed, though, that creative directors should be more than just masters of their craft, they should also be inspired people-managers. Creative people are difficult personas, and in teams they are a very complex dynamic and actually managing multiple teams calls on a Creative Director to have a tremendous force of personality and the most exquisite interpersonal skills.
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.
Specific professional qualifications
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 being or becoming a Creative Director is a later-in-the-career phenomenon, a matter of proven experience.
The role of a Creative Director
The advertising process itself casts some light on this. Since the advertising agency exists to produce advertising, the creative director plays a pivotal role: he or she is required to be the key participant in, and contributor to, each and every part of the process that results in the final advertising. Good creative directors are included in 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
of the advertising to the client, and its final execution for release in media.
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 placed 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 portfolios
For good or for worse, awards have become a ubiquitous way to "rank" a copywriter or art director, and of course, a creative director. In fact awards rule the fate of the careers of creative people, and since awards also have a burnishing effect on an advertising agency's creative reputation (a decided advantage for the agency when pitching for new clients or attracting top-flight creative people), award-winning creative people find that they lead much more charmed lives than do the creative people who don't win.
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.
Criticism of awards as qualifications
A curious aspect of advertising awards is that most awards (outside of the EFFIES) are given for the "creative quality" of the work, with no regard to whether the advertising worked for the brand or not. Awards have been defended as a way in which to reward and encourage creative people, and inspire them to exceed themselves. But the industry is aware, and will acknowledge, that an award-winning advertisement is not necessarily a successful or effective one. (A thorough study of effective advertising also shows that most of the advertising that works handsomely for brands is not award-winning advertising.) In fact, a rather surprising number of awards have been given to press and TV spots whose brands failed in the marketplace. But the power of awards of all kinds continues to grow, partly because the awards themselves are now marketed internationally with as much power and purpose as is any other brand. The top international award shows are all privately owned companies, making a handsome profit.
The cachet that awards confer on winner and agency is so great, and the awards so desired, that it has led to many cases of 'scam' ads. Scam ads are advertising created by the agency but released just once to 'legalise' it. Sometimes, the client of the agency is unaware that the ad has been created, and entered for awards. (In fact, advertising agencies spend surprisingly large amounts of money creating "scam work" and entering it in multiple award shows.)In some cases, clients have publicly disavowed a winning ad, stating that they neither commissioned or released it. . One such episode occurred in July 2008, to the embarasment of Saatchi New York. J. C. Penney, a client, publicly stated that a spot produced by Saatchi New York was not its doing and was entered at the Cannes Festival without its approval. The ad might have gone unnoticed had it not won a Bronze Lion and Epoch Films, which had produced and submitted the ad to Cannes, withdrew the spot from competition and relinquished the Lion.
The upside of awards (and the reason why they keep growing in their power) is that a handsome total of awards at the end of the year makes it easy for agencies to win new business and attract and retain top grade creative talent. Many clients look the other way at scams produced for their brands, recognising the many sides of the issue, many actually pay for the mandatory single release of the advertisement because they view it as a performance-incentive to the agency. Besides, for many brand managers and marketing people in the client's office, the sheer publicity and prestige of winning an acknowledged international award on their watch is very rewarding and satisfying.
Many creative professionals arrive at advertising from a variety of other professions too, which include the more mainstream professions and some not-so-usual ones. To those unfamiliar with advertising, sheer time spent in other professions may seem as non-advertising-career-related experience. However, in advertising, this kind of experience is viewed as qualification for having "lived a life", and better enabling one to be in possession of an above-average understanding of human nature (if not the human condition). This, it is believed, translates into a superior and deeper empathy with the consumers at whom most advertising is directed. While most agencies have elaborate research and consumer-profiling mechanisms that they constantly employ to arrive at a demographic
profile of the consumer, the much sought-after "insight" into the consumer is more often than not a result of an empathetic (at best) or educated (at least) guess, and creative directors are critical to arriving at an insight or at least contributing substantially to arriving at one.
Beyond mere experience as art directors or copywriters, and a track record of good advertising, a creative director's qualifications are more subjective. Communication designers lack well-known standards that telegraph and establish their training, experience or capabilities. Complicating the validity of traditional qualifications, many communication designers have gravitated to advertising from the unlikeliest careers. Salman Rushdie, the novelist, was a copywriter, as was Lawrence Kasdan. Ridley Scott was an advertising film maker before he began directing films. Tarsem Singh still is a highly acclaimed television commercial director based in London, and he shot the very arty movie The Cell with Jennifer Lopez.
Function versus position
"Creative director" is more of a function than a status position. If employed properly, a creative director is given the proper authority which can equate to a higher position within that company. However, it is possible that members who hold the position of a creative director are (either accidentally or purposely) stripped of creative authority, in effect forcing them to function as mere art directors, copywriters or designers, while some one else arrogates to themselves the creative judgement calls, regardless of their function or qualifications. Likewise a particularly talented or forceful art director or copywriter may perform many of the functions of a creative director, without necessarily holding the title. Because the creation of most advertising requires one final "creative judgement call", the function of a creative director will be performed with or without the position or acknowledgment of the need for such a position within any creative process.
This is not necessarily just machinations within the organizations. A rather common occurrence in the creative director who got promoted to that position simply because they have worked in that agency for so long. What could happen then is that people around them recognize that the position has not been earned more by seniority than by talent, and in a roughhouse environment like a creative department, a polite mutiny can take place. Sometimes, the principal driver of a business may not be a creative director - a particular client may have an excellent equation with a business head and prefer to deal with him, trusting his or her judgement. It can also happen that a client may disagree with a creative director's view of the brand, and pointedly makes his disapproval of the individual clear, sometimes threatening to pull the business out of that agency. Whatever the reason, there are many causes of a creative director ending up as anything but.
Very large agencies have multiple creative directors, each taking responsibility for a giant brand, or a collection of brands, and they usually report in to an Executive Creative Director or a Chief Creative Officer. Some agencies have both, with the ECD reporting in to the CCO. There is no universal hard-and-fast pecking order that is followed, and instances have been known where a company featuring both positions has found that it gives the potential to strip functioning authority from either position.
Distinguished creative directors
Many creative directors have distinguished themselves by rising to the ultimate executive office to run the entire agency. Many, having developed a keen idea of what kind of agency they would rather work in (perhaps dissatisfied with the agency they have worked at), have started one. Examples of these are David Ogilvy
of Ogilvy and Mather
, Bill Bernbach
of Doyle Dane Bernbach
. Others have come from careers far removed from advertising. Tim Gunn
of Project Runway
fame is now Chief Creative Officer
for the Liz Claiborne
fashion house. Neil French
was once, among many things, the manager of the rock band Judas Priest
and a bouncer.
Advertising history is also rife with legends of creative directors who disagreed with the agenda or the brand strategy of the agency they were working at, and bolted with the account to start their own shop. This act requires collusion
with the client. The most recent of such an incident happened in the opening months of 2006. Sir Frank Lowe
, an internationally regarded figure in advertising, created a stir by severing his association with the IPG Group (one of the large international communications holding companies, who had bought out his agency a couple of years ago) and set up his own shop once again, with McCannErickson London's largest client, Tesco
(a £60 million billing business) as his first client. A flurry of legal activity followed, with IPG saying he violated terms of contract and severance, and as of December 2006, the entire issue has yet to be concluded.
Mirian lamberth -Creative Director Nautica