Karl Lagerfield became the creative director of Chanel after working for years as an art director and freelance designer in the fashion industry. Tom Ford secured creative director roles at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent after working as a design assistant then becoming a design director. 

With a little guidance and a unique career path of your own, you might be on your way to becoming a creative director too.

What is a Creative Director?

If you’re a creative person, the idea of being a creative director might sound like a nice gig. Just from its title, it’s obvious that skills like leadership, creativity, and ideation will be a big part of the job. A great creative director does a lot more than just lead a team of other designers and creatives. 

A creative director determines the overall direction and vision of a brand or project from concept to execution. On the administrative side of things, a creative director is also in charge of staying on top of the project budget, keeping the overall project timeline in mind and fostering a healthy relationship with the client.  

The Subtle Differences Between a Creative Director and an Art Director

The exact role of a creative director can depend on the industry and whether you are working in an agency, in house at a company or as a freelancer. While the exact duties and responsibilities can get a little blurry between roles, there are some major differences between becoming an art director and a creative director. 

The biggest difference between the two creative careers is that a creative director focuses on the big picture of the project while the art director is who actually carries through the ideas. When the creative director is busy discussing the project with clients and pinpointing its vision, the art director is readying the photographers, designers and writers to get the ball rolling.

The art director will roll up their sleeves and decide how to best aesthetically develop the creative director’s ideas and collaborate with other creatives while the creative director oversees client communication, creates a game plan to achieve the client’s goals, and manages the team. 

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How Creative Directors Spend Their Days

You might already be able to imagine yourself strolling into an office building on a sunny day with your favorite drink in hand ready to take an industry by storm with your creative ideas. The day to day of a creative director includes a lot more than just coming up with brilliant ideas and wowing your coworkers.

The work wins, the thrill of a new creative idea, and doing a job you love can also come with full inboxes, hard-to-please clients and tight deadlines. If you’re someone who loves coming up with big picture ideas, leading a team of creatives and coming up with new ideas, you’ll enjoy being a creative director, but you’ll also have to look forward to some more administrative tasks.

Scheduling client meetings, reaching out to potential clients, keeping your boss informed on the status of your project and dealing with any team-wide issues are just a few of the less creative tasks that’ll keep you busy. Work-life balance, work schedule and communication obligations are all something you should consider when talking with a potential employer about a creative direction role. 

Becoming a Creative Director in Advertising

Advertising is one of the first industries people think of when they think of creative direction. When working as a creative director in advertising most of your creative juices will go—no surprise—towards creating advertising campaigns. You’ll create, monitor, and carry out brand campaigns and advertisements with the client’s exact goals in mind. 

What it Takes to Be a Creative Director in Marketing

Similar to advertising, a creative director in marketing is in charge of running projects that will bring new customers to your client. Working in marketing, your scope goes much deeper than just advertising. Your primary objectives may include running campaigns on social and digital media and through outlets such as newsletters. You might also be in charge of adjusting pricing, carrying out market research and releasing a new product. 

Getting a Job as a Creative Director in Fashion

If you’ve grown up reading fashion magazines or planning your outfits for weeks to come, you might enjoy becoming a creative director in fashion. Some of the most famous creative directors of all time work in the fashion industry. Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfield and Alessandro Michele have all made a name for themselves planning fashion campaigns, formulating the overall concept of new collections, and constructing the greater vision for a brand.

The Skills You Need to Become a Creative Director

If you’re already convinced that you’re destined to be a creative director, you might be wondering what skills and experiences you need to add to your resume to secure your dream job. The path to becoming a creative director isn’t always clear cut, but the guidance you get here will help inspire you to find the right path for you. 

The Education You Need on Your Resume

While many creative directors study creative fields like advertising, communications and digital design, you can also become a creative director after studying design thinking, journalism and art. Any field that requires creativity, coming up with lots of new ideas, and planning new projects can give you the skills you need to become a creative director. 

The Previous Professional Experience You Need

While your education is important, your professional experiences are really what will propel you towards becoming a creative director. Imagine you studied English in college and then you end up getting a job as a copywriter. You can then move up to marketing manager or a similar marketing-based role and gain the experience you need to be a creative director. 

Nancy Herrmann, the creative director at Stark Design and Boutique, revealed in her class on an Introduction to Creative Direction that “Often, indirect career paths make for diverse and valuable experiences. So don’t worry if yours doesn’t match anyone else’s—you can make your own way.” 

As long as you have had modern leadership roles, exude incredible creative potential, and have had a few professional experiences in your industry you have what it takes to pursue a creative director role.

The Importance of Knowing How to Lead a Team

If you’re a fashion creative director like Karl Lagerfeld you’re directing the creative decisions of hundreds of colleagues. If you work at a marketing agency you might have a dozen creatives to lead. Either way, you’re going to need to keep important deadlines in mind, be receptive to feedback, provide clear direction and have effective leadership communication when giving constructive criticism to your team.

This doesn’t always come easy so having previous experience leading or building a team or getting a degree in leadership can be extremely helpful for creative directors.

Salary to Expect as a Creative Director

Your salary can greatly depend on the job you’re doing and the career development you’ve done. If you’re Karl Lagerfeld and you’re the creative director of Fendi and Chanel, you’ll be bringing in upwards of $50 million per year. 

The majority of creative directors are making between $107,000 and $193,000 per year according to Glassdoor. These salaries can drop as low as $80,000 and go as high as $252,000 for a classic creative director position. 

Showcasing Your Work to Secure a Job

Building a knockout portfolio is key for any creative director. While a resume will do for most jobs, any potential employer will want to know what kind of work you’ve done before. Consider making a website or creating an online portfolio through Jimdo or Format where you can keep track of all of your projects.

When making your portfolio, you can stand out from the crowd by sharing work that is completely unique to you. If you don’t have a ton of work projects you can add, you can also share personal projects to build your portfolio and show your potential employer what you’re capable of. 

On Your Way to a Creative Career

As you lean deeper into the career you want, there are so many ways to propel yourself forward as a professional. If you already have a creative job, ask your boss if you can take on extra projects or experiment with concepts a little out of your comfort zone. 

Still in school or looking for a career change? Try connecting with people who have a job you think you’d like and learn more about how they succeeded in their field. As you begin exploring this career move, always remember your path to it will be unique as you are. 

Written By

Calli Zarpas

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