What is a Creative Director - Key Roles, Job Description & Salary Guide

What is a Creative Director - Key Roles, Job Description & Salary Guide

The role of a Creative Director is ever evolving with vastly different key roles, responsibilities and salary guides. In this article we will break down the high level role of a creative director in digital marketing teams while giving you a step-by-step guide to hiring and compensating them so you can level up your companies creative work.

30 sec summary icon
30 Second Summary

Working across a range of industries like film, music, television, fashion, and advertising, creative directors are an integral part of any creative team. 

For this article, we’ll be talking about creative directors within the marketing industry. In charge of making key decisions and signing off on projects, creative directors take the lead on campaigns from start to finish.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • What is a creative director?
  • What does their day-to-day look like?
  • Why are they important?
  • How much can they earn?
  • How do you become a creative director?

What is a creative director? 

Creative directors are the visionary leads for advertising agencies or marketing departments. The role is a senior one, and they work with strategists to create, plan, and deliver a cohesive vision for a campaign or project. Creative directors are in charge of supervising the entire creative process and leading the team that works under them. 

To illustrate the impact of how creative directors can make or break a brand’s popularity let’s look at a notable example from the 1950’s. In 1951, David Ogilvy was faced with the challenge of marketing a small, conservative shirt company - C.F. Hathaway. Instead of going with a more conventional approach, Ogilvy decided to bring eyepatches to the campaign photoshoot, thus creating ‘The Man in the Hathway Shirt’. This unexpected, and mysterious characterisation saw Hathway’s sales soar, and demonstrated Ogilvy’s innovative mind, catapulting both him and Hathaway to success. 

This example from over seventy years ago serves as a testament to the power of creative, out-of-the-box thinking. These qualities are still essential for today's creative directors whose roles are filled with responsibility, exciting opportunities, and the potential for long hours. 

What are the main responsibilities?

The role of a creative director is a busy one. They’re accountable for overseeing a lot. The plus side? Getting to watch their creative visions come to life with the help of their team. 

Let’s look at what their day-to-day schedule can include:

  • Conceptualising new ideas and concepts, building a vision for the project.
  • Managing budgets and project resources.
  • Hiring and leading creative teams, whilst building a positive and productive work culture for them to rally around.
  • Communicating the creative brief with different departments such as finance, design, and marketing.
  • Pitching concepts to clients and stakeholders. 
  • Liaising with clients to keep them up to date on the project or campaign.
  • Creating, developing, and enforcing brand guidelines.
  • Keeping to deadlines and signing off on projects before they are presented to clients. 

And that list isn’t exhaustive! 

Although their working hours are usually 9 am to 5 pm (depending on the agency), a creative director holds the overall ownership of the project and the demanding nature of the industry often necessitates overtime, and sometimes travel. 

Why are creative directors integral to any creative task?

The proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is also pretty apt for creative projects. It takes more than one person to pull off a successful campaign and as creative directors hold senior positions, they lead cross-functional teams that could be made up of:

  • Art directors and designers 
  • Copywriters 
  • Graphic designers 
  • Photographers and videographers 
  • Production and finance teams 
  • Project managers
  • Public relations teams 
  • Social media managers 
  • Website developers 

Because there are so many parts of a campaign or project that need to work in unity, it’s imperative that a creative director can bring their team together. Creative directors need to be fair and competent. Their leadership is crucial to developing a collaborative environment where creative solutions thrive. 

Yearly salary guide 

For most people starting out in creative advertising as a junior or an intern, their salary may sit somewhere between £18,000 and £27,000. However, this depends on their location and agency. 

Once you have gained enough experience to be promoted to the level of creative director, your salary rises considerably.

A range of sources including Indeed and Glassdoor state that creative directors in the United Kingdom earn anywhere between £58,000 and £100,000 each year, with the average being around  £70,000-£80,000. Creative directors leading small teams for smaller businesses will earn less than someone leading a big team in a huge company. Plus, those working in big cities will usually earn a bit more. 

If you’re working in the USA, the average yearly salary is around $112,000, with the higher end of the scale reaching $197,500. Similarly to the United Kingdom, creative directors working in cities such as New York City (NY), San Francisco (CA), or Los Angeles (CA) earn more than those in smaller cities. 

That sounds exciting! How can I become one?

Now that you know the basics of the role, let’s break down the different pathways you can take to becoming a successful creative director. 

As we said earlier, the role of a creative director is senior, so if you’ve just finished an internship, I wouldn’t start applying just yet. Usually, a candidate will have around five to ten years of experience stemming from a marketing background. This means that they’ll have a proven record of taking part in one or more key elements of marketing campaigns like copywriting, graphic design, or brand development. 

There is no requirement to have an undergraduate degree but one in a relevant subject is considered advantageous. 

Relevant subjects can include: 

  • Art
  • Graphic design 
  • Marketing 
  • Journalism 
  • Project Management 

If you don’t have a degree, or yours is in a different subject like biology or law, don’t worry! 

A postgraduate qualification doesn’t impact your earning potential; hands-on experience and hard skills are more important. With technology advancing so quickly, a firm grip on the current tech and marketing trends is more desirable than an outdated qualification.

Relevant skills:

  • Strong knowledge of artistic and visual design.
  • Project management and the ability to manage people/resources. 
  • Communication, both written and verbal.
  • Relevant awareness of current industry trends.
  • Experience with a range of software such as Photoshop and InDesign.
  • An understanding of how departments and creative roles complement one another.

Don’t forget that ‘soft skills’ are just as important too. You can have all the experience in the world, but it won’t make you a good leader if you can’t:

  • Effectively manage your time.
  • Motivate a team and keep their morale high.
  • Manage your stress and be emotionally resilient. 
  • Think critically and make decisions. 
  • Listen to others and act with empathy. 

If you’re reading this and panicking because you don’t have any of the experience or skills we’ve listed here, don’t worry.  David Ogilvy dropped out of Oxford University and spent time as a chef’s apprentice in Paris. It’s never too late to change your path or career. 

What are the career prospects?

Although creative directors work high up on the company ladder, there is always room for growth. 

The next step for many people in this role is to set up their own agency alongside a financial director and chief executive officer (CEO) or to branch out into international markets- we told you to brush off your passport. Alternatively, you can continue to progress at an agency and eventually aim to become the chief marketing officer (CMO) or the chief executive officer.

How can Foreplay progress a marketer’s career?

Whether you’re a creative director or at the start of your journey as a marketing intern, using Foreplay’s swipe file software is a brilliant way to maximise your ads. 

Here’s how:

For creative directors, swipe files are the ultimate tool to have in your arsenal. As a reference library of ideas, thoughts, and concepts, you can keep a finger on the pulse of the ad world. Foreplay’s swipe files also streamline processes, saving you valuable time so you can have a well-deserved, extra-long lunch break. 

For interns or juniors, building on your swipe file early on in your career will provide you with references across historic trends, industries, and styles, helping you to stay on top of the market in the future. 

Start building your file now. The more diverse it is, the bigger an asset it will become for you and your team in the future. 

For everyone else: Even if you’re not currently in a marketing role or dreaming of becoming a creative director, there’s nothing to stop you from brushing up on your business’s external communications. 

Foreplay is easy to use for both beginners and experts. 

To start: 

  • Learn more about swipe files and how Foreplay can streamline the process.
  • Set up our Chrome extension to start saving ads directly from Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

With Foreplay’s software, you can:

Build an easy-to-navigate swipe file. 

Collate all of your ad inspiration in one tidy location that’s easy to access with the click of a button. No more messy Google Docs or expired links. 

Utilise the search feature.

Hunt down your favourite brands then save their content to fill your boards with ads that spark your interest. With the ‘filter’ option, you can refine your search further to find more ads from brands, industries, or even different countries. The result? A board filled to the brim with ads that represent creative concepts that you or your brand takes inspiration from.

To ensure you can always find your most admired brands and reduce your search time, add them to the ‘favourites’ section of your file. 

With the Chrome extension, you can quickly save ads directly from Facebook Ad Library, TikTok Creative Centre, TikTok Organic, and LinkedIn. 

Are you ready to start building your Foreplay swipe file? Try out a free trial first to see how much time it saves you. Then when you see the benefits, begin maximising your campaigns.

Topics & Categories: 
Rheanna Egleton

Cyber Week Sale is Live!

Get up to 50% Off Spyder