How to Become a Creative Director
The digital age has led to fierce competition in virtually every industry and niche, requiring companies to use creativity and innovation to capture the attention of their audiences and achieve success in evolving markets. This has put more focus on the creative director role, which traditionally was a job associated with design, advertising, and entertainment. Today, companies may look to creative directors to lead new product development or manage their corporate branding. Creative directors are responsible for using visual appeal and conceptualization to portray a brand’s mission, values, and message in ways that resonate with a target demographic.
Creative directors serve in leadership roles in countless industries, from marketing to media and publishing. These professionals typically possess a well-rounded skill set, including creativity alongside leadership and team-building competencies.
While many creative directors have an educational background in art, journalism, graphic design, or another creative discipline, an advanced business degree, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA), can give aspiring creative directors a competitive edge. Learn how to become a creative director by earning an MBA.
Creative Director Job Description
Creative directors are responsible for designing, implementing, and overseeing a company’s brand identity and vision in various creative projects. Their highly collaborative executive role encompasses day-to-day duties that vary dramatically based on industry and employer. Most creative directors work in marketing, entertainment, technology, and fashion.
- In the marketing industry, creative directors work closely with clients to understand and develop their brand identity. In the development of marketing campaigns, they lead a team of creative professionals, including copywriters, graphic designers, and web designers.
- In the entertainment industry, creative directors may be known as production designers. They’re responsible for the visual aspects of their employers’ productions, including everything from the color palette on the cover of a book to a film cast’s hair and makeup.
- In the technology industry, creative directors may conceptualize and design video games, websites, or software. They may innovate the shape of a company’s latest mobile phone, or they may conceive the aesthetic style of a new and innovative operating system.
- In the fashion industry, creative directors may serve several roles, from designing clothing to producing look books and catalogs. They may also be responsible for planning events like fashion shows.
Though a creative director’s job description varies sharply from one industry to another, their primary responsibility involves overseeing a team of creative professionals as it generates ideas, develops concepts and prototypes, and ultimately brings its vision to life.
How to Become a Creative Director
The steps involved in becoming a creative director aren’t set in stone, and they can vary depending on the aspiring candidate’s industry of choice. Most employers require a college degree and several years of experience in a related field. Certifications are optional, but they can give candidates a competitive edge in high-demand industries.
Typically, aspiring creative directors need to earn a bachelor’s degree, preferably one that aligns with their professional interests. For example, individuals who hope to work for major clothing brands may pursue a bachelor’s in visual art or graphic design. Those who are interested in working in entertainment may pursue a degree in multimedia design or animation.
Though a master’s degree generally isn’t required to secure a position as a creative director, it may be preferred by more innovative or cutting-edge companies, and it can provide candidates with a competitive edge. An MBA equips aspiring creative directors with the leadership skills and business savvy that can set them apart from their competitors.
Most creative directors spend at least five to 10 years on a creative team before moving up to the position of director. Bachelor’s graduates commonly gain experience in a field related to their degree, and some may even work in different types of leadership positions. They can work as project managers, product managers, or even marketing managers for several years before being considered for a creative director role.
In some cases, creative directors go on to earn their master’s degrees immediately after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Participating in internships, fellowships, or apprenticeships, or accepting junior roles to gain valuable experience while earning a master’s, can be extremely beneficial for those seeking to become a creative director.
While certification is usually optional for creative directors, obtaining a credential in a relevant field is an indication of industry expertise and can help a candidate’s resume stand out. There are several options to consider, but some of the most popular certifications include the following:
- Certified Digital Creative Director (CDCD). Offered by the American Advertising Federation (AAF), the CDCD credential is awarded to those who have mastered digital creativity. This six-month program requires candidates to complete courses, submit a portfolio, and pass an assessment.
- Certified Advertising Creative Director (CACD). The AAF also offers the CACD credential, which recognizes professionals who have a minimum of five years of experience in team leadership in advertising and entails passing a rigorous exam.
- Certified Content Marketing Creative Director (CCMCD). Awarded by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), the CCMCD credential recognizes individuals who have demonstrated knowledge, skills, and experience in content marketing. To qualify, candidates must take the online course and pass the related exam.
Creative Director Salary
Producers and directors of all types and in all industries earned a median annual salary of $79,000 in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Art directors, a similar role to creative directors, earned a median annual salary of $100,890.
Payscale reports that creative directors in all industries and roles earned a median annual salary of about $92,400 as of March 2023. Entry-level creative directors earned roughly $61,000, while midcareer directors (between 5 and 9 years of experience) earned about $82,100. Salaries can vary significantly based on several factors, including experience, industry, and location.
The BLS reports that the overall employment of producers and directors is projected to increase by 8% between 2021 and 2031, while employment growth for art directors is projected to be 4%, roughly the same rate as the average for all occupations. As trends such as social media, video, artificial intelligence, and product personalization move forward, exceptional creativity will continue to be an asset differentiating both companies and managers, driving demand for more creative directors in the coming decade.
Make Your Creative Mark on the World
Creative directors play an integral role in entertainment, fashion, technology, and marketing. From the costumes worn by the cast of a popular sitcom to the branding for a new product, their creativity can inspire consumers and help their companies achieve success.
A role as a creative director may be an ideal choice for anyone who wants to pursue a high-level leadership role that requires creativity, inspiration, and passion for design. Discover how you can make your mark on the world with an Online Master of Business Administration from Washington State University.