A’s for Q’s: What is the role of a Creative Director?

A question from a BYU AdLab student

While this may be a very simple question on the surface, it’s actually a very complicated answer. Because every Creative Director is different. I have yet to meet any two that are alike. Every job description for a Creative Director says the same thing: “You’re responsible for the work”. But that’s where the similarities end. How they get to the work is where they differ.

Personally, I prefer the people who actually adhere to the title and “direct” vs those that “do”. I’d rather work under someone who was more interested in motivating me to get to the best work versus someone who dictated the work- even if it means I will miss out on getting an award. As creatives, we are always evolving, always learning and if we rely too heavily on our Creative Director then we never learn to stand on our own. I remember, when I was first an Art Director at Young & Laramore, I relied heavily on my Creative Director. I just didn’t realize how much. Then one day, he had a heart attack, and he was out of the office for several weeks. It threw me into a bit of a tailspin. I had to figure out how to have my opinions on the work. It was a difficult and challenging transition for all of us, but when he came back, I was a better creative for it.

Here’s how to tell a good Creative Directors from a bad one. Good CDs are honest and direct without making it personal. Good Creative Directors don’t rest until you’ve solved the problem and made the best work. They run interference with the client, and have your back internally. They push you harder than you think you can be pushed.

Sadly, most people in our industry thinks that they have to become a Creative Director to have made it. It’s just not the case. And it’s put many people in the position that have no business being in it. That’s why you’ll find many more articles on bad Creative Directors than good ones.

On the flip side, how you are towards your Creative Director directly affects how he/she will be towards you. If you are proactive, passionate and positive, they will treat you accordingly. If you are whiny and tentative, they will treat you accordingly. It’s a two way relationship.

All that said, who your Creative Director is may be the most important factor of where you work. Your career is largely in their hands, so make sure you ask a lot of questions about how they work and what they expect from their creatives. You’ll quickly figure out whether they’re a Doer, or a Director.