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Become an Advertising Art Director: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become an advertising art director. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in art direction. View article »

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  • 0:00 Advertising Art Directors
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Video Transcript

Advertising Art Directors

Advertising art directors are creative professionals who work with clients to develop advertisements that appeal to consumers. Your work day in this field will involve choosing which images to use, developing the overall presentation of a finished product, supervising design efforts and determining the overall style of advertisements that might be featured in a magazine or other publication.

If you go into business as an advertising art director, you might work for a company, or you could work for yourself. In either case, your work will frequently be collaborative, and you might have some stress when working to meet deadlines.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree sometimes preferred
Degree Fields Graphic arts, photography, illustration, or a related field
Experience 3-5 years of experience in the field
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication, leadership, and time management skills; creativity, knowledge of computer hardware and software; strong grasp of computer design and editing software
Salary $89,760 (2015 median annual salary for all art directors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O*Net Online, Careerbuilder.com job postings

A bachelor's degree in graphic arts, photography, illustration or a related field is standard to become an advertising art director. Occasionally, employers prefer candidates with a master's degree. These professionals should have 3-5 years of experience in the field. Additionally, strong verbal and written communication skills, creativity, leadership and time management skills are needed. Knowledge of computer hardware and software, a strong grasp of computer design and editing software is also required. According to 2015 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics art directors earned a median salary of $89,760.

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Become an Advertising Art Director

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

For a career as an art director, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recommends earning a bachelor's degree in art, graphic design or a related field. A wide variety of bachelor's degree programs are available in art, studio art, graphic design, art direction or art management.

Art direction programs combine art and design fundamentals with courses that show students how to set up advertising campaigns and direct teams of artists, photographers and copywriters. Similarly, art management programs combine artistic practices with business, management and marketing concepts. All of these degree options can prepare students for careers in art direction, since art directors must be able to understand design and layout principles when leading creative teams and do so with a budget in mind.

Internships are sometimes included as part of an undergraduate curriculum. Whether an internship is required or not, it can be beneficial to work as an intern because it provides industry experience, the opportunity to build a portfolio and an insider's knowledge of how advertising agencies work. Internships also allow for networking with other creative professionals, which may lead to future job offers.

Aspiring advertising art directors should assemble a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of an artist's work that showcases his or her talents and abilities in a binder, file folder or digital method of display. The BLS indicated that portfolios can demonstrate an artist's range and style and that employers use them when making hiring decisions. Prospective advertising artists can develop a portfolio during their undergraduate coursework, since it may be a requirement for graduation. Advertising professional organizations, such as the Art Directors Club, hold portfolio review events that allow students and job seekers to show their portfolios to industry professionals for review.

Step 2: Obtain Entry-Level Employment

Positions as an advertising art director are usually available to professionals with 3-5 years of industry experience, so most prospective art directors may be offered an entry-level position in the field. Possible positions may include artist, graphic designer, copywriter, photographer or other creative worker. Working in one or more of these lower-level jobs can help aspiring art directors to refine their design skills, gain collaborative experience and demonstrate their ability to direct a project from conception to completion. Those who work long hours and accept greater responsibilities often stand out to employers for advancement.

Step 3: Seek Promotion

The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) stated that applicants for assistant art director positions are typically qualified after 1-2 years of industry experience. Art directors can be promoted from within a company or by seeking job opportunities at other agencies. In either case, competition for advertising art director positions is often fierce, reported the BLS.

Step 4: Continue Your Education

While not required, advertising art directors have the option to continue their educations in order to further hone their skills and stay current with new technologies and other advances in the industry, which may help them become promoted more quickly. The 4As provides the Institute of Advanced Advertising Studies, a training program created to help advertising professionals learn new skills and concepts through on-site and virtual courses.

Advertising art directors need at least a bachelor's degree in graphic design, illustration, or photography and some employers might prefer candidates with a master's degree.

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