How to Become a Creative Director: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a creative director. Research the job description, duties and the education requirements, and find out how to start a career in this advertising-related field.

Do I Want to Be a Creative Director?

Creative directors in the advertising and business fields manage the art and graphic images of promotional products. They will likely manage the art related to marketing materials, including websites, advertising, brochures and other media items, as well as product and packaging design. Creative directors are often required to manage a team, which can include graphic and Web designers.

This upper-level position involves a great deal of stress and working under strict deadlines. Many creative directors put in several years' worth of experience before they obtain the position. However, the career offers a higher-than-average salary, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and also provides a good deal of creative control over a product.

Job Requirements

Employers typically prefer that creative directors have an undergraduate degree in either marketing or graphic design in addition to 7-10 years of experience. The following table contains the main qualifications that employers listed in job postings for creative directors during November 2012:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree*
Degree Field Graphic design, marketing or similar field*
Experience 7-10 years of experience*
Key Skills Interpersonal, managerial skills*
Computer Skills Familiarity with graphic design and publication design software*

Step 1 - Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Creative directors must use their knowledge of art and marketing to develop a consistent brand image for a company. The brand image may include the color, font and overall feelings associated with the brand. Employers prefer creative directors with knowledge of marketing techniques as well as knowledge of art and graphic design. A bachelor's degree in marketing or graphic design can serve as a foundation for a creative director. In addition, a degree in integrated marketing communication can provide individuals with training in multiple areas of marketing that a creative director would oversee, such as marketing, advertising, public relations and digital media. Students may also take courses in art design, visual communication and graphic design.

Success Tips:

  • Take courses in digital design. Not only is marketing on the Internet an important part of the marketing plan, design for digital media is different than design for print. Creative directors must learn the techniques of designing for both, as their ultimate responsibility will include design for both mediums.
  • Create a portfolio. As art and graphic design students build a body of work through projects, they should create a portfolio that highlights their coursework experience and style. Although business students may only have a few design projects to highlight, they can supplement any web design, packaging design or mock advertisements with art work with other marketing projects such as creative briefs and marketing plans that also highlight their coursework experience. In addition, a portfolio may be necessary for admission into a master's program.

Step 2 - Gain Experience

Employers typically prefer applicants with at least 5-7 years of experience. Graduates can find experience at an advertising agency where they will work in a fast paced environment and learn how to serve clients' needs in various areas of marketing communications. Graduates can also work for an in-house marketing department producing marketing materials for that one company (or possibly subsidiaries). Candidates should learn various marketing techniques that require design, such as packaging, brochures, online advertising and outdoor design.

Success Tip:

  • Gain supervisory experience. Creative directors will likely have to manage a creative team that may include designers, copywriters and freelancers. It is important for individuals seeking the position to learn skills in areas that include leadership, team building and delegation.

Step 3 - Obtain a Graduate Degree

With an undergraduate degree and some years of experience, individuals will have an opportunity to figure out what area of marketing they excel at and which areas may require some development. They may consider pursuing a graduate degree. Individuals with an undergraduate degree in marketing may find that a master's degree in graphic or multimedia design will round out their skill set. In the master's degree program students may take courses in product design and multimedia design. A thesis may be required to graduate.

Individuals with undergraduate studies in art or graphic design may find that a degree in master's degree in marketing communication will help them learn how to apply art principles to marketing techniques. Students will take courses in market research analysis, mobile and web marketing as well as visual information design.

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