Creative directors are the glue that holds creative teams together. They act as a big-picture visionary to ensure that the many facets of a creative project – from design to video production, graphics, copywriting, and beyond – all work seamlessly together from the creative brief to the final iteration. As you can imagine, that responsibility requires a significant amount of multi-tasking, as well as impeccable organization skills.
Whether it’s a simple logo redesign or a complex advertising campaign, successful creative projects are based on foundational assets, like the brand style guide and the creative brief, as well as project-specific assets like earlier design versions, approved fonts and color schemes, and of course, the feedback obtained along the way. A good project management tool is a must for creative directors to keep tabs on project progress, particularly when paired with a robust digital asset management solution like MerlinOne. With a DAM, creative directors ensure that every team member has access to the necessary assets in the most current approved version. MerlinOne’s DAM takes it a step further, offering automated workflows, versioning and access control, built-in collaboration tools for streamlined approval processes, and built-in distribution tools to facilitate efficient creative projects from end to end.
To learn more about the essential traits and characteristics of today’s most successful creative directors, we reached out to a panel of creative directors and creative professionals and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the most common (or single most important) trait of a successful creative director?”
Read on to learn more about the most important traits required for success as a creative director.
Bernice Quek, Senior Editor and Writer for Bumble Scoop
“A creative director should be open-minded in order to be successful…”
When it comes to creativity and churning out ideas, there is no right or wrong. In fact, having an emphasis on quantity over quality of ideas may help to generate even better ideas when refined and/or combined together.
One way to to practice this is to organize brainstorm sessions where the entire creative team is free to contribute anything they have in mind, no matter how big or small. Not only does this encourage your team members to use their creative juices, you will also be surprised at how many feasible and fresh ideas you would have collated. Listening and taking your colleagues’ contributions into consideration make them feel valued, further spurring them to unleash their creative potential. Such a collaborative effort will definitely bring greater results for your company.
Beverly Friedmann, Content Manager/Writer for MyFoodSubscriptions
“A successful creative director should have relevant skills in…”
Both business as well as a keen eye for design, art, and creativity. Perhaps the single most important trait of any creative director is an ability to balance creativity with a more practical business-minded orientation. By keeping results-driven metrics in mind and understanding what will maximize business profitability, a successful creative director can also use creative skills and flair that are more difficult to quantify, but necessary given the nature of the position. Being able to balance a business and creative professional style is likely the best trait any successful creative director can have, and will drive the best results with a unique artistic vision. It’s truly in understanding the business of art and the art of business at the same time.
Chris Stasiuk, Creative Director at Signature Video Group
“Not only does a creative director have to be creative as the name implies, but…”
They must also be in tune with the market they are operating in. Knowing the lay of the land in regards to client visions, current trends, and audience appeals will substantially propel their content forward. If they are able to empathize with clients and put themselves in the shoes of their audiences, they can deliver value to them and ultimately be successful. Additionally, they must have excellent attention to detail and project management skills, as all of their team’s productions will be overseen and approved by the creative director.
Dewayne Hamilton, Manager of Web Cosmo Forums
“A creative director manages its creators and teams and is…”
An important connection in the project work process between an agency and the advertiser. Creative directors should always come up with new and interesting ideas the same as scientists. The creative director, in short, is responsible for making the initiatives for the best, most creative business possible.
Customer care and a mediator role between various parties, such as artists and specialists or customers and companies, is another important element. Creative directors’ decisions affect the whole marketing campaign and an image created in the media by a company. Their ideas and the way they are realized dictate the marketing effect and thus the profit of the brand.
Knowing the connection between design and the business world and recognizing what kind of performance suits the customer most is therefore crucial. In addition, a creative directs is also accountable and has to keep a close eye on the budget.
Robert Barrows, Founder of R.M. Barrows Advertising & Public Relations
“First, you have to be able to do good work and get the job done…”
Above all, the most common trait (or the most important ability) for a Creative Director is to learn how to kiss the client’s ____, kiss your boss’s ____ and kiss your co-workers’ _____, and you’ll have a long, happy career.
Jason Kay, CEO of Retreaver
“A successful creative director should be able to trust their team…”
Creative directors should put trust in the people they hired. These people were hired for a reason, so they should be allowed to grow and be creative. There should be a good balance between directing and trusting in your team. On the other hand, creative directors shouldn’t be afraid to get their hands dirty, either.
Samuel Ballinger, Creative Director at Postali LLC
“The most important characteristics of a successful creative director are reliance and collaboration…”
Being a creative director means to oversee the creative process in the entire lifecycle of the product and as soon as you recognize that you can’t do that alone, your job will become much easier and the quality of work will improve.
Ask team members throughout the company for input at various stages of the project, regularly meet with the SEO team to keep up with the latest SEO trends and best practices, and touch base with the client management team to hear about any recent conversations they might have had with the client – you never know what kind of creative spark might come from that.
Kayleigh Töyrä, Creative Director at Seeker Digital
“In my three years as creative director of a digital agency…”
I’ve discovered several traits within myself (many that I didn’t even know existed!) get thrust to the fore. It’s not an easy job, and you need to have several strings to your bow to even get past the first year.
But perhaps the most important trait that I’ve needed and developed over the past few years is trust. It’s not just trusting myself though — it’s about trusting others.
When you’re leading a team of creatives, it’s important to be able to let go and delegate where it’s needed. You can’t hold up the heavens on your own — you’re not Atlas!
It can be tempting to do everything yourself, retaining control over every little thing. But that path leads to burnout, and it’s not sustainable.
Instead, creative directors should learn to trust their team to carry out projects on their own without interference. You’ve heard of helicopter parents — don’t be a helicopter director!
Yes, it can be difficult, especially when you’ve got years of creative experience behind you that you want to pass on. But ultimately you will just crash and burn. Learn to trust, delegate, and have faith in your team, and you’ll be able to focus on the more important tasks in hand.
Beth Cooper, Director of Marketing at KNB Communications
“There are a few most important traits of a successful creative director…”
1. Ability to be creative on a schedule. Creativity can be elusive. A creative director does not have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike. She must be able to tap into her creativity when needed. There is a discipline to knowing oneself, developing an effective method, and channeling creativity into projects as needed.
2. Ability to communicate. Creative directors are not always the one who is executing on a concept, or they may be executing in a team setting. They must not only have the vision, but also be able to explain the vision in such a way that others are able to understand it. Even before execution, they need to be able to communicate the idea to the client and get buy-in.
3. Ability to keep from being discouraged. Clients often don’t agree with a concept in its entirety for whatever reason. I’ve had clients who love an idea, but are afraid of going too far outside of the box. Creative directors must be able to continue to do their job and produce at the highest quality possible even when their vision has been altered, many times in a less creative way, by other parties. It can be disappointing and lead to burnout, but the best creative directors have a way to pull themselves out of discouragement. For me, it’s having personal side projects in my medium of choice – photography.
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Ryan Born, CEO of Cloud Campaign
“The single most important trait of a successful creative director is being meticulously organized…”
Creative directors often manage multiple projects concurrently and oversee team members from various parts of the company. Organization and great communication skills are vital to success in this role.
True organization comes from having standardized processes and shared workspaces in place where all stakeholders are on the same page.
While there are many intangibles that are important, such as being creative, well-spoken, and a good leader, without being organized, the creative director will miss deadlines, struggle to keep an open line of communication, and worst of all, make mistakes.
Mark Viniello, Film Effects Professional
“It is my unique position which requires me to meet with the filmmakers and go over all the options to effectively provide the best tools for the filmmaker to tell the story…”
Once we agree on a design approach, I must then relay the information to my artistic team and manage them to stay on schedule, budget, and creative target.
That said, the strongest trait a good creative director must have is the ability to interpret often vague descriptions from the client to the artists, as well as be able to clearly articulate a creative vision to the client.
Having taken art direction from a variety of Creative Directors has shown me first hand the difference between an effective director and a not-so-effective director.
One of the most creative minds in Hollywood was once quoted as saying, “Don’t give me what I asked for, give me what I want!”
Some may look at that quote as an unreasonable demand; however, the ability to read between the lines and understand the big picture (as opposed to just following demands or suggestions autonomously) is critical to the success of a Creative Director.
This trait, more than any other, has contributed to the success of my own creative vision, allowing my company to go from concept to retail in under a years time from when we started.
One of the biggest challenges is relaying the creative vision to the non-creatives you invariably must work with, but I relish those meetings
Morgan Lathaen, Marketing and Brand Coordinator at thumbprint
“The most common (important) trait of a successful creative director is…”
Trust your team. As a creative director, it’s your job to look after the team and encourage them to flourish. Great creative directors hire really good people, then let them do really creative work.
Kevin Walker, Founder of Boardwalk
“The single most important trait for a creative director is emotional intelligence…”
That’s how a CD can get out of his or her own head and connect with a target market. The CD needs to listen closely and understand the market’s needs and motivations. Then they can figure out what kind of messaging will trigger a desired response. Doesn’t matter what kind of education or training the CDs have. Doesn’t matter how impressive their résumés are. They won’t find much success unless they have a high degree of emotional intelligence.
Elizabeth Garden, Creative Director & Owner of Absolutely Florida
“To me, the most important aspects of my job is twofold…”
The ability to listen and the gift of visualization. Listening certainly pertains to my clients’ needs, but I also listen to my inner voice for solutions. That inner voice comes from the same source as my ability to visualize, and sometimes, if I draw a blank, I ask for guidance from my Higher Self and I always get answers. I know that may sound a bit kooky, but this approach has helped me win 37 awards in art direction, design, illustration and lately, a literature prize for an illustrated novel, Tree of Lives, which centers around an artist who uses her imagination to overcome major life obstacles.
Diane Domeyer, Executive Director of The Creative Group
“Being an effective creative director means…”
More than delegating tasks and making sure projects are completed on time. Creative directors must also inspire their teams. In fact, research by The Creative Group shows motivational skills are essential for moving into a management role.
Many companies also look for creative directors with strong interpersonal or soft skills because, unlike technical proficiency, they are harder to teach and are developed and refined over time. And, as creative directors collaborate more frequently with contacts within and outside their organization, having strong communication skills is crucial.
Stacy Caprio, Founder of Her.CEO
“A successful creative director’s most important trait is…”
Willingness to test and change course if their assumption was incorrect. When a creative director is too inflexible or always thinks their initial thoughts are the only correct ones, they will often find their initiatives failing without even trying to get back on track. The willingness to be wrong and test your own assumptions will lead to more success as a creative director than any other trait.
Richard Tiland, Founder of New Evolution & Owner of dk3studios
“The single most important trait of a creative director is self-awareness…”
If they are self-aware, they can create magic for marketing and branding campaigns. They care more about the success of a brand and develop brand positions with feature and benefits coming out of the product that make
sense and fit into all aspects of content creation and distribution. There is a natural process that takes place that isn’t forced; it comes from internal inspiration coupled with real-world experience. Over my career of 12 years running a media agency and having hired numerous creative directors, it’s safe to say that those who are self-aware produce the most compelling and successful campaigns for their clients.
Hong Sank Ouk, CEO of TK101 Global
“You need to be able to truly understand and communicate with your team in their own language…”
When you can truly communicate with your employees you open up yourself to more profound insights and strategies that are invisible to those who stay siloed in their respective roles (senior/manager/bureaucrat). It doesn’t matter how brilliant you think you are; the accumulated genius of multiple people contributing their experience and creativity will dwarf any individual mind. Nothing works better for employee morale as well than to show them their input is appreciated and being used to great effect.
Darren Easton, Vice President & Creative Director of The Cyphers Agency
“The single most important characteristic that a successful creative director must possess is…”
The ability to practice, teach, and preach the skill of creative detachment.
Designers can be quite passionate about their personal design style and ideas, and they can be blind to those ideas not being the best method to solve a client’s problem or reach a specific target audience. There is always a danger of designers’ personal preferences or passions leading ideas astray from the creative brief. Designers can become distracted from audience focus despite all evidence that they are not right for the brief.
We are not the consumer, but through creative detachment we can learn to walk in his or her shoes to build successful, on-target campaigns.
Ashley Goddard McNurlan, Director of Creative Services, Medicare Plan Finder at Medicare Plan Finder
“As a creative director, you hold the key to the conversation between the brands you develop and your consumers…”
It’s important to always be improving and evolving your material, campaigns and branding. It’s wonderful when everyone is happy and we’re loving one another…but what happens when your brand, materials, or pitch gets old and stale and your audience starts looking somewhere else? You make your audience see you in a new light. You make them fall back in love with your brand. You don’t have to ride out the storm. Change the way they see you.
If you stay a step ahead and you’re consistently building collateral that inspires your audience, you don’t have to make such a hard turn to re-inspire them when your messaging runs its course. If you’re constantly refreshing your brand, then you’re keeping the spark alive in your
relationship with your audience.
Shakun Bansal, Head of Marketing at Mercer-Mettl
“It’s not about how well the idea or the presentation of the idea is…”
It’s about the ability to envision the ability and impact of a designed collateral to create impressions in the mind of the audience in exactly the same way that you want them to perceive. For a designed marketing collateral to click with the audience and find its voice, it has to be thought of in business sense, brand authority, and story that evokes emotions.
Beverly Solomon, Creative Director of Beverly Solomon Design
“The most important trait of a successful creative director is …”
To be able to understand what your client wants. Your job is not to be creative for the sake of creativity, but rather to be creative in turning your client’s dreams and wishes into reality.
Looking for a robust DAM solution to help you keep your creative team in sync? Learn what to look for when selecting a digital asset management solution by downloading our ebook, Selecting a DAM – Things to Consider, below.
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