The role of a creative director is a multi-faceted one, requiring professionals to have a host of traits and skillsets that enable them to develop and execute innovative ideas, effectively lead teams, coordinate projects, and measure results. But what does it take for creative directors to advance in their field, taking on increasingly challenging projects and responsibilities, while growing their salaries?
To find out what sets top-notch creative directors apart from the pack and allows these talented professionals to continue to grow in their careers, we reached out to a panel of creative directors, HR pros, and career experts and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the most important skill for creative directors to develop to help grow their careers & salary?”
Meet Our Panel of Creative Directors & HR Pros:
Robert Barrows is the President of R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising and Public Relations in Burlingame, California.
“The most important skills for anyone in business, and…”
Especially for creative directors looking to improve their salary and career, are flattery and vanity.
Take good care of your clients and tell them how good they are, and do the same with your co-workers and your bosses
So, if you want to get ahead, practice the skills of flattery and appealing to a person’s vanity.
To do that, you also have to be good at what you do and you also have to be good at schmoozing with your clients and co-workers.
If you don’t schmooze, you’ll lose.
Nate Masterson is the CMO for Maple Holistics.
“You have to be a strategic problem-solving person…”
Your job is to take an item and make it more attractive to people than it already is. That’s quite the problem to have. In order to succeed at strategic problem solving you need to be in tune with a lot of other things.
For starters, you need to have your ear to the ground. That is, you need to understand how our culture operates. What’s the big deal in the culture right now? How can you exploit that? Another big thing is how and what the culture sees when they are exposed to certain things, and how they how they give them value.
You need to have excellent communication skills. You should know what kinds of buzzwords will cause your client’s ears to perk up. In order to sell your idea, you need to get your clients fired up about the angle you’re taking. They already know that your job entails selling them the idea, that means they’re going to make it hard. Talk about how your strategy will bring up sales, brand recognition stuff like that.
Finally, you need to be a good leader. What makes a good leader? Someone who understands and appreciates the roles of their underlings. You can’t do it all by yourself, in fact, you’d be foolish to try. A good leader understands the strengths of their staff, they also understand that the more ideas there are the better chance they have of being successful. A good leader brings out the best in their employees.
Murat Evin is the Creative Director at The London School of Make-Up.
“Creative directors need to have an innovative mindset to be able to…”
Progress and earn more money in their careers. It’s not just about being able to devise new products and services for the business; it’s also about inventing methods and ideas to get even more out of existing products/services to make them even more appealing to the consumer.
This counts across everything: PR campaigns, ad campaigns, product ranges, and branding all fall under the umbrella of innovation. It is equally important to not lose sight of the brand itself while doing this, though. Creative directors, perhaps more than any other employee, needs to make sure that they stay on-brand when devising new strategies and ideas. Whatever you want to do, stick to the handbook and follow the brand’s guidelines.
Steve Pritchard is the HR Manager at Cuuver.com.
“It’s important for a creative director to know…”
Their team and create the right working environment for them. Often, creative types need to have a little more flexibility in their work lives to get the best results – they need to get a little distracted from time to time so they can disassociate from the job and think outside the box, thus generating greater ideas.
A good creative director will work hard to create the environment that is best for their team. This will equate to better results from your team, which, in turn, will show you to be a great leader, resulting in advancement and more money over time.
You should also ensure that you aren’t just a one-trick pony in your job. While it’s always a strength to specialize in a particular field or topic, some jobs – particularly agency jobs – require creative directors to be knowledgeable about an enormous variety of industries and topics. Therefore, be a sponge and absorb as much information about various processes and industries as possible.
George Stein is the Creative Director at PACIFIC Digital Group.
“The most important skill of a modern creative director is…”
The ability to thrive in different disciplines. A few years ago, creatives with portfolios focused on award-winning TV commercials were extremely appealing to the market. Today, with all the changes the internet has brought to the communication industry, it’s important to have a broad knowledge of disciplines beyond traditional advertising-like search marketing, promotion, social media, and technology with its diverse expressions and digital platforms.
Brands are increasingly demanding ideas that can connect with their audience in different micro-moments of their journey. This includes searching Google, reading the news, navigating social media, shopping on e-commerce sites, changing the TV channel, interacting with artificial intelligence, exploring virtual reality, and a number of other things. Creative directors capable of managing teams with different skillsets and generating ideas that integrate these multiple executions will gain a huge competitive advantage and consequently better compensation.
Estelle Pin is TINYpulse’s Editor-in-Chief and the Content Marketing Manager.
“There’s a misconception that a creative director needs to be…”
The best designer or copywriter on a team – and that these are the skills that will get you the CD job. Certainly, being super competent at design and copywriting are important to providing relevant feedback – but you get the best outputs when your top talent lives in your individual contributors, and focusing all of your energy on developing your creative skills can be problematic.
Instead, I think it’s important for a creative director to have a firm grasp on the data analytics side of their outputs – ultimately, everything you do serves to drive traffic, or sales, or longer play times and better reviews. If you can understand what the end goal is, and create a strategy to get there that is supported with your findings, then you’re more likely to hit your targets. Ultimately, that’s what will lead to career growth.
Do you know how to track trends in traffic and SEO performance, and attribute them to your team? Interpret bounce-rates and optimize pages for click-throughs? Not only is the path much clearer to success when you’re tracking all of your outcomes, but you can quantify your value when you move on to your next position. Data analytics makes you a better creative director. The ability to quantify the ROI of your outputs is critical to making your case to advance in your career.
Gil Gildner worked as a creative consultant for NGOs for five years before becoming a creative director for an airfare company and then co-founding a search marketing startup called Discosloth. He’s traveled to 41 countries and tries to add more every year!
“Before co-founding a marketing startup last year…”
I was a creative director for an airfare company. All too often, creative directors can stall out in their careers because they are at the top of their department in many small and medium businesses: there’s no room to go higher. My number one suggestion for all creative directors who are struggling to maximize their income and career potential is to expand your technical abilities. This lets you work more efficiently with other departments. An understanding of web development, digital marketing, and efficient collaboration with colleagues is essential to improving your value to the company, which should also reflect well in your salary! Of course, this also improves you personally, and better tech chops helps massively if you want to branch out on your own and start your own agency, design firm, or consultancy.
Jason Patel is a former career ambassador at the George Washington University and the founder of Transizion, a college and career prep company that is focused on closing the Opportunity Divide in America. A part of their mission is to donate a portion of profits to low-income students and veterans who need college prep and career development assistance.
“Communicating and leveraging talents and experience is…”
The most important skill for creative directors should know to develop their careers and grow salaries.
Why? Often, the best way to grow a salary and promote a personal brand is to succeed in a current position and then switch companies as one gets promoted. This way, the new company pays you more and more people will know about your skills.
In order to find new positions for a promotion, you need to increase visibility. And the best way to increase visibility is to meet industry leaders and know how to pitch them effectively. Effective leverage and communication is all about knowing your elevator pitch.
What goes into a successful elevator pitch? What you’ve done, what you’re doing, and where you’re going. This means you know how to mention and discuss your past accomplishments, current ambitious ventures, and team-oriented goals in the next few years.
This is useful because company executives and hiring managers want to hire people who will serve as immediate and long-term contributors. If you can communicate this effectively in a short time frame, you’ll be able to meet many executives and company leaders over the years. A few of these meetings will develop into career leads and, later, job offers. Job offers usually mean a salary boost.
William Gadea is the Founder and Creative Director of IdeaRocket, a maker of animated videos for business.
“The hardest skill to find…”
And thus the one that most differentiates a good creative director, is thinking strategically. You can build this skill by reading more widely, both good business books and meaty periodicals like the Harvard Business Review. After you’ve educated yourself, it’s just a matter of having the discipline to ask the questions. Really dig deep into the client’s business context and draw connections between project objectives and larger business goals. Really put yourself in the shoes of your client’s prospects, and try to imagine what would make them want to choose your client’s product/service.
Adam McIntyre is the Co-Founder of BrandPacks.com.
“Creative directors who excel are those with…”
The ability to delegate effectively by trusting the designers within their team.
A common problem with inexperienced creative directors is the tendency to micro-manage projects and let their ego rule the roost.
Max is a designer, entrepreneur, and CEO of Confidently Curious. His work is guided by the belief that effective questioning can yield innovative solutions.
“Creative directors are judged by…”
The output of the projects and people they manage. There are two skills creative directors can develop quickly that will noticeably increase their creative output and subsequent pay: project management and applied questioning. Project management is the framework for how creative work is done. A smart creative director will employ the latest tools, like Airtable and Zapier, to automate processes and free up time for creative work. While brainstorming is a common way for creative directors to engage with their peers, a more efficient way to draw out ideas is through question storming. Developing good questions for creative teams results in more output than a solutions-oriented approach alone.
Adam Holtrop is the Executive Creative Director for MADE Agency.
“Creative directors have an opportunity to keep the peace…”
To help all parties get along, calm nerves (especially those of edgy creatives), and to help rationalize tough decisions. After all, we’ve gotten into this position through a deep understanding of consumers. As you rise within management, you need to apply your supreme grip on human behavior internally. Your ability to mediate is vital, coupled with a heightened sense of empathy. If I were to highlight two skills important to your growth as a creative director, mediation and empathy are up there at the top.
These skills are the difference between you being extremely useful in difficult boardroom environments versus you being kept out of those environments. These skills help keep your creative department together during difficult projects, and even more importantly help maintain the peace between departments working on difficult projects. There’s nothing worse than a war between creatives and account managers. That kind of thing is the beginning of the end. A creative director with the ability to hold everything together is one with strong mediation skills, drawing on empathy to speak to people in a way that makes them feel you really understand their personal situations.
Emil Jimenez is the CEO/CCO of Passion Communications.
“Do not be afraid to fail…”
A piece of advice that has always stuck with me was this: “If you don’t get fired from a creative position at least once, you’re not doing a good job.” A creative and passionate person will exceed by striving to push artistic boundaries.
After graduating from Portfolio Center, Noah was offered a job in advertising with Campbell-Ewald, where he was lucky enough to work with brands like Chevy and Bissell. He is currently the Creative Director for Moxē, an integrated marketing agency in Orlando, FL with a yearly revenue close to $10 million.
“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or what your job title may be…”
As obvious as it sounds, the most important skills for anyone to develop that will help elevate your career are your people skills. A shocking number of people have, let’s just say “quirky” interpersonal skills and don’t recognize the need for improvement in themselves. I don’t care if you’re entry-level, director-level, or a Chief Executive, as long as you listen, communicate clearly, and people genuinely like you and like working with you, you can do well.
You may already be known as someone who creates brilliant work. That’s fantastic, and given the right environment your skills alone can get you far. But no matter how mind-blowing your ideas and executions are compared to everyone else, if you can’t work well with everyone, and I mean everyone, then your capacity for continued growth is going to be limited. It just is. I’ve seen truly talented people hit roadblocks in their careers because other people simply didn’t like how they presented themselves. For some, it was their tone: too snippy or too aloof. For others, it was their sense of humor, or lack-thereof.
Creative directors in particular are already saddled with a general reputation for being pretentious and superior. Imagine how pleased everyone will be to learn you’re the exception to that stereotype. Let’s face it: this job is not as glamorous as we were led to believe when we got into this business. Turns out, just about anyone can learn how to build a brand, create successful campaigns, and even manage a team. In fact, every person you’re competing with for that job or promotion has those skills. Although your business acumen is a close second, if advancement is your goal, the main answer is simple: keep doing awesome work, give your team the credit they deserve, and make it a point to be someone they all want to work with every day.
Joseph “JK” Kalinowski oversees all of the creative and art direction of all Content Marketing Institute and Content Marketing World projects. He has worked as an art director for 20 years in the advertising, publishing and content marketing industries.
“Creative directors need to develop the specific skill of…”
Keeping up with new design trends while still being able to satisfy the needs of their audience. Being able to recognize new trends and ideas that could enhance their creativity, while not deviating from traditional design principles is a key factor for career development. In addition to savvy design skills, having the ability to fully listen to your client or audience and being able to interpret their message is a cornerstone skill of a successful creative director.
Syed Irfan Ajmal
Syed Irfan Ajmal is an entrepreneur, author (Forbes, HuffPo, SEMrush, the World Bank, and several others), digital marketer, host of a business podcast, and an international speaker. He has worked with several creative and design staff during running his boutique agency. He is also the Growth Marketing Manager at Ridester.
“I think the most important skills that can help creative directors grow their career and salary are…”
Not going to be technical/hard skills, but soft skills such as empathy, communication skills, negotiations skills, EQ, patience, etc. Apart from these, the ability to build and grow their social network, as well as to be aware of what is going on in the industry can be of benefit.
Tim Brown is the Owner of Hook Agency. He is a web designer and passionate marketer. He’s passionate about getting serious results for clients, regardless of the medium or means – but is generally focused on Search Engine Optimization and on-site conversion.
“I think the most important skill for creative directors to develop is the practice and use of persuasion…”
Studying sales and persuasion goes hand in hand with being able to design experiences, write copy, and tell a compelling story. If someone can combine the focus of telling compelling stories visually and with persuasive copy, and they have a great aesthetic sense and can execute or manage the execution of that creative – they will be unstoppable in their career. Books like Pitch Anything, Selling the Invisible, and Blue Ocean Strategy are great places to start if you are looking to develop persuasion as it relates to your creativity and marketing skills.
Diane Domeyer is executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing creative, digital, and marketing professionals. When she’s not managing operations for TCG’s locations across North America, you can find her on a bike or spending time with her husband, five kids, and grandchildren.
“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.
Creative directors are also collaborating more frequently with contacts within and outside their organization, so having strong communication skills is crucial.
If you’re vying for a creative leadership position or raise in your current job as a creative director:
Show how you make a difference. Employers want to know if you’re able to see the big picture, think strategically, and solve problems. To do this, you might explain how you rallied team members to complete a specific project that came in before deadline, under budget, and exceeded the client’s overall expectations. Or you could detail specific business challenges previous employers faced and how you helped the organization overcome these issues.
Share your track record. Even if you’ve never held a leadership position, outline specific traits – such as open-mindedness, adaptability, influence, and decisiveness – that hint at your readiness to succeed in a role of greater responsibility. Showcase your ability to tackle complex challenges and oversee other employees.
Be proud of bending rules. The most successful creative leaders share a willingness to turn established business practices on their heads and foster a culture of smart risk-taking. Demonstrating a passion to innovate and advance the company can impress potential employers.
Robert McGuire is the Founder of Nation1099.
“We’ve done some research on this and…”
Have career guides on freelance roles for experienced copywriters and graphic designers who are becoming creative directors. As we note there, the average salary for a creative director is $134,000, depending on your source of data. The freelancer’s equivalent hourly rate would be $138. To get to this position, the table stakes are fundamental project management and technology skills. To advance, creative directors need to have a command of product marketing, marketing strategy, strategic planning, UX and UI design, branding, hiring, and budgeting.
Ross Davies is a creative and technically-minded professional working as Managing Director for Strafe Creative, an award winning creative agency set up in Nottingham in 2010. Their services range from Brand Development, Web & Digital Design and Print design. By combining creative spark with practical experience, Ross and Strafe Creative strive to design powerful brand identities to help businesses develop and grow through innovative graphic and web strategies.
“Of all the skills needed to succeed as a creative director…”
Enthusiasm is by far the most important. If you have enthusiasm for your job, it’s obvious to the people around you – both colleagues and clients – through your work and your attitude. Your passion for your work will make you a more effective team and project leader, as it will rub off onto those around you and motivate them – and invaluable quality on longer projects. Clients will love to work with a director who is as enthusiastic about their project as they are, making them more likely to return to you again the future. All these things combine to make you more noticeable as a creative director, boosting your reputation and income. Perhaps most importantly, though, enthusiasm means you love your job, which means you’ll work harder and longer than those who simply treat their job as a 9-5. Enthusiasm is the key to succeeding in any sector, and the creative industries are no exception.