Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

What Makes a Good Creative Director?

The role of the creative director is critical to the success of a creative team, from personal development of team members to fulfilling basic managerial roles. Unfortunately, creative directors rarely have management training or experience.

In the design career path, there are few greater achievements than a skilled designer or copywriter becoming a creative director. It’s a wonderful promotion. Unfortunately, creative people do not usually make good management. Finding the right mesh of talent and interpersonal skills is a very difficult task, which is why good creative directors have been revered — there are so few people who can be creative and manage creative.

I suppose this post should be prefaced with a disclaimer. I have worked in one agency, four in-house design groups, owned my own business and worked with dozens of creative directors as a freelancer. My personal anecdotes tend to originate from an in-house perspective, though good leadership traits are universal.

I’ve been thinking about what it takes to head a creative group — the experience, talent, managing ability and self-confidence. The qualities it takes to gain respect from the notoriously rebellious mindset of a creative.


Experience is probably the most common trait among creative directors (though not the most important) and encapsulates several key ingredients.

Design and copywriting experience, of course, is critical. Years of working in the trenches, testing ideas, failing, succeeding, winning awards and leaving empty-handed have built a foundation of practical design application. Experience teaches what works on a website, what helps an ad pull, what makes a brochure get read. Experience provides a second level of intuition — “yes, it looks good, but will it work?”

When a creative director has worked in the same company or the same sector for a number of years, that practicality becomes even more refined. There are CDs who excel at creating sizzling consumer campaigns because they have been in that game a long time. That same person would fail in the healthcare market, where another creative director has learned what helps sell pharmaceuticals to doctors. And both of them would fall short in a technical B2B market, where yet another creative director has learned how to make companies connect and market themselves to each other though better design.

Age is related to experience, but only in the language of maturity. Life experience is directly related to maturity, and maturity is critical in managing a team of creatives (AKA, a herd of cats). Two of my past creative directors were more than ten years older, and they are the two I remember as being the most adept.

Acting as the Director

Designers and copywriters have the potential to make terrible managers, but who better to lead the team than a former in-the-trenches creative? Most creative directors get promoted because of their skill, not because of their leadership qualities, but technical skill has little to do with guiding the communication output of an organization.

These are the bigger qualities CDs need to worry about:

  • Being OK with the fact that the time to actually create — writing or designing — will be less than a fourth of a non-managing creative.
  • Being able to provide constructive, specific and intelligible feedback about work.
  • Understand the specific ying-yang balance of copy and design. Creative directors who favor one aspect over the other will earn the scorn of the neglected party.

The skills of creative director need to expand from the finite world of colors and grammar to include the over-arching marketing direction. Yes, this text is nicely kerned, but does the piece accurately represent the company’s brand? It’s the “director” part of creative director.

Managing Ability

I recently saw David C. Baker speak at a conference, and his topic was “Managing Creatives.” His presentation was excellent, but he made one (self admittedly) controversial claim: that creative teams do not need any special management treatment. In other words, they should be managed like any employee — accountants, mailroom workers, salespeople, etc.

This means that creative directors must be just as effective as any other manager in the company. Since most have no formal management training, this can be a difficult but critical obstacle.

Being an effective manager boils down to one baseline theme: do you enable your employees to work to their full potential? You can’t make people work hard, after all, especially the naturally contrary creative species. In my experience, creative directors fall short in their management roles by any combination of the following:

  • They try to be their employees’ friend. If a manager counts any of their best friends as one of their employees, they have failed at their job.
  • They do not delegate responsibility. Instead of trusting their workers to get stuff done, they hoard responsibility, skewing priorities and placing unneeded pressure on themselves.
  • They don’t produce. Creative people need to be reminded that their manager can create good work too.
  • They play God. Good creative directors understand that they are nothing more than middle managers, halfway up the ladder, and the buck certainly does not stop with them.
  • They micro-manage.
  • They fail in their basic management roles — not providing timely or thought-out reviews, not making “executive” decisions at critical times, poorly managing projects, not recognizing employees’ successes and not shielding their employees from the fickle and harsh temperaments of Upper Management.

Confidence and Security

Beyond the above, a good manager needs the intangibles: confidence and security. They understand and exude the fact that they control the creative output, work education, and general business comfort of their team and act as such. Which means being a grown-up: confident in making decisions but secure enough to take suggestions.

I am sure I am leaving major points out, so please contribute if you see a glaring omission.


commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Monday June 5, 2006

This is an excellent analysis of good creative direction. Having only served under one, I have no frame of reference like you do, but my experience falls in line with the bullets outlined in the “places where CDs fall short”.

Great post. You are the man.


wrote the following on Monday June 5, 2006

Just thought I’d come out of long-time lurking to say another great post, thanks Kevin.

Some thoughts I’d add (perhaps obvious) – along with balancing the marketing with the creative, I’d say it doesn’t hurt to develop a good understanding of business in general, essential in developing an empathy for the client and their needs, and indeed the objectives of the company you work for.

Another skill I tend to admire in CD’s (and anyone) is the ability to present and essentially sell your ideas, whether that’s one-on-one with a client or with a group of stakeholders…

And as always, the communication and people skills are always valuable.

Also really enjoying the new direction GP has taken over the past couple of months. Definitely more valuable, so keep up the good work.

Anonymous (just in case)

wrote the following on Tuesday June 6, 2006

One of the worst things a CD can do is continually bash the client in front of his employees. We all know we have a difficult client, but the kind of negativity that comes from the CD is poison to the department. He seems to think we will thrive on it, and that it will bring us together, but in reality it furthers the rift between the design team and the client, and makes it even more difficult for us to relate to them on any level beyond production hacks.

Will Cole

wrote the following on Tuesday October 17, 2006

Excellent and well written. I am a Creative Director in London working for a new media agency and have to point out I giggled at the accuracy of your comments. One thing you neglected to point out is that good creative directors have tended to learn from bad ones. Meaning…they thought to themselves, “when I am a CD I will NEVER treat people or clients like that”. I have had a string of bad CD’s in my trek up the ladder and it certainly taught me more of what NOT to do than what to do.

Chris Faith

wrote the following on Monday November 27, 2006


Please pardon the intrusion, but I have a question that I hope you can answer:

I currently work as a Graphic Designer, but I am trying to move to a higher level. In your opinion, what education requirements does a Creative Director need? An MBA? A Masters in Communications? I have tried to find this out online, but it’s not as easy to find as I would have hoped.

thanks so much for your time,

Chris Faith

Andres Ramirez

wrote the following on Wednesday November 29, 2006

Hi, I’m also a graphic designer and would like to know what sort of education is recommended in order to become a creative director. I’m thinking of taking a marketing course. also want to know what other titles a graphic designer can pursue if he wants to move up the ladder.

Andres Ramirez


wrote the following on Thursday December 7, 2006

Is there schools to become creative director in Los Angeles ?

Will Cole

wrote the following on Friday December 8, 2006

Guys there are no formal qualifications you can take. To become a Creative director is a simple steady rise up the ladder. Please don’t waste time or money studying for something that will not speed up the process. Uni courses or costly, time-consuming and are no substitute for actually being in the thick of it. You will just end up with loads of debt and no pratical experience. Experience is the key. When you have more than everyone in the room, it’s time to be a CD. A good CD is a people manager. Lots of UK CD’s seem to completely miss this point and will not hire designers who are better than them. Sad really as if you have a good managerial CD and a group of talented designers you will have a great team.


wrote the following on Monday December 18, 2006

I’m a CD at a direct marketing firm in Boston, MA. I disagree with Will – having an advanced degree makes a huge difference when it comes to working with marketing departments, production, product managers and/or directly with clients. The ability to “sell” your ideas to upper managment, certainly to marketing who are often decision makers – if not key influencers – largely rests on my ability to understand market-specific analytics. Something that would take MUCH longer to learn through meer trial-and-error.

A good CD indeed must be a good people manager (as everyone who manages people should be expected to be). The difference between a good CD and a great one, is their ability to manage beyond their people – client expectations, marketing and brand expectations, product managers, upper management, and of course projects.

Mireille Ferrari

wrote the following on Monday December 18, 2006

Really enjoyed reading this article. Wholeheartedly agree that there is no one specific formula to being a good CD. I’ve followed an unusual professional path which involved high level client management at a private bank to working as a designer in a video game studio and working in branding and communications for a start-up. In the last 1.5 years I’ve worked as a CD, which surprisingly validates all my experiences in the 8 years prior and obliges me to use every single skill I’ve ever picked up. I especially agree with the point about managing all sides of the coin – a lot of what I do involves keeping my teams, bosses AND clients happy. It’s a tough job, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


wrote the following on Saturday December 23, 2006

My CD left my company about 6 months ago. i have been eyeballed for the position but nothing formal has come of it yet. I am afraid to take the position if it comes my way. I am a designer, and i have seen to great designers end up as a CD and end up being nothing more than a project manager. There is a certain prestige to being a CD, its the pinacle of a designers career. But is it worth it to lose the “designer” in you and be a PM. I could have the job, but dont want to not be a designer anymore. Is that possible? Is there balance for a designer? Or is it either design and do what you love or leave all that behind to oversee other people do what they love.


wrote the following on Thursday January 4, 2007

I am transferring to FIT (nyc) next fall to get my degree in fashion marketing, eventually I would like to become a creative director, in fact, all of the research I’ve done thus far insures me that my talents are well suited for this career path. I would just like to know how all of the current CD’s came to the point they are at. What degrees you have earned and where you started.Any advice would be highly valued.



wrote the following on Tuesday January 9, 2007

Looking for some feedback.

I have had the role of CD in a new company as of summer of last year. Before given the title I have had 7 years of industry experiece with graphic design, web with limited exposure to broadcast. I was apointed CD with less than 10 strong in the company and I have yet to have people assigned to me as there is no need at this time. I report to the VP of marketing. At this size, there’s not a strong sense of command chain. We all seem to be working at the same level with no real problems with ego.

This was a huge jump for me in title. However I humble myself knowing that I will have to grow into the position as the company grows. As of right now I am very hands on and functioning as the entire creative department. However as I have read where the company has internal creative, the exec level people, including the president, make final creative decisions. Over my year here, I have produced all blow the line creative and acted as project manager for our online technology initiatives. Personally I do not feel like a CD. I am certainly not paid at a level that is near the national low end ( the position but then again I am not exactly doing the work of a CD.

I ask ALL Creative Directors for their opinions on my situation and possibly grant me advice on how to aline myself to the role and move to a pay scale that’s fits the situation without shooting too high too quickly. When should I chime in when it seems like I am not being given ownership of things a CD should have?

Thank in advance.



wrote the following on Monday January 29, 2007

Ryan, there are differing opinions on here with regards to the role and the conclusion is, they all work. No one person can say this works better or that works better. However, you do seem to have a hollow title, as a CD without a team is just a designer with a title. After all, what does the director part mean if not directing. Yet in your situation you have the opportunity to grow a great team beneath you which is a fantastic thing to place on any CV/resume. You can shape and build this as time goes on and watch it grow into a powerful company asset.

If you are acting as the entire creative department then you have sole control of the creative output. If this is not the case then you need to carefully ask why you are called a creative director without throwing around accusations. A simple questions requires a simple answer.

One bit of advice though. Relish this time. Enjoy it. When the team grows and the work increases you will wish you were back doing things on your own. LOL


wrote the following on Wednesday August 8, 2007

I am glad to have read this article and all of the comments. I currently work for one of the BIG 4 Fashion Retailers in NYC. I work in interactive and our CD has NO interactive experience. She can only read email and surf the web on a computer, nothing else. No software skills, no design skills, nada. How does a stylist become CD of a hundred million plus interactive department? The worst part is there is no brainstorming, no front-end to back end Information architecture done.

What do you do in this situation? Leave or what? I am fed up with the unprofessional way things are done. I think its time to head back to the agencies for work.



wrote the following on Saturday January 12, 2008

Thank you so much for this post. I am a senior at Indiana University and this past semester I was in a class that had the responsibility to create a student-run advertising agency that would take on paying clients in the community and all over Indiana. The agency, named Agency 7, is now underway. I was elected creative director by my classmates and found your post to be very helpful. I’m obviously a newbie, still in college with no professional experience. Reading about your experiences and what NOT to do is really going to help me as I begin to work with my creative team. Thank you!


wrote the following on Monday January 14, 2008


I am a Sr. Art Director looking to make the jump to Creative Director in the advertising industry. I have been in the industry 12 years. (Freelancing the last 2). Education is always best, specially if climbing the corporate bureaucracy world, but not necessary. Your thoughts and ideas will always speak best. Always amplify your thoughts when presenting and always make someone laugh. Oh yeah, always proof your work! (Of course, I didn’t do that here.)

I believe is easier to move up to Creative Director from within an organization than to jump from an AD to CD from another company. If you hold the title of Creative Director is easier to find employment as CD somewhere else.

This industry is very emotional and subjective. Always listen, and respect ideas because you never who is going to burn you.


wrote the following on Tuesday January 15, 2008

Very well said. I am a designer and I have worked under two different CDs who are great designers with big egos, and are not great managers. It’s unfortunate. I DO think that creatives need to be managed differently than accountants … and if they don’t, then I would err on the side of treating the accountant with more respect rather than leading the creative under a dictatorship. It is actually damaging to creatives, year after year, to make them feel as none of them are as good as ONE CD. In the creative field we should all know that ALL ideas are useful, even the “bad” ones.

I suppose I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth based on my experience. Before these two CDs, I worked on teams with superiors who respected us. I have also been an Art Director without a CD above me, and I never once felt like or acted as if I was the only one who could be right.

So, maybe that would be a good trait, the ability to know that much in this field is interpretive, and much is personal taste. Disagreeing with something does not make you right and them wrong, most of the time anyhow.


wrote the following on Tuesday January 15, 2008

As a former Creative Director, I live my life by these words below:

If you want something to return to the source,
you must first allow it to spread out.
If you want something to weaken,
you must first allow it to become strong.
If you want something to be removed,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to possess something,
you must first give it away.
This is called the subtle understanding
of how things are meant to be.
The soft and pliable overcomes the hard and inflexible.
Just as fish remain hidden in deep waters,
it is best to keep weapons out of sight. – Lao T.

To succeed in this industry, YOU MUST GIVE YOURSELF (ego) away. Meaning, to drive your team toward success, you need to mentor and guide them. Teach the all that you know, yet keep your confidence in the process. Directing is all about the id. Treat people how you expect to be treated. All will fall into place.


wrote the following on Monday January 21, 2008

Was there ever any specific advice on what higher education is recommended? Great post.


wrote the following on Wednesday January 23, 2008

I was particularly interested in this post because today, I (somehow) landed the position of Creative Director of a small branding company. Congratulations are definitely not necessary because I am so completely underqualified for this job that the company may go up in flames in a few weeks. (Note: I am only 22 years old and this is my first job out of college.) What is the industry coming to?!


wrote the following on Tuesday February 12, 2008

this is a great and helpful post besides being entertaining as i was laughing to numerous great tip-offs.

is it strange to still wonder if i apply for creative director role after 10 years? my years of experience (advertising, design house, in-house design, multimedia, freelancing, etc) calls me to reach for creative director but i wonder if i do have what it takes – the heart factor… do i want to give up what i’m doing as a freelancer for creative director’s specific job scope?

anyone to share a thought?

Fanny K

wrote the following on Wednesday February 13, 2008

Fantastic article. Have been looking around for the ‘ingredients’ that make a creative director. You are right, no classes to attend. No ground rules. It’s a difficult transition from being a creative to just managing creative (well, for some anyway). I lust for the affirmations just so that I don’t drown in my self-induced ‘fraudulence’ mindset. Thanks.

Mike Edwards

wrote the following on Saturday February 16, 2008

looking for advice.

Found this article interesting.

At the moment i am planning to do a foundation course in art at a uni in surrey but am not sure where my future lies after that. Im very dyslexic and i have ADHD but am a effective worker and received three A’s in my A levels doing Photography, Art and Music but i am not sure what path i want to stroll down


wrote the following on Saturday February 16, 2008

For those asking about education, I have some thoughts which, again, are anecdotal. From my experience, companies that do not know any better put way too much stock in education. A good creative director position, almost more than any other position I can think of, is earned. It takes years of in the trenches experience, watching campaigns succeed and fail, dealing with brutal client demands, and understanding the greater scope and strategy of the executive team.

That being said, an education in design is probably necessary, because as retarded as it is, that still commands respect with people that don’t understand what creative directors do. Two years probably is not enough; four years is the minimum. A degree in visual arts is good, a minor in business or management is also good.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this?


wrote the following on Saturday February 23, 2008

That last post makes me sweat! I was just promoted to CD after 1 1/2 years with my current agency (2 1/2 years exp. total). Your posts have been great and I feel very fortunate to have such a great opportunity. Thank you all for all of your advice.


wrote the following on Monday February 25, 2008

I have really enjoyed reading these posts and especially am glad to hear there are others that worry about being frauds. I was just promoted to CD at an agency I have been at for only 4 months. While I am excited and hope I am up to the challenge – it feels like it is coming a little early for me. However, I love client interaction, mentoring and the strategic side of design & copywriting, so I know that it is a position I want. However – I feel the need to brush up on skills to make up for areas that I feel might be blind spots. Can anyone suggest a book that deals well with the subject? I have been in the industry and dealt with clients for about 10 years, but this is my first agency job.


wrote the following on Tuesday February 26, 2008

Hugh: I don’t know about any one book that is the panacea for design management education, but I would recommend several different things.

  1. Pick a few books on management that look interesting and just read them — chances are you’ll pick up a lot of strategic and tactical tips that will help in a CD position.
  2. Visit David C. Baker’s website recourses — there are a lot of articles, books, seminars and more geared specifically to this topic.
  3. Read both of David Ogilvy’s books, Ogilvy on Advertising and Confessions of an Advertising Man. Both practical and witty books on design leadership.

Other than that, it really comes down to just doing the job and learning as you go.

Fanny K

wrote the following on Saturday March 8, 2008

Hi, these books veered my creative perspective in life

Leadership and the new science
by Margaret Wheatley

Standing on the shoulders of giants
by Hermann Vaske


wrote the following on Monday April 28, 2008

Hi there – thank you for an excellent post. I’ve been a self-made designer for a few years now. I’ve also held a marketing manager position for about 3 years – but the difference was that i really wasn’t managing anyone under me – it was more of a hands on creative decision maker and implementor kinda of a role.

I’ve been told that the only path to progress in my career towards being a CD is through education and unfortunately, as mentioned before, I haven’t had any educational qualification in ‘design’.

I see myself more as a ‘jack of all, master of none’ – and despite the positives to that quote, it’s working out quite negatively in my career right now.

I’m really confused as to where to head from here and I’d appreciate it if you could point to some good resources or a loosely based advise on direction?



wrote the following on Friday May 2, 2008

I have really enjoyed this posting along with all the comments because I see some of myself echoed in a few.

I started working in design as an intern about 8 years ago at a university and quickly was moved into the title creative direction and then eventually senior creative director.

If you have worked in academia, you know two things. You are surrounded by opportunities to educate yourself and experiment creatively, but the title is not valued equally to commercial industry salary standards.

I wonder how I can, not only bridge the place I am to where I want to be, but I wonder what my next steps are to get a true placement in salary and title based on my real experience and education.

I wondered if any experienced CD’s can share their thoughts on this. Should I start at the bottom or use the management experience I have to try to shoot for a more advanced position? (Assume both instances would be in a commercial industry close to what I am doing now.)

edward haskell

wrote the following on Sunday May 4, 2008

Great posts. I’ve been a CD with two large companies & here’s my advice:

Leadership comes from knowing where you’re going.

Books and management techniques are great, but without a clear plan and milestones in getting there, people will not follow you. As the author says, maturity and experience are key.

If you’re looking to make the leap to a valid CD from AD, there’s two ways:

1. Change companies and pitch yourself as a CD. Tough to get buy-in once you get there.

2. Take big risks. I had to put in lunch hours and late nights at home developing campaigns that launched me to CD. Be prepared to take the heat if it fails and take no credit if it is a huge success. Your supervisors are looking for talent to rise. Don’t complain, be proactive and positive about the work. Don’t fall into the misery clan, there’s no growth there. If there are legitimate complaints, address them to your boss or quit. There’s plenty of bad CDs and VPs out there, its not worth your time staying in a company that won’t grow your talent.

The last component is timing; knowing when to read a situation or opportunity and being prepared to step up and present well thought out solutions.

People will naturally follow you if you bring answers to the table. Once you make CD, get humble and really develop your team, you’ll be nothing without them.

Need Advice

wrote the following on Friday May 30, 2008

I have been successfully managing a Creative team of 12 for two and a half years now (total 8 yrs creative experience. I believe that I am qualified to be a CD and I’ve been planning to transfer to another company coz I think my boss (CD) will be occupying his seat for a couple more years. However, my dilemma is that I find managing too boring and that I envy seeing my staff just designing everyday of their working lives. Of course CDs are paid more but is it really worth the sacrifice?

I really wanna do hands on but I want it more to be in web design. I am an expert in print and i have taken courses in 95% of the world’s leading graphic/web/multimedia programs. In fact, I had been a training instructor for most. However i never really had the chance to use (hands on) these knowledge coz my work experience since, have been more of managing.

My diverse creative and technical background have been very useful in leading the team coz i understand and know how the functionality of the software can be maximized especially when it comes to web design and development.

Now my question is, do you think companies will accept me as a web designer when obviously I still need a bit of time to hone my skills? I have seen the great work of my staff and they have inspired me with how they create beautiful websites inside (clean codes) and out. I really long to be a designer but i also want to earn more.

As an artist, which direction do you think I should go?

Anonymous (for now)

wrote the following on Thursday June 19, 2008

I just want to say that this post has enlivened my spirit again.

I’m a senior PR/Advertising major with a minor in Business. I’ve become pretty well versed when it comes to graphic, web, and layout design and have done several freelance projects for money. For my major, I have to have a praxis, and my internship (in a well known company in Boston) was starting to feel pointless and I was starting to feel resentment towards choosing my major… This blog totally changed all of that and I feel 10x better. I hope to become a great CD someday, but this just really helped me to realize that I have to climb the mountain through whatever weather before I can get to the top of the mountain.

Thank you!


wrote the following on Thursday June 19, 2008

I’m a CD for a small company. My title is CD more for the clients sake than anything else. I have no staff. It helps me work with clients and their artists. My love is 3D animation and virtual worlds.

Now I’m hoping to find a another CD position where I can be involved in bigger projects. I’ve asked myself if I really want to do management, and I think I’m ready.

If anything, my best preparation has been running Soap Box Derby races, empowering the kids to get through the idea that they can build a car, tune it and race it.

So I liked this list. It confirmed a lot of things that I thought and makes me feel that I can be a good CD. Thank you.


wrote the following on Friday August 15, 2008

I find all of these comments very interesting. I have been in the print production world for about 8 years. I currently am the only designer for a small company, but I feel that I am more of a production manager that also does all the creative stuff. I recently have been looking into creative director positions and am wondering how I should approach something like this. I know I handle management very well and am very confident in my skills. I fix things that come from high end design agencies every day. If anyone has any thoughts on this I would appreciate the input. Thanks.

a fresh thought

wrote the following on Tuesday August 26, 2008

Isn’t it cool to be able to have a conversation on one topic which lasts for two years with people from all over the world.


You could be replying to someone who’s been dead for two years.

think about it.


wrote the following on Thursday October 30, 2008

this is a great post. every great creative director i have met has a good balance of both confidence & patience

Still Going Strong ...

wrote the following on Saturday November 8, 2008

This post has better shelf life than SPAM! I truly appreciate the original post and everyone’s feedback, especially the advice from CDs.

I filled a CD role temporarily before returning to a design position. Management of people and expectations (internal and client) is a very difficult ability to hone. After stepping back, I watched two CDs come and go. Both had their merits, but fell short (both due to items pointed out in the Managing Ability section).

Having the year as a CD and then observing more “seasoned” people fill the same role has been a great help. That and the information on this post will be of great value when I make my next run up the mountain.

If I can contribute anything to the post, it would be to set aside fear, grow some thick skin and treat everything as an experience to build upon.


wrote the following on Tuesday November 11, 2008


I am currently in my final year in college studying commerce, majoring in marketing. I have a very keen interest in advertising as I see myself as being a very creative individual. I am thinking of taking a masters programme in advertising once I graduate and am wondering what would those experienced CD’s make of that as a plan? I would like to see myself as a CD as while I feel I am creative enough to be an art directer, managing others in that area greatly appeals to me.

PS Thanks for all the posts above. This page has been very beneficial for me


wrote the following on Thursday November 13, 2008

The article is great. I think what helps me out also are the comments people have left.
I have been working as a copywriter for almost a year now, and I got the position totally unintentionally because I shared an office with a copywriter who got sacked not long after I came to the company. I have grown to love the job, the only thing is that I currently live and work in Serbia, and the organization and management of the company I work for is definitely horrible.
I’m looking to change firms and at a job interview yesterday, another marketing agency offered me the job of an account manager (I have a University degree in Management, with a Marketing Major). I don’t like account management, and it doesn’t interest me in the slightest, but as this is Serbia, the money is definitely better in that sector.
My question is (and I hope that someone can help me out here)
Can I one day become a Creative Director if I have been working as an account manager in an advertising agency?


wrote the following on Friday January 16, 2009

I’m 16 years old and I want to become a CD. Im determined, but I’m wondering if it matters how early you get in the game, if so what steps should I take to get there? I also, really know I could handle a managing type job, I someday want to own my own business and hit runways. Would this job help? Or would it just hold me back? I have really high aspiration.




wrote the following on Sunday February 1, 2009

I’m really interested in finding some resources for Creative Directors. Does anyone know of any seminars in the MA area? S.O.S


wrote the following on Monday February 2, 2009

Louie (and others) — You may want to tune into the forthingcoming Creative Cohort site, which promises to have some content along these lines. I am a contributer, but there will be others as well.


wrote the following on Tuesday February 3, 2009

Great article. I’m a creative director myself since 6 years and what really counts at the end is the quality of the work a director have been able to pull from his creatives. Other than that everything, time, management, wisdom, etc are all forgettable and forgivable.

Hannah Lee.

wrote the following on Monday February 9, 2009

Hello. Im an 16 and I recently just graduated from high school.
I do have a high school diploma.
I did not get a GED.
and i havent applied to any schools yet.
I wish to pursue the career or becoming a Creative Director.
but i cant seem to figure out what degree i should aim for when I do go to college.
I figure that this is a chance to get an early start in life.
Ive heard many make it to being a CD with a Major in Advertising and Marketing.
I dont know which one is better though.
so I cant really make a decision.
I was wondering if anyone could email me the details of what you suggest i should start with as of now.

Ill be waiting eagerly for your reply.

Okalo Jey

wrote the following on Saturday February 28, 2009

Good stuff here.
Av got a passion for Communications and would like to end up as a Creative director one day.
As a result i have widely studied and practised Design and Film Production.
The problem is i am always Confused on which position to apply for in a Company that is in Design or Film Production as i end up not knowing which among the two has an open position.Most Interviewers do emphasise that i settle for one but i feel if u can do both why not!


wrote the following on Tuesday March 3, 2009


For an article a few years old, it does hold some vital and timeless truths. I’m a designer of nearly 52, so a bit long in the tooth, and have seen quite few (many) cd’s on my journey. Age has not necessarily been a factor, but simple common sense essential. Surprisingly rare. The best one’s have been marked by balancing strength in demanding and defending high quality, with an innate and deep humility in searching for solutions and in their empathy/dealings with others. They also don’t divorce themselves from common humanity. A great CD has a very measured control on their ego, a complete absence of arrogance, and every one in their team feels valued and motivated. They have a deep knowledge of their field but are confident enough to ask for help when they don’t know something. I’m count my self lucky to have worked with a number of very good ones, and to them I direct my thanks. The crap ones are best forgotten. Being a CD is a precious duty as well as a career achievement.


wrote the following on Wednesday March 18, 2009

I learned from a lot of bad Creative Directors!! Well, the first Creative Director gave me the dream of working as one and back then, I was a graphic designer.. bright eyed and bushy tailed. I worked my way up the ladder and learned that staying on top of the latest technology was very important as well as being involved in creative projects and creative people. Learning to rub elbows with higher ups was very important and being involved in scheduling and working with other departments helped as well. I do miss the hands on.. down and dirty mouse action, but I find it rewarding creating, motivation and directing a team to achieve success. My advice to potential Creative Directors is know your worth and know your craft. And measure your contributions with the success of your projects and your employees’ talent. In my opinion, ego has nothing to do with top performance. It’s how well you communicate with clients, cultivate creative talent and combine your knowledge and experience keeping your mind as fresh and innovative.

Johnny Smoke

wrote the following on Thursday March 19, 2009

My experience has been…
Learn everything you can about every aspect of the field You are Interested in, formally in school and on your own. While doing so, find ways to add value to people, teams and agencies. Engender chemistry with management, leaders and people in the business by applying yourself. Since ‘things’ are changing on an ongoing basis, embracing challenges is fun and fulfilling because of the love of your interests – keep knocking until the door(s) is(are) opened. Fantasy and aspiration help motivate, but work on ‘what it stands for’.


wrote the following on Friday March 27, 2009

This is a great post. I’m a newly appointed Creative Director and was searching for answers on becoming a better CD, the post and the comments have been very inspiring. I’m working in a small business that is in Lao, where the concept of design, advertising and marketing is just developing. So, it has and is a big challenge at the moment dealing with clients and overseeing projects with graphic designers who are also new to design. Reading the post and all the comments have increased my aspirations to get design fully functioning in Lao. Thanks for posting.


wrote the following on Sunday April 26, 2009

I’m a CD at a tv network. I’ve found that the more I manage and surround myself with people that have more talent than I do, the better the product. However, the more I manage, the quicker my own skill set falls off (I’m a designer, not a copy writer). This creates some anxiety for me as I still want to jump in and show those kids the old guy still has it. Well, I’m 38, but you get my point.

The question: at what point do you give it away and focus just on creative strategy, business requirements, and your team’s performance rather than still trying to show that you still have the chops to do the production too.

Does that make sense?


wrote the following on Thursday May 7, 2009

I have a CIW Associate, CIW Proffessional and a master CIW designer qualification.
And I also working as a Graphic designer. I am planning to own my own design consultants business as a creative director.
A CIW (certified Internet Web designer)can make you become a Creative Director or Art director.

I hope this is true? just need respond please and advice.


wrote the following on Friday June 5, 2009

Hi, thanks for all the information. This blog is great! I’m 18 and I’m interested in the advertising field as i would love to be involved in anything that gets my creative juices flowing. However, i have very little clue of what goes on in the advertising industry. I’d like to be one of those people whose job involves the brainstorming of great ideas for an advertisement but I’m not sure what else they do or even their job titles. Do they all have to be designers themselves and know how to design everything from websites to films? Or do they have different tasks for people with different skills? If they have to make a televison commercial, do they hire people to film it or can they do it themselves, even act in it? If you’ve watched The Apprentice, is it something like what those contestants do? Is more of a business(corporative) job or artsy one( to do with creative ideas, designs, film, etc.) *sorry for the last part, I don’t know how to describe it but i hope you get what i meant. I know there’s a lot of question but i really hope someone can reply. It would really be a great help!

Alistair Banerjee

wrote the following on Wednesday July 8, 2009

As the director of ADFLECT I believe leadership and creative skills can go hand in hand. However, the whole is a learning process and good designers can become creative managers too…overtime. Advertising and Marketing industry is so dynamic that it literally forces designers to ‘reshape’ their skills. Creative Director is an important position when it comes project management because he is also the “public figure” when it comes to the success or failure of a project.

Chief Creative Officer

wrote the following on Friday August 7, 2009

As Chief Creative Officer of the largest and most profitable Search Engine Marketing company in the world, I have but few facts and tips for all people who would love to step up the top of the ladder.

- Find inspiration in EVERYTHING. – LEARN and EARN by experience. – Share most of what you know, but keep the rest by yourself. – Be a people person. – Never-ever decide when you are hot-tempered. – Accept the fact that the top isn’t always the best. – Master the gift of acceptance. – Learn to accept criticism. – Always think TWICE. – LISTEN. – When you know how to follow, people will follow. – Smile even when it is hard to do. Even in emails. – Practice whatever you preach.


wrote the following on Sunday August 9, 2009

As a Creative Director I’d like to offer my 2 cents.
To be one, it takes skill and leadership. If you are aiming to become one, become a good listener, a team player first and follow all directions and produced, and your superior will noticed you. Good leadership thinks of the team first and make sure that they are treated WELL. If you take care of your team, and they will take care of you!. Creative directors should have a combine knowledge of each of his/her team members skills. The team should always be able to find an answer from you! Don’t say:“I don’t know, ask the other team member”, No, but;“I’ll let you know about this later” and research it and find the answer. Because your team is always going to look to you for answers. You always have to keep yourself ahead in the latest design knowledge. A listen and commend you team for their efforts. A good CD keeps his team pumped and motivated all the time, for current and future aspects. You will find out that the team will love coming in to the office to work it you are able to do this!! DON’T OVER WORK THE TEAM. send them home at works end. You will find that they will always respect you if you think about them and have their best interest. AS a body , you are the HEAD, the others are the arms and legs. You can’t afford to devalue any body part, or you will cripple yourself and struggle right along. REMEMBER THAT!

Keeping it under wraps...

wrote the following on Wednesday September 9, 2009

That list at the end, of things CD’s fall short on.

You just described my bosses…


wrote the following on Thursday September 10, 2009

Hi there, im a 3rd year architecture student, and iv recently realised that creative direction would be my ideal job.However after reading these posts it seems that the ‘design’ aspect of the job is centred around graphics/graphic design.I feel strongly that i have these skills, but would an employer look upon my skills as favourably as id like?

Stephen Reel

wrote the following on Friday September 11, 2009


Are CDs responsible for keeping the cost of using freelancers inside the budget of a job?

Many thanks!



wrote the following on Monday September 14, 2009

For the young people that have asked Qs about the type of education they would need: 4 years of Graphic Design, Graphic Communications, Copy Writer/Ad programs. That is only the first step, then you have to become a pro through experience -around 10 years of work experience or equivalent talent.

CD is not a profession on itself, it is a tittle, a higher stage in the creative career.


wrote the following on Thursday November 5, 2009

Hey All

I recently graduated from a UC Berkeley with a degree in poli sci (yes, i know it has nothing to do with advertising),but I finally realized that advertising/being a creative director is what I want to do with my life. I was wondering if anyone would like to mentor me through the process or would like to provide me pearls of wisdom as to where to get started. My e-mail address is

Tonia von Hugo

wrote the following on Sunday November 22, 2009

Hey, thank you so much for this post. I am a high school student, but since starting my general business course last year, I have been very interested in a career in marketing. One of the things you mentioned in the list of possible failings of a creative director is that they do not recognize they are only half-way up the ladder. Don’t take this as a stupid question, but what’s above a creative director? I want to climb the chain of command, and knowing now to what levels I want to ascend of that ladder would be fantastic. Are you stuck as a creative director, or can you keep on rising?

Thanks so much, TvH

Jeremy Pope

wrote the following on Wednesday December 30, 2009

This string on the role of a Creative Director has been a good find. I am disappointed only that it has not received further attention from many more Creative Directors over the years, particularly in the last couple of years – at a time when the understanding and expectations of the position are being mightily blurred – leading to the misapplication of the title.

I recently ran across an article at a popular UX Design blog The article was sincere and well written. However, I was stunned that the author was comparing the position of Creative Director to the position of User Experience Designer. Even more surprising was the very honest suggestion by the author that the former just may be supplanted by the latter in the modern agency era.

The article certainly gave me pause, and forced me to consider what may be the shape of things to come (or shape of already here) as professionals in the creative space shape their futures. Apparently, gone are the days when one could espouse confidence regarding the function of a Creative Director, an Art Director or a Graphic Designer.


wrote the following on Monday March 1, 2010

I was overlooked for the CD position partly, i think, as I was doing a good job as the main graphic designer. At recruitment of a CD we moved to a larger company so the CD was found from outside. Naturally it was disappointing not to be considered, as I had similar experience – and longer in our field. I guess sometimes you have to be lucky and be in the right place. I guess also, potentially, my presentation skills are perhaps not as good as his, and business skills rule. It was slightly disheartening to learn all of this, but after a certain amount of time I have put it down to fate and maybe I am not suited to the more managerial role – I’d much rather deisgn!


wrote the following on Friday March 5, 2010

I’m a CD myself and I do believe in the fact that the real difference is being cre8ive and being able to manage cre8ives efficiently. Excellent blog. Get in touch with me:,




wrote the following on Sunday April 4, 2010

A degree in Design Management would help after 10 to 15 years of experience in the field …


wrote the following on Sunday April 4, 2010

Is it better to get a Masters in Degree Management or a Project Management Certificate ? I am not a registered Architect in the US but have been working in the field since 1989.


wrote the following on Monday May 10, 2010

I did Design Management course at De Mont Uni. it helps with basic but there’s nothing like practical knowledge. Learning by your mistake and be ready to face the critics head on.


wrote the following on Sunday July 18, 2010

Hello All,
I am software programmer in one of financial firms. I have a great interest to get in to Ad designing from my childhood. But did not get the opportunity. Do i need to have a separate degree to get in to This area. Please do comment on this.


wrote the following on Monday July 26, 2010

I’m really surprised to see no mention of ACD in these posts. It’s a pretty big jump from an Art Director or Senior Copywriter to the position of CD. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re having a difficult time getting there. Consider a stint as an Associate Creative Director. You get a ton of experience, act as the CD’s right hand and are that much closer to the actual functions a CD’s title requires.


wrote the following on Wednesday July 28, 2010

Hi happy people!

It would have been sad-heartening if the rudiment of running the affairs of great and intuitive minds (creative gurus) was underestimated…I should say am so happy about this post!

Taking a closer look at comments made, I will say many paths lead to the arena, but no short-cut to earning the prestigious CD position. A good CD should have a degree in art/design/graphics/communications, accompanied by wealthy years of experience in the industry…bottom line…YOU MUST PAY YOUR DUES to earn it. That gives you the credibility!

I started some 11 years ago without a degree, with a sense of submission to the ‘pros’ in other to learn the trick of the game, I got lost in the passion for the job…my awakening day came later…after I have humbly served 2 small agencies, and 2 major agencies and crowned my passion with a degree in Graphics Communications and couple of management trainings…I had a fair share of an integrated marketing communications skill…which exposed me to the business side of the game.

Now I can say ‘I came, I saw & I conquered! This has really help me stabilized my current position. I currently manage a creative team of great minds.



wrote the following on Wednesday August 4, 2010

Great stuff. I just finished a blog post on Creative Directors, this really helped research.


wrote the following on Wednesday September 29, 2010

This is my second time visiting the article. I found it very insightful. Nice job.


wrote the following on Monday March 21, 2011

Very good article. I read every single comment. I am an architect, just moved to NYC and looking for opportunities to get a career started that will conduct me towards a creative role in film or advertising. I have been in architecture for 7 years. I believe there are many “transferable skills” so we will see. Any comments, thoughts or advice would be fantastic.



wrote the following on Wednesday June 22, 2011

I just got a experience with an interview in which I participated for another Creative Director position.

I have been working in the field of the Internet for more than 6 years, I know a little bit of everything but I focus my self into offer high quality in design and usability, also the commercial feeling of the design and sales.

I have studied the 2/3 of the Advertising Design career, never finished because I got bored, I have also studied 3D Modeling and Animation, the Adobe Suite, and the basics of art. The thing is that I have art in my veins, I draw and paint since I was 5 years old, and love to discuss ads and the harmony of a good design. I decided to spent my time and effort in a career in which I really need guidance, I’m now studying Software Engineering.

As I mentioned above, the interview I got was okay with the HR person, but once I meet the current Creative Director (who shall be my coworker), he acted like underestimating my education years, he was literally mocking about my education and got this feeling of wanting to kill him, but due to my strong professional background I just continued with interview as normally as I could.

This Creative Director is around 38 – 40 years old, and probably he got it really hard to get there, I am 23 years old and I am flaunting the same position as him. Do you think this fact could have frustrated this guy? Is it normal in Creative Director to be as mean as he was? Why? Am I doing something wrong? What do you think about my situation? How should I deal with this person?


wrote the following on Tuesday November 8, 2011

I am a firm believer in setting expectations. If you set expectations, boundaries, and goals, then everyone knows what the potential outcomes and/or consequences will be.

My dad gave me the two best pieces of business advice:
1] No company will ever be as loyal to you as you are to it.
2] A good manager will never ask you to do something that he/she is not willing to do him/herself.

I am in my 17th year in the Advertising/Graphic Design field. I have worked both the right-brained (creative) side and the left-brained (analytical) side of the marketing world. I have reached the point in my career that, although I love designing and can hold my own with the best of them, I don’t have to do it all day every day to be fulfilled. I have experienced the euphoria of successfully mentoring, training, teaching, and molding creative team members. Not to be what I want them to be, but to find who THEY ARE and how to nurture that. There is no greater gift you can give someone than to show them how to be the very best they can at what they truly love.

As a Creative Director, here is the list of expectations I give every team member—either upon my arrival or theirs. If everyone respects and lives to these expectations, everyone will flourish individually as well as as a team.
1] If you bring a problem, bring a recommendation for a solution.
2] Be concise, be specific.
3] Support statements with facts and data.
4] Always seek root causes or problems; do not place blame.
5] Don’t make a commitment you can’t meet.
6] Don’t miss a commitment without notifying me in advance.
7] Be on time and prepared for meetings.
8] If you do not agree with me, respectfully tell me.
9] Support any decision we have reached.
10] Don’t let me get blind-sided.
11] Have the utmost level of personal integrity.
12] If you are not going to be here during normal working hours, let me know in advance.
13] If I send you a question do not make me follow up to get an answer.
14] Attain the results your area has committed to in the budget, 5-year plan, and quality areas.
15] We must develop mutually-shared housekeeping expectations—in the office areas as well as electronic file maintenance & consistency.


wrote the following on Wednesday January 18, 2012

A few more thoughts…

In my experience, a Creative Director must:

- be able to diffuse a situation and calm the team down when something goes wrong (because things do go wrong sometimes).

- be a reader (of books, etc.) to have a deep enough well of knowledge to be able to draw lines between disparate ideas.

- know when to push back with a client or executive and when to let things go. Neither “Yes Man” nor “Ego Man”.

Great conversation everyone. Keep it going.
: p

Apparenty Useless

wrote the following on Monday January 23, 2012

One more thing…Apparently if you turn 40 and loose your job because of something that has nothing to do with your performance (like the dotcom bubble burst of 2000) You suddenly overnight loose all your relevance and skill. But I have National awards, and great references, you say? You’re kidding yourself. You will likely never work again.

ola sam

wrote the following on Wednesday February 1, 2012

i think this is the best post i ve read so far i like the comments I’m reading cos its an eye opener to so many aspect of being a creative director.

in my own case i ve quite a lot of experience of nothing less than 6 yrs as a freelance graphics designer/ musician with so much experience working with the big ad agencies around, i now own my own agency though its small with staff strength of 3 designers and 2 other ones, and I’m the creative director .

at first i find it hard to blend the creative aspect and the biz decisions together but as time goes by i ve learnt to strike a balance b/w the two
though i still sometimes find it difficult but iive been at it now for some time and its really working, finding the meeting point b/w what our client really wants and what gives excitement as creatives, cos there s tendency to go overboard but I’ve learnt to keep things under control.


wrote the following on Monday February 20, 2012

I just wanted to say this post is great. I am going to make the jump from Designer to CD. This year. Very soon. I have never been so ready.


wrote the following on Thursday March 8, 2012

I’ve been an CD for almost a year now in an ad agency. I initially was an ad way back but ended up migrating to copywriting. For me, being a CD has been an extension of the writer’s left brain / right brain role but with a real challenge of managing egos. Creative and other egos. Advertising is full of them:)
I have grown quickly as a CD and do not get distracted so much by emotions and bullies as i would have done before. I think this post was very accurate and would add that being a good CD is very much about having the confidence to make decisions and hold to them. But to also be open, supportive and most of all inspirational in your own actions and creativity. Lastly, I am a digital CD and that means knowing about what is possible and strategically how to start a conversation with your consumer online.
Cheeers ;)


wrote the following on Sunday March 11, 2012

I agree with the statement that CD’s should be hired based upon leadership—but I also agree that they require a certain amount of talent that is respectable among the lesser beings in the office.

Currently, I am working under a CD who does “OKAY” (subjective) work, but lacks technical knowledge of programs and does not promote cutting edge design. Many of the projects are “safe” and I hear the words “I don’t care anymore, do what they ask,” far more than I would like.

Needless to say, he is overburdend by the CEO, who has him hoard a huge load, which leads to a disorganized, flustered CD that can’t meet his own deadlines or the teams.

As you can see, the CD lacks leadership in managing the team, projects, and in his area of proposed expertise, design, leading to a PO’d designer that works under him to lash out on this blog.

A tough job, but it’s a team effort. Ultimately, the boat sinks or swims with the captain—the shipmates have to speak up if they see an iceberg coming.


wrote the following on Monday March 19, 2012

Thank you for the insightful post, I have used part of this material for my school research. Thank you thank you tthank you It is not easy to find stuff about this :P


wrote the following on Tuesday March 20, 2012

Excellent stuff, relevant still in 2012. Couple comments based on personal observation: 1 – the person managing has to be inclusive of all people under his/her leadership, and inclusive of related skills outside of his/her direct line management; 2 – the sin of omission, opting out of (key) responsibilities. I have also experienced hyper delegation, i.e., downward, lateral and even upward transferral of responsibility especially when the task is unpleasant.

Ms Rai

wrote the following on Wednesday May 30, 2012

In my opinion, a great CD must be able to think strategically and not just come up with creative ideas. Advertising in 2012 is not only about mass media, it’s about the big IDEA and being able to sell it convincingly.


wrote the following on Friday October 12, 2012

Great open discussion and post.
I am currently a graphic designer with 2 years of experience in an advertising agency and 2 years as freelancer.
Trying to understand more the creative direction so I can always
deliver and meet expectation. ( stepping into senior G.designer )
thanks for the post.


wrote the following on Saturday February 22, 2014

I was a CD and failed miserably at it. Why? Well mainly bullies in leadership. I was told that I didn’t present an idea very well once, to a client and it snowballed from there. Suddenly I developed this fear of public speaking from something this person told me. Now, I am going back to being an art director. This way I can produce the work and be more behind the scenes. One thing I would like to point out though. We are all human and we all have days where maybe we are not on our game. Both clients and colleagues should understand that. If they did, I would not be the mess I am in today, unable to publicly speak. Advice on this is welcome.


wrote the following on Wednesday May 6, 2015


Not only have I been in your situation, but I have repeatedly watched other colleagues fall from grace (yes, it’s a strange workplace in which I am employed). The best part about it was that I got to witness each of them come back from whence they fell, and move forward, gaining back respect and integrity.

I believe the sole reason for this is that they chose to accept responsibility, learn from the past, and then, most importantly, let go of it and move forward. By doing this, they showed everyone they were not going to be beat down, and they weren’t. It gained them respect. And guess what? Eventually, the past was forgotten.

Anon, I guess the best suggestion I can make is to just do it. Start small to build your confidence. it will get easier. But it is about you, not them. See that as a good thing, because that means it is within your power to show your colleagues (and yourself) just how great you really are.

Wishing you Godspeed. :)