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Advertising Art Director – Career

An art director can be many things but, most typically, an art director is the second half in the creative team (with the copywriter making up the other half) in a creative advertising agency.

Main role of art director – creative concept
The art director’s main role is to work with the copywriter to come up with an overall creative concept (for an advertising campaign, most typically). The creative concept is about connecting with the audience in some important human / emotional / creative way. The art director’s main goal isn’t just conceptual in nature but, also, should (in theory) be entirely collaborative (to the point that there is no important difference in approach between copywriter and art director).

Secondary role: visual look
The art director, is first and foremost, a creative conceptualizer, and, secondly, a visualizer .. As an art director (as opposed to a copywriter) he / she is responsible for the visual look of the creative concept (and the copywriter for the copy). But some art directors play a role in the copy (in particular with the strapline / headline) part of the creative concept too (and vice-versa: some copywriters with the visual look of the creative concept). Some of the best creatives in the history of advertising have been both, simultaneously, great at copy and visualizing (i.e Bill Bernbach, Leo Burnett and others). But the norm now is for art directors (especially in large organizations) to focus on the visual, and for the copywriter on copy.

Tertiary role: visual execution
Most art directors, today, are, also, expected to play a role in visual execution. In large organizations they might have little visual execution to perform (visual execution being carried out by art workers, graphic designers) but in smaller organizations they would be expected to carry out quite a lot of the visual execution (and in small organizations they might do all it all themselves).

In the world of digital advertising, understanding digital technologies and methodologies plays an important role in the overall creative approach of the art director.  

Where art directors can be found
Integrated advertising agencies, direct marketing agencies, various media agencies, in-house (as well as traditional creative agencies and digital agencies).

The creative brief
The account planner (or, perhaps, brand planner / communications planner in a digital agency) is an important person in the life of the art director. The account planner is responsible for coming up with a big idea (or ideas) about the brand that will connect the audience to the brand in some important way.
The creative brief is the account planner’s formal document containing the big idea (or ideas) as well as useful information about the audience, the brand, the market place, the competition and so on. The art director and the copywriter must work within the parameters set out by the account planner in the creative brief. The creatives are then free (generally) to pursue whatever creative concept they like (as long as it fulfils the goals / parameters of the creative brief).
It cannot be over-stated that understanding and working with the marketing / branding behind a campaign is absolutely crucial for the creatives. The overall creative concept might be great from an artistic point of view but if it irrelevant to the creative brief then it has no real value.

Who else an art director works with?
The art director, also, generally works with a broad range of people: art workers, graphic designers, photographers, production staff, account managers (as well as copywriters and account planners) and others.

Attributes / skills

  • creative (conceptual as well as technical, artistic flair)
  • collaborative / team player
  • communicative
  • can take criticism
  • interested in what makes people tick
  • interested in branding
  • interested in copywriting

(Generally) a third level qualification in graphic design or industrial design, and so on.


Forming a partnership with a copywriter
At some point an art director must form a partnership with a copywriter. It is common for art directors and copywriters to join and leave advertising agencies together. Some art directors form partnerships with copywriters on advertising courses; others form paternerships by networking in their free time; and others form partnerships by meeting junior copywriters working in advertising agencies. And so on. It’s normally tricky making the leap to finding one’s first full-time job as an art director working in partnership with a copywriter. But, normally, an art director will have to do work experience (in a non creative-partnership role) first. 

Work experience
Art directors often start off as juniors in creative departments, perhaps as art workers / junior graphic designers, and so on. Work experience is essential in that it demonstrates enthusiasm and commitment for the role. More importantly, since art directors really learn their trade on the job so work experience is the first stage in this process. Work experience is, also, a great way of making invaluable contacts who can advise / help about finding future work. And a work placement opportunity could even develop into a full-time job.

Anyone interested in a career as an art director needs to put together a portfolio.

Looking for one’s first job
Work experience. As mentioned earlier on, work experience placements can develop into full-time jobs.
Training schemes. Some advertising organizations, also, offer  training schemes. Worth browsing the recruitment sections of as many advertising organizations as you can.
Job boards / employment agencies. Possible route, although, normally (but not always) they do look for people with at least a year’s experience (newspaper ads and trade magazines ads are, also, possibilities). Networking. As mentioned earlier on, work experience, is an important way for making contacts. Also, try and get out to the kind of places where advertising people hang out. Many people are, also, looking for jobs via social network sites such as Linked, and more.

 Updated: 27 May 2010

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One Comment

  1. Advertising art can be art of the highest quality. Advertising as a key communication tool has become pervasive. As advertising campaigns strive to break through the clutter, career opportunities for those with artistic ability as well as creative mindsets will be in demand.
    Viral Marketing


  1. Advertising Art Director - Career | IntegratedMarketing - [...] original here: Advertising Art Director - Career Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites …

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