Creative Directors: What Do They Do? How Do I Become One?
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read

Jump to:

Creative directors hold exciting and lucrative executive-level positions with a wide range of responsibilities with book and magazine publishers, fashion houses, music video creators, computer game developers, and film production companies. Those responsibilities require a similar range of knowledge and experience gained over some years. But, acquiring that knowledge and expertise allows creative directors to work in many exciting and glamorous industries, including:

  • Advertising
  • Fashion
  • Film
  • Theater
  • Publishing
  • Music videos
  • Game design
  • Other areas of industrial design and branding

Whichever industry a creative director enters, their key responsibility is creating and maintaining an overall vision for the projects they pursue and for the end product. To achieve that goal, a creative director employs communication and leadership skills, knowledge of cultural history and pop culture, and an understanding of design principles, artistic techniques, persuasive communication, and technology.

Creative directors are Renaissance generalists; anything can serve as an inspiration, and a means to complete a project successfully. As you may have guessed by now, you could take many paths into this profession, and not all of them require a college degree.

What Is a Creative Director?

Creative Director

One way to understand the creative director role is to look at what a creative director does from the beginning of a project through to completion.

The first step in a project for a creative director is to meet with the person who needs the project completed. That may be a client, a fashion designer, a movie or television director or producer, a book or magazine publisher, a furniture designer, or a product manufacturer. The creative director learns about the project, the target audience, and the need or desire that the project is meant to fill.

Then, the creative director draws upon everything learned from the meeting and from all the knowledge and experience she has gained to create an overarching unified concept or plan that meets the project's goals.

The creative director then presents the concept, the budget, and the schedule for the project to those managing the project. A series of meetings may follow as the concept, budget, and schedule are refined.

Once a final version of the concept, schedule, and budget are approved, the creative director meets with the team or the leaders of the teams who will do the actual work. He or she conveys the concept for the project to them and brainstorms with the team to gather input for completing the project.

What Does a Creative Director Do While Working on a Project?

The creative director also establishes the schedule and budget for each part of the project. Another round of budget and scheduling discussions may ensue between team leaders and the creative director.

Some creative directors supervise the work without taking part directly and provide the team with the resources needed to produce high-quality work. The creative director also motivates the team and keeps the project in line with the concept, on budget, and on schedule (preferably under budget and ahead of schedule). Other creative directors with a particular area of expertise may participate in the work.

As the work continues, the creative director meets with those who requested the project to report on the team's progress, discuss any issues that might have come up, and see if any further changes need to be made to the concept or the project. When the work is completed, the creative director presents the finished project.

In some industries, creative directors may not have the luxury of working on one concept and project at a time. In the advertising, book publishing, and music video industries, the creative director may need to envision concepts for multiple projects, divide their time between them, and keep them all on schedule and on budget at the same time. So, in some industries, the role of creative director can be a stressful one.

Tips for Creative Direction

Tips for Creative Direction

As you can see, the position of a creative director combines both creative and business skills. For that reason, some who are interested in this career pursue an MBA. This is a competitive field, and the MBA may give some job candidates an edge.

However, in creative fields, skills developed through related work experience can outweigh a business degree or even formal training in art, graphic design, or communication. In-depth knowledge of art or music history and artistic skill and mastery of artistic techniques demonstrate an interest in and commitment to the artistic side of a creative director’s skill set. Well-developed abilities to focus on the needs of the target audience, persuade others, use social media, and an immersion in pop culture demonstrate an interest in people and the mastery of communication skills that a creative director needs.

Still, one report reviewed 3,000 postings for creative director positions over a one-year period. Ninety percent sought candidates with an undergraduate degree. On the other hand, 25 percent sought candidates with three to five years of experience in a creative field. Seventy percent preferred candidates with six or more years of experience.

Those already working as creative directors recommend pursuing a B.A. in fine arts, art history, graphic design, fashion design, industrial design, advertising, marketing and communication, or strategic communication.

Then, they recommend mastering a wide variety of creative skills that you may not have acquired while earning your degree. They also recommend spending time working in another country to have the chance to absorb different ideas about advertising, design, film, or whatever industry you want to enter.

Depending on the type of work you want to do as a creative director, useful skills could include:

Why You Should Continue to Develop and Market Your Skills


Having some mastery across a variety of skills will help you when you're talking to clients or others who want a project done. It may help you to come up with a concept, but it will also help you talk knowledgeably to your team about their work and how to bring your vision into reality.

Creative directors often kickstart their careers as photographers, content writers or copywriters, illustrators, graphic designers, or artists and slowly grow into the role of creative director.

As you gain experience, create a portfolio website to display your art or published writing and a portfolio that you can take to interviews. Display only your best work, and review the contents of your portfolio regularly to keep it current.

Pay particular attention to building your skills and your portfolio if you haven't earned a degree. In any creative field, portfolios that display highly individual, high-quality work often outweigh a degree.

Ideas for Networking and Marketing Your Skills: A Starter List

Keep mastering new skills, and network by:

  • Creating a LinkedIn profile and publishing LinkedIn articles
  • Promoting your work on Tik Tok, Instagram, or YouTube
  • Posting on Facebook and Twitter
  • Submitting artwork or articles for publication in print or online
  • Entering your work in competitions
  • Attending industry conferences, workshops, and events
  • Attending art fairs, especially juried art fairs
  • Scheduling an exhibition of your work
  • Offering to speak at meetings of local organizations
  • Teaching an in-person or online class

Or, get creative and brainstorm other ideas yourself.

Always be ready to explain your work with an "elevator speech." If you're job hunting or prospecting for clients, pay attention to the other person's interest level as you give your speech. That person might not have any interest. But, she might be a future prospect.

Give a possible future prospect your business card, and stay in touch. Every six weeks or so, send an email sharing information you think will be of interest. If you find an immediate prospect, though, schedule a phone call or a meeting over coffee within a day or two to discuss how your skills meet their needs.

Summing Up Your Career as a Creative Director

Summing Up Your Career as a Creative

If you're a creative person who loves constantly expanding your skills and guiding your concepts for a project into creation, a career as a creative director may be perfect for you.

You’re rewarded for continuing to grow as an artist, communicator, and leader. You’ll be working in exciting, creative fields like film, fashion, advertising, book and magazine publishing, and computer game development.

Of course, when you're faced with multiple deadlines, it can be hectic, but it also provides opportunities to travel, try out new ideas, and surround yourself with a team of other creative people.

For more information on becoming a creative director, check out some of our latest classes on Daisie.