Art directors in advertising agencies form a crucial part of the creative team, which typically consists of an artist and a copywriter, the latter being responsible for the text of an advertising campaign, and the former for the pretty pictures and colours.
It is the creative team’s responsibility to produce an advertising campaign which is engaging and effective. Good art in advertising creates an impact without being obtuse or elaborate, following the old adage: ‘a picture is worth a thousand words!’
Advertising agencies no longer follow the traditional models of limiting advertisements to print or film media. To maintain a competitive edge, firms now offer a range of services, including media planning, promotional events, public relations and brand management.
There is, of course, an increasing focus on new age media outlets, such as the web, mobile communications, viral and social media marketing.
This comprehensive approach is now the industry norm, and so the art director has a wide range of responsibilities.
These include liaising and collaborating with the account management team and client representatives, brainstorming ideas and concepts with the creative team, preparing storyboards and sample campaigns for client approval and, once the client signs off on a particular campaign, making arrangements for creating the advertisement.
Salary & benefits
Starting salaries for entry-level and junior creative personnel range between £18,000 and £25,000, and are largely dependent on the type and location of the agency.
Tier One agencies (advertising agencies with blue-chip accounts and billings in six figures and above) can pay a little more.
Salaries tend to increase with experience and art directors with three or more years of creative experience can expect salaries between £25,000 and £50,000.
Senior creative professionals with a proven track record and a sizeable portfolio of campaigns can earn annual salaries up to £150,000 (this represents a small percentage of prolific award winners or those working in large, multinational agencies).
A few art directors may also choose to work as self-employed freelancers, but only once they have become well-established within advertising circles.
It’s not always a nine-to-five job; art directors often work late or on weekends and holidays, especially as campaign deadlines get closer or there’s a fussy client whose brief changes frequently.
Art directors work on several campaigns simultaneously, focussing their creative juices wherever budget and creative resources allow. The ability to multitask is therefore an absolute necessity.
Art directors mostly work in the office, but need to travel to meet clients or attend location shoots. They also undertake a fair amount of networking,attending industry and social events.
Senior professionals can expect to work remotely and have a number of junior creative personnel to carry out the more mundane and routine tasks, though only the Don Drapers can expect such luxuries!
Creative jobs in advertising agencies are open to anyone who can demonstrate ‘blue sky thinking’ when dealing with clients in a consumerist market.
While there are no specific academic requirements, it is preferable to have a background or work experience in visual art, graphics or digital software design as a starting point.
It is important to be able to demonstrate a keen interest and passion in the advertising and marketing industry. You’ll have to come up with samples of art and design work to fit client requirements, and you’ll get used to constantly refining your ideas as clients become more demanding with their advertising briefs.
Individual attributes such as flexibility, adaptability, self-motivation, attention to detail and resilience are key requirements. Additionally, a strong foundation in different types of advertising media – print, visual and digital – with technological tools and applications such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator are a must.
Training & progression
While there is no structured training programme required, agencies affiliated with professional associations, such as the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), need to provide their creative team employees with a specified number of Continued Professional Education courses (CPEs).
To a large extent, training is mostly self-driven and through professional and social networking opportunities.
Creative types such as art directors and copywriters are in great demand and professionals with several years of experience can expect to be headhunted aggressively or switch employers themselves.
Career progression tends to rely on a mixture of ability, a portfolio of successful campaigns, and the fortune of being partnered with talented copywriters and advertisers.