So, what do you do?

Isn’t this the big question… I look at my role as creative director as equal parts creative vision, quality control, and cheerleading. Working with the designers and copywriters that make up our creative team, I help establish our strategic and creative plan for all projects that come through the agency.

It’s my job to balance the 10,000-foot view, making sure our creative output is a home run for clients, with peering down the microscope to make sure our work meets the creative standards we’re known for. Whether we’re on the right track or not, I try my damnedest to act as a cheerleader along the way to getting us where we need to be. That last part is something I am constantly focused on doing better.

What does a typical day or (if there isn’t a typical day) week look like for you?

Since we’re essentially project-based service providers, no two days are exactly alike. The basic building blocks of my day are still creative strategy, quality control, and cheerleading, but how those blocks come together changes from project to project. Any given day can include a mix of creative brainstorming, project check-ins, reviews, proofing, presentations, and meetings. I attend a lot of meetings…

What are the most important skills/ experience when it comes to succeeding in your role?

As a recent convert to creative director, I will say the skill set is one I can always be improving. In the creative marketing world, you essentially go from being a doer to being a manager of other doers. Your talents as a doer quickly become only about 50% of the real skills you need to be successful. That other 50% is a broader mix of people skills, managerial know-how, and awareness of disciplines outside your own (in my case, as a copywriter, that’s needing to quickly get your head around being a designer, for example).

What’s the best part of your job?

The collaboration. Nothing about a finished product in advertising or marketing could even remotely be mistaken for a one-person show. It’s writers, designers, art directors, creative directors, web programmers, account people, and clients working together to achieve big things for brands. It just can’t be done alone. And no one should want to. Working with that many different creative perspectives is how you not only produce the best work, it’s how you grow as a creative yourself.

What’s the not-so-best part of your job?

The reality checks. It’s easy for me to paint this picture of a bunch of wild-eyed creatives coming up with cool designs and clever headlines that do wonders for clients. But, the truth is that sometimes what you think are the best ideas get killed. Or the creative, as good as it might be, isn’t enough to solve your client’s problems. It’s hard because your ideas become your babies and you want to see them thrive out in the real world.

What’s a typical compensation range for someone in this role?

Creative Director and Associate Creative Director salaries can range pretty widely depending on the size of the agency and the size of the market you work in. In Chicago, where I am, it could easily be anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000 or more depending on the variables I mentioned and your years of experience.

What are 1-2 pieces of advice someone in breaking into this kind of job would need to know?

Since creative direction comes as a graduation from of art or copy direction, this advice would go out to copywriters and designers who are starting to think about what comes after being a content creator.

Piece of advice No. 1 would be to always keep that future in the back of your mind. Think holistically about every project you work on. What is the client goal? What is the creative goal? How does my work fit into that? How does the work of the rest of the team fit in? When you make the leap to directing the creative team, you have to have a clear picture of how all the parts should work together.

Piece of advice No. 2 would be to hone your perspective and hone your voice. You’ll need both to help steer the creative team to do amazing, original work and then steer your clients to appreciate just how amazing (and effective) that work is.

What should people know about your job or industry?

If you’re not a business person that is involved in marketing or advertising decisions, I feel like my industry can be a bit of a mystery. When I used to tell people I was a copywriter, they would hear copyrighter and think I was an intellectual property rights lawyer. Designers have it a bit easier, but for them I think the uninitiated think you just sit around and make pretty things all day.

There’s so much business strategy, psychology, and artistic creativity that goes into what we do. It might seem like we’re just having fun, but our industry is secretly shaping the public’s perception of every good that is bought and sold around the world. We influence culture. We influence business. It’s crazy to think about what we cook up—and it’s something we take seriously.

What do you eat for breakfast, and what do you wish you could eat for breakfast?

I have a banana, apple, blueberry, and spinach smoothie for breakfast five days a week and have for about five years now. I’m like Steve Jobs and black turtlenecks, except about breakfast. Most days, I’d probably rather be having a fresh everything bagel with lox though. No question.

Nora Philbin

Nora is a co-founder of Happy Spectacular, which she still can't really believe, and she's on a lifelong quest for the world's best cheeseburger (applicants accepted).