MediaBeacon Blog

13 Steps To Become A Successful Creative Director

If you ever watched the hit television show Mad Men, then you know that back in the 60s it was possible to work your way up to creative director through simply yelling at assistants, drinking an Old Fashioned in their office all day, and sleeping on the couch when they were too hungover from the night before. At least, that’s the Hollywood version, as personified by the show’s main character, Don Draper.

Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), those days are long gone and to be a successful creative director, it’ll take much more than a few stiff drinks and waiting around until you have an epiphany.

To help you out on your journey to becoming a great creative director, make sure that you follow these seven key steps.

As a Young, Professional Creative:

1. Gain Experience and Find Mentors

As we just alluded to, in today’s world you won’t be promoted to creative director as easily as Don Draper. Instead, you’ll have to work your way through the ranks. Most creative director positions require 7-10 years of experience. Make sure that you use this time to learn everything you can about the creative industry, which includes finding a mentor. By speaking with someone who has more experience and knowledge than you within the creative field, your knowledge and expertise will grow faster.

Creative team meeting

2. Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Brainstorm Session

When you’re stuck in a rut creatively, pull as many people as you can into one room and try one of these helpful creative exercises. Don’t be afraid to try something a little different and mix things up. When it comes to shifting consumer preferences in an evolving marketing landscape, sometimes you need to start by taking a trip down the rabbit hole to get to the really creative ideas.

3. Be Approachable, Accessible, and Willing to Learn From Mistakes

Branching off the last step, being approachable and accessible is key to creating the type of environment where creatives thrive. For an example of how not to act as a creative director, look no further than the evil Dr. Kelso from the television series Scrubs, who doesn’t make time for the team and berates them when they are wrong.

You should try to make your schedule flexible so that you can meet with your team whenever issues arise. Being approachable is a huge part of your success as a creative director. Creatives love working in areas where they are encouraged to speak up and give their point of view. Always be willing to listen and even learn, especially after mistakes or failed campaigns. Taking stock of what went wrong and what went well will help you grow as a creative.

As a Creative Director:

4. Trust Those Around You

If you become a creative director, the VP of marketing or CEO has trusted you as the best person for the job. You will likely have a team of other talented creatives who are excellent at their positions. It’s important that you extend the trust of your superiors to those below you. Whereas some creative directors are inclined to do everything themselves or shut down ideas that they don’t agree with immediately. A workplace environment like this will not foster any creativity or encourage your team to think outside the box, which is what creatives should be doing. So, trust your team. They are talented individuals, and even if you don’t agree on everything, it will help bring forth new, innovative ideas.

5. Hire People Who Excel in Areas You Don’t

Hiring a good candidate

No matter what our position is, we all have certain areas that we are exceptional at and that got us the job in the first place. However, we all also have areas that we could improve on as well. Sure, you can spend extra time improving yourself (and you should by the way), but you can also fill these skill gaps by hiring someone who excels in the area that you don’t. For example, let’s say you have trouble understanding a specific demographic, say 18-24-year-olds. It would be wise to hire someone on your team who has worked extensively with that demographic at a previous position to improve your team.

6. Staying On-Brand and Consistent

One of the most challenging aspects of a creative position is to make sure that everything across the board for a brand is consistent. With many different logos, color palettes, and other creative assets to keep track of, it can be a handful. BUT HAVE NO FEAR, MEDIABEACON IS HERE!!! Digital asset management (DAM) tools like MediaBeacon help you store, manage, and track your digital assets so every department has access to the approved images and videos they need to be consistent with their messaging.

7. Avoid the Burn Out (For Team and Yourself)

In the United States, we are big fans of working. In fact, the U.S. is one of the most overworked developed nations in the world. For creatives, this isn’t always a good thing. When your team and yourself are pressed for ideas and need to come up with answers quick, the result will be lower quality campaigns and strategies. Make sure to dedicate the necessary time to each client or strategy and don’t take on too much in a short amount of time.

The creative director position and others in the creative department should be less of a burnout and more of a productive, yet laid-back, environment. That doesn’t mean you won’t have those weeks where crunch-time is all the time, but try and make sure that the workflow is steady but not overly rushed.

8. Watch Shia LaBeouf’s “Just Do It” Video Every Day for the Rest of Your Life

No matter what it is you’re trying to be in life, whether you’re aspiring to be a creative director, a doctor, or a football player, this is a must-watch video.

Seeing the actor from such classic films as, “Holes,” “The Even Stevens Movie,” and “Surf’s Up” furiously encourage you to make your dreams come true is enough to make you want to run through ten brick walls. 

Sometimes, the hardest part about being a creative is breaking through the occasional creative block. Within the first couple of viewings of this inspirational speech, you’ll be well on your way to the next groundbreaking campaign. 

9. Set Your Alarm to the Rocky Theme Song and Go Through Your Day in a Montage Format

Ask any successful creative director and they’ll tell you the same thing. The day they took the next step in their career — from being a junior creative to a senior director — they did so by going through their own montage of them just straight up crushing it. 

Look to the movies to illustrate that the montage is one of the only ways to take that giant leap — where one goes from student to master. 

Rocky is the obvious one, but there are so many more. School of Rock, Mulan, The Karate Kid, and Cool Runnings all have fantastic montage sequences. 

To conduct your own montage, hire a band to follow you around work all day to play dramatic music. Also, make sure to transition to different rooms using quick cuts, with the final cut being a gradual fade transition to illustrate the passage of time. 

By the end of your montage, you’ll be a creative savant! 

10. Keep a Log of Your Most Successful Ideas

When you are in one of those pesky creative funks, sometimes it helps to go through some of your past work to draw inspiration.

By keeping a thorough log of your best work — including the details behind the project like what it was for and why it worked so well — you can page through your log and get those creative juices flowing. 

You could even keep a section of some of your ideas that maybe didn’t work out so well. It’s important to keep track of specifically why you believe these ideas didn’t work (i.e. the message wasn’t right for the target demographic, the medium to convey the message wasn’t the right choice, etc.). 

After all, as the late great Bob Ross once said, “As long as you’re learning, you’re not failing.” 

11. Continue to Learn

The biggest mistake you can make once you attain the position you have been working towards your whole life is to become content with where you’re at. Just because you finally secured that corner office doesn’t mean you should discontinue the work ethic that got you there. 

You should continue to absorb new information about industry trends and tactics to learn how to best communicate your messages to your target market. The world is always changing and your customers are as well. Make sure that you stay up-to-date on everything you need to know to keep kicking butt at your job. In other words, stay hungry and never be satisfied. 

12. Give the Creatives Under You the Space to Do Great Work

You know what it’s like to have someone be too overbearing when it comes to your work. Showing current drafts when they are not ready for someone else’s eyes can be daunting.

In fact, creatives typically don’t like showing what they are working on until it is ready to be presented. So, asking early on how everything is coming along and if you can sneak a peek is a no-no. Instead, ask for progress more often than asking to actually see the work. They’ll come to you when they want your eyes on something and need some advice. 

However, you should still be able to see the work before it gets too far along and the direction isn’t right — as this will lead to costly reworks and revisions. 

Give your team specific dates where you want to see the physical work to see how it is coming along. That way, they won’t be caught off guard by having to present what they have so far. 

13. Be Positive and Be Kind

Everyone has had one boss during their time working that they just plain didn’t enjoy working for. Whether it was your first job in high school, your first job out of college, or just a boss somewhere along the road, we’ve all been there. 

The thing about bosses who are mean and negative towards their employees, is that they don’t exactly bring out the best work in their employees or inspire them to strive for greatness. Instead, they usually just end up driving people out of the company. 

Always remember: be kind and be positive when it comes to working with your team. And, remember what it was like when you were in their position and how having a positive mentor in your life helped you along the way.