What Makes a Great Art Director?

7 Powerful Traits of Successful Art Directors at Ad Agencies

Not everybody is destined to work his or her way up toward becoming an art director. It takes a special kind of person to be successful in advertising agencies. If you want to be a successful art director you need to make sure you adopt these essential traits:

1. Self-Confidence

To be successful in a creative agency, you need to believe in yourself. How is your boss going to believe you are ready for a promotion if you don’t think you are yourself? Make sure that you are confident in every project you work on, and every assignment you turn in. Confidence will be seen, and will help you get where you want to go in life.

Secret Weapon:

Don’t let personal attacks push you down and damage your self-confidence. If you happen to be attacked, stay strong and shrug off any anger. See it as an opportunity to grow.

If a co-worker complains about your work, be professional and find out why you have been attacked. Once you understand the feedback, train yourself and grow your capabilities. The next time, don’t be shy to let people know you’ve improved. This process of growing will help you gain more respect and build confidence.

Expert Quote

“You need to trust your gut and fight for what you believe in. If you have an idea you really believe [in], don’t let your boss kill it just because he has a different opinion. Opinions don’t matter; you just need the right arguments. But don’t get overly attached to it either. You need to give it your all, but also know your limits.”

Maria Cardoso, Senior Art Director, United Digital Group

2. The Ability to Learn

Creative agencies can be huge networks. In large corporations respect is earned, not given. At the beginning of your career you might not get the recognition, or the respect, that you crave. But, if you learn from your superiors, and take all advice with a grain of salt, you can easily rise to the top.

Curiosity is what differentiates good art directors from the amazing ones. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Stay foolish. Find out why certain things work, and why other things don’t. Curiosity will help you benefit the most from the social environment that an agency poses.

Curiosity is what differentiates good art directors from the amazing ones. Click To Tweet
Be curious and stay foolish!
Be curious and stay foolish!

3. Stress-Resistance

In case you haven’t already realized, being a creative at a creative agency is no easy job. Creatives in ad agencies are often overworked. Account managers keep doing their job reeling in more and more clients. This puts a lot of pressure on the creatives to work longer and faster to meet deadlines. You need to be comfortable with working hard for long hours if you want to succeed as an art director at an ad agency.

At the same you need to be somewhat stress-resistant. Creatives work in a high-pressured environment jam-packed with deadlines, projects, and needy clients. In order to succeed in a creative agency, art directors need to be able to handle the stress that comes along with the job.

4. Ability to Think Outside the Box

As a creative, this should go without saying. You need to make sure that you are trying your best to create unique, successful projects. Remember, at an agency you can use your colleagues and superiors to help foster your creative success.

Expert Quote

“There are two kinds of people in the world. Left brainers and right brainers. Companies are run by and dominated by left brainers, verbal, logical, analytical. Right brainers, on the other hand, are visual, intuitive and holistic. Exactly the type of person that advertising agencies need to recruit.”

Al Ries, Best-Selling Author and Chairman at Ries & Ries

Can you think outside the box?
Can you think outside the box?

5. Excellent Communication

Ad agencies are in the communication sector. To be successful at a creative agency you need to be a good communicator. This means you should always be seeking to build relationships with clients, co-workers, superiors, and everyone else that is of concern to you. Extroverts generally thrive in agencies, because of their need for social interaction.

6. Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking is a central pillar of successful advertising campaigns. Besides instinct and intuition, excellent art directors think strategically. They draw a tactical plan to achieve the campaign objectives.

In advertising, strategic plans are often formulated as creative briefs. Find out how to create persuasive creative briefs with this creative brief checklist and this creative brief template.

Expert Quote

“I think creative professionals need to train their strategic thinking, since the implementation of ideas becomes more and more important. Even though you don‘t necessarily create a strategy yourself, it helps you to prioritize, focus and sell your idea internally and externally.”

Lennard Niemann, Creative Director, Head of Art & Design, Serviceplan

 7. Capacity for Teamwork

If you aim for a leading position in an ad agency, you need social skills. Scott Wilms sees leadership skills as a necessity for the position of a creative director:

Expert Quote

“You should be able to inspire great work and at the same time be able to have a team and clients follow you. It’s all about the team; your ego should be put aside. When your team shines, so will you.”

Scott Wilms, Creative Director at RED TOX

Put your ego aside and lead your team!
Put your ego aside and lead your team!

Conclusion and Key Points

Thousands of people apply for art director positions every year, but only a select few will thrive. It’s important to do your research before taking a job in a creative agency. Not only should you do effective research on the job that you are signing up for, but also it’s important to read up on that specific agency’s culture. Agency culture can be the difference between loving coming to work every day, and dreading every second of it. Now with all the traits in mind, do you have what it takes to work at a creative agency?

Key Traits to Succeed at a Creative Agency

  1. Bring Some Confidence
    • How is your boss going to believe you are ready for a promotion if you don’t think you are yourself?
  2. Ability to Learn
    • If you learn from your superiors, and take their advice with a grain of salt, you can rise to the top.
  3. Stress-Resistance
    • There is a lot of work that goes into being an agency creative. Stay on top of your work and reap the benefits, or don’t and fail.
  4. Think Outside the Box
    • Make sure that you are trying your best to create unique successful projects.
  5. Demonstrate Communication Skills
    • Seek to build relationships with clients, coworkers, and superiors.
  6. Think strategically
    • What’s your tactical plan to achieve your objectives?
  7. Put your ego aside
    • Train your leadership skills and inspire your team.

What do you think is the most important trait for creatives? What does it take to be a successful art director? We at Filestage are looking forward to your comments.

If you want to read more about ad agencies, you should check: 29 Surprising Facts About The Agency Business and The Ultimate Ad Agency Personality Test: Picasso or Peter Pan, What Type Are You?

Passionate about communications and client relations. He loves to dig into behavioral economics to uncover the irrationality in our daily behavior.

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