May 7, 2018

Which Role Do You Need to Hire: Creative Director or Art Director?

We miss Mad Men already. Who didn’t love those crazy advertising professionals, living back in a time when it was perfectly acceptable to take a nap in the middle of the day after a three-martini lunch? Don Draper seemed so cool and charming (at least for the first three seasons or so), and personified for so many what it means to be “Creative Director.” He was the man in charge.

But let’s not forget the rest of the staff. Two of our favorites were tragic Sal Romano and cool-guy Stan Rizzo. Yes, they both had interesting stories in and out of the office, but what’s particularly noteworthy is that they were the art directors for the fictional Sterling Cooper ad agency. Over the course of the show, we witnessed their artistic evolution, from working with pencils and tracing paper to a variety of mediums, including video, to produce dynamic finished products. They were the artists.

Both of these roles still exist today but when your marketing team is in need of one of them, how do you determine which is right for your business?

The Creative Director

Don Draper was the creative director for Sterling Cooper. Yes, he was an ideas man through and through, a genius at coming up with catchy slogans and inspired campaigns, but he did more than that. He was in charge of spearheading all branding strategy, which required him to oversee everything being presented to the client. Ultimately, that’s what a creative director handles: ensuring that the chosen strategy and art design supports the client’s needs.

The creative director sells the ideas to the client and handles the execution and follow-through of those ideas. They think through the entirety of the assignment, from conception to development to delivery of the finished project. Creative directors can serve as mentors for those working in their departments, unifying their teams and fostering a positive work environment. In short, the creative director, like Don Draper, is a leader. He or she leads the team in the task of successfully completing and implementing projects on behalf of the client.

The Art Director

It’s easy to confuse creative direction with art direction, but they are not the same. The difference between art direction and creative direction is in the scope of responsibilities. Art direction marries art and design to create a cohesive aesthetic and arouse a reaction from the consumer. By definition, an art director is focused solely on aesthetics, whereas a creative director will handle strategy, campaign execution, art direction, and more. A creative director may request a bold font to exude strength; an art director will know the names of the fonts that will work.

Once a strategy is approved, the art director implements the ideas set forth for the client. They sweat the smaller stuff that a creative director likely doesn’t have time for, such as color choices, fonts, kerning and spacing, and even creating the actual appearance of the finished product. Art directors might be in charge of a team of other creatives instead of a creative director, but they certainly have the talent to jump in there and create themselves. If the creative director is the manager of a baseball team, then the art director is the seasoned ballplayer who is now the third base coach.

Which Director Do You Need?

Depending on the size of your business, you may only need an art director. At smaller agencies and brands, it’s better to have someone who can jump in and get his or hands dirty if need be. An art director is typically someone who can fill the functions of both roles. If you have multiple large clients, then a creative director may be needed to manage the workload and guide clients in the right direction.

Chances are you’ll need a Sal or a Stan one way or the other, but not everyone will require a Don Draper. Consider the impact of filling such a position will have on your payroll, and what you can reasonably expect in return. As a general rule of thumb, it’s probably best to look for an art director who can also serve as an ambassador and mentor if your company is on the smaller side.

Perhaps of most importance, don’t expect that you’ll be able to outsource either of these positions and get the results you want. Whether you’re seeking a creative director to manage an entire department or company, or an art director to oversee the aesthetic direction of a project or marketing campaign, that person will need to be involved in all stages of the process. He or she needs to be present to provide guidance, criticism, motivation, and ideas.

(Mad Men character images via AMC website)

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