One of the questions we get quite often is “What exactly does a creative director do?”
That’s understandable. To most clients, it’s obvious what agency writers do — they write. And designers? They design. But, unless you’re in the agency business, it’s not immediately obvious where a creative director fits into the services offered by an agency.
For our second installment in our series of blogs about how all the work here actually gets done, we slipped a few questions into one of our regular morning coffee clutches with our creative director, Joe Aragona. Although he tried to dodge the impromptu interview, claiming nobody would really want to read about creative direction, we kept him in the kitchen just long enough to get a few nuggets for this blog.
Q: The best place to start is probably the start! So, what does a creative director really do?
A: Well, that depends on who you’re talking to. The role can include a lot of things and the answer is going to vary depending on the agency.
In our process, the creative director is the client’s representative on our team and the team’s representative to the client. It’s the creative director’s job to oversee the big picture for the client and the agency and make sure that what we deliver is always aligned with the client’s overall marketing strategy.
The creative director ensures that all the marketing pieces fit together the way they should and that they all line up with the client’s branding, messaging, and positioning across all marketing tactics, whether we’re working on the content for a white paper, the design of a website, or the content of social media posts. The creative director is responsible for making sure that everything we deliver fits with what the client expects and with the brand identity, and that it’s the best approach to each project at all times.
Q: Let’s take a small example. Why is a creative director needed to oversee or be involved in, say, writing a white paper?
A: No single project is a standalone activity. Every project fits within a broader marketing strategy. So, the writer’s job is to listen to what subject matter experts have to say, structure a white paper based on that information, and deliver engaging content based on effective writing principles.
The creative director’s job is to ensure that the work being produced is not only top-quality writing, but that it also properly integrates with other content that has already been produced for the client or that is scheduled to be produced after the white paper is delivered. Beyond that, the creative director makes sure all that content fits with what the client needs for all content marketing, that the messages are on brand, that the voice is consistent with the brand identity, that the design of the paper is to brand standards, and more.
In other words, the creative director ensures all marketing tactics are effective as standalone activities — and as part of the bigger program.
Q: You often like to use movie set metaphors to get a point across. Would that be applicable here in saying, for instance, that our agency’s creative director is like the director of a movie?
A: That’s actually a really good way to put it. Let’s run with that for a second. There are, of course, exceptions, but on a movie set, the director is really fulfilling the same role. He or she doesn’t spend all of his or her time doing one thing or the other. Operating a camera, designing costumes, building sets, directly working with the actors, and things like that takes a whole team of people, and many of the people on the team are dedicated to one or two things only.
However, the director will be involved to a high degree in every aspect of the overall project. It’s the director’s job to use his or her expertise, experience, and creative eye to keep all of these elements on the right track to the end goal. And of course, they need to understand how to manage a team to get there.
In this example, the end goal is to create a great movie. In our case, the goal is to deliver great marketing.
Q: So, the creative director needs to have experience and expertise in all areas of marketing?
A: Again, this is different depending on the agency and what they do, but in our case the short answer is, yes. The creative director at an agency like ours needs to have experience and a level of expertise across the full range of integrated marketing. In cases where they may not be the expert in a certain field, they need enough expertise and experience to manage and guide the activities involved.
Design is a good example of this for many creative directors. They may not be formally trained graphic designers and design is not their main area of expertise. However, over the course of many years they may have worked in a variety of positions where they have managed design teams, or managed marketing departments with design teams, or directed the work of designers and design agencies. That experience has allowed them to develop the level of expertise needed to get the best out of a design team, keep designs on brand, and ensure that the design reinforces the right image of the brand — while at the same time being creative enough to get the attention of the target audience.
With that experience and similar experiences with advertising, public relations, content marketing, and marketing strategy, the creative director is able to oversee and direct designers as their part relates to the overall integrated marketing process.
Q: So, that’s the secret sauce?
A: [Laughs] Yes, that’s the secret sauce that makes good creative direction — when it is informed by a combination of experience and expertise that can be channeled to consistently deliver great marketing strategies, great writing, and great design as a complete package that meets a client’s marketing objectives.