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Job Description of an Art Director

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The art director, either at an agency or in a department of i company, is responsible for the visual component of an advertisement. Working with a copywriter and an account executive, the art director must find a way to portray graphically what the copywriter puts into words, what the account executive thinks the client wants, and what the client thinks will sell the product. Not an easy task.

The art director encounters a particular account at its inception is teamed with a copywriter, the art director meets with the account executive to establish such parameters as the client's needs, budget and time constraints, and the media to be utilized. Sometimes the copywriter has the copy prepared, leaving the art director to visualize it. But more often the creative team (copywriter and art director) sit down together to generate ideas for the advertisement. This is no tea party. It's a veritable. Mind-searching, gut-wrenching, 'Tm-not-sleeping-until-I-come-up-with-something," proposition. After identifying a theme for the advertisement, the art director draws up sketches that present the interpretation of the final advertisement. When satisfied with the concept, the creative team will present it to the creative supervisor for approval.

Once the advertisement's "rough draft" has been approved, steps e taken to produce the advertisement in its final form. In a large organization there may be in-house departments that handle the photography, pen-setting, printing, illustration, film production, or whatever is necessary. In smaller agencies, the art director hires free-lance professionals to perform these functions. In either case, the art director works closely with the various creative department support functions to ensure proper portrayal of the original idea.

The account people within the agency are obviously very important. They initially deal with the assignment, and sometimes they are asked to make the actual recommendation concerning what to do next.

They develop a strategy based on research and instinct and get client approval for their strategy. Then the creative people go to work to solve that strategy.

The creative process may seem straightforward enough, but the process is required for each account. Now, add any number of accounts, supply seemingly ridiculous time constraints, consider having to create original ideas time and time again, and throw in the possibility that the client might not like it the first three times, and you have a grasp of the fury of an art director.

Beyond the time and creativity pressures, a director can commonly feel conflict between what he or she thinks is artistically right and what the client thinks will sell the product. This causes the art director to walk the fine line between "selling out" in terms of artistic content and producing aesthetically pleasing art work that the client won't buy.

On the other hand, the reward of seeing your work in literally millions of homes is a satisfaction hard to equal.

What are some of the negative aspects of advertising?

A - You have to develop a tough skin, because whenever you present an idea, either it's very good or it stinks. I took it personally in the beginning. I'd go back to my office and pout and think, "O God, I can'1 do anything." You just learn that if this one didn't work, you've got to try something else.

It is a real unstable job. The way clients leave agencies is just amazing. One minute everything's fine, the next minute there is a purge and fifty people will be fired, but no one knows who it is going to be. That's why it's a good idea to keep your portfolio in shape.

It also gets frustrating when the clients don't know what they want and keep saying, "We don't like that. Do something else." So you do something else, and that can go on for months.

You go through dry spells where nothing seems to be selling, mind you can get real low at those times. You can go through a spell where you're flying a lot, and you're away from home a lot. It all comes down to trying to sell a product. When you weigh the importance of advertising in the big scheme of things, it's not that important. There is more pressure than there probably should be. It's not done to be cruel, it's just advertising.

One campaign I did won many awards, but that didn't mean anything to the client. He just wanted to sell his product. He was the third largest client that this agency had, and all he had to do was say he didn't like my work and didn't want me around. The agency played a little game where I still worked on the account, but the client was told that someone else was, because they wanted to keep this client. It was a $3 million account, and they decided to take care of him before they took care of me. I didn't like being a phantom art director.

It is very difficult to come up with great ideas that come from within you and then have them trampled on. Rarely does anything go through perfectly the way you designed it. That can be very frustrating. You could come up with "Coke is the real thing," and if you don't come up with another good idea, you could be out the door. You can come up with a great one, but, boy, you've got to keep producing them.

Q - What do you wear to work?

A - If I have a lot of art work to do, I just wear jeans, because I know I'm just going to make a mess. If I know that I have to meet with a client, then I wear a suit. If I'm on location, then I wear very casual clothes or jeans, depending on what has to be done on location that day. It depends on my day.
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