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How an Art Director Deals with its Agency

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Q - With whom in the agency do you have contact?

A - I deal primarily with the copywriter. When things are actually being produced, I spend a lot of time with the producer. When concepts are trying to be sold to the client, I spend a lot of time with the account people. When new things are being developed, I spend a tiny bit of time with my creative director, trying to sell it. I spend a little bit of time with the junior teams on the accounts.

There is a production department in the agency, which is applicable to both print and television. In television the executive producer, who is the head of the production line, assigns a producer to handle your job. You work very closely with the person. The producer makes sure the bids are sent out and does all the paper work and organization that have to be done to make the commercial happen.

Q - What do you enjoy about your job?

A - Particularly in my line of work, I enjoy seeing the tangible results of my work, whether it happens to be display material, a nice package, or whatever.

It's one of the few jobs in which you have something to show for all your effort; you have your book and your portfolio. That's a real nice piece of security in an insecure job.

Once you start flowing and you win one and everyone hears you've got a great campaign, you're on such a roll that the ideas keep coming. It's rarely happens that after one great idea you're fresh out c good ideas. Everything starts coming, you're on a roll, and your mind is into.

Advertising is known for weekend work and staying very late You stay until it's done. But after it's all done and the client loves it everyone rejoices. I mean absolutely rejoices! You've sold another one and your career moves on and up because it's recognized that you did it

There are moments when you come up with a terrific idea. It doesn't happen very often, maybe three times a year, but that is really exciting. I love working on public service campaigns. When you work on things like that, it's the greatest feeling because you're bringing in people and helping build the business of a nonprofit organization. I like doing that. I like the conceptualization of the idea and seeing it completed. Although sometimes it so happens that I do get impatient toward the end.

There is a great deal of satisfaction in putting something together and then actually being able to say, "I did that." It's great, especially for your mom. She calls all the relatives and says, "Be sure to watch the 6:00 news for my son's commercial."

Q - What skills are important to art directors?

A - There once was a time when, if you could draw, that was all that was needed. Now art directors are more conceptual. That's a talent that is hard to define.

You don't have to be able to draw to be an art director. I know a lot of people who just draw stick figures, but they know what they're looking for. I think it helps to have a design background. Take some design classes in school and learn about balance, typefaces, and things like that.

It doesn't hurt an art director at all to learn to write. That helps quite a bit.

An M.B.A. really isn't helpful. In fact, it's just over-education. It's terrific to have an M.B.A., but I don't know of any people in the creative department who have one.

Having a sense of humor is the most important thing. Even though you can get mired down in the day-to-day frustrations, your sense of humor can help you keep things in perspective. Otherwise you end up dealing with minutia and you lose the overall view of thing. That's how things get fouled up.

Being able to communicate accurately is probably the most important skill in any business. With good art skills, you can have goo designs, but without good communication skills, you may not be able t sell those designs.

You're hired on your ideas. There are a lot of art directors who really can't draw that well. As an art director, I will rough things out, but I always hire an illustrator to do the final product or a photographer to do the final photo.

You have to have good taste and be able to recognize talent because you have to hire so many people, like photographers and illustrators. You have to know design. You have to be able to draw a little, it doesn't have to be fine art, but you have to be able to rough out you ideas. You should know a lot about photography and be able to recognize a good photo.

Q - Do you have any advice for someone looking for a career as an art director?

A Your first year is real hard, because you just feel so out of it People are using words you've never heard before, and you feel like the first mistake you make will cost you your job. The best thing to do is just to keep the lines of communication open with everyone, including the creative director, because there are sometimes going to be weeks when you can't come up with an idea and you want to quit. You have to be willing to ask people for help. The worst thing you can do is to hole up in your office and sit there. I did that for a while; you don't get very much done.

It's a real male-oriented field. It doesn't really matter in the beginning, everybody accepts you as you are, and you all do the same type of work. Most of the companies are run by men who aren't willing to turn over responsibilities to women. So you don't get any responsibilities.

If you want real competition but little opportunity to get ahead very fast, go to New York or Los Angeles or Chicago. There are lots more people looking for a job. So it makes it take longer to get anywhere. You may be pasting up advertisements a couple years longer before you're are an art director. If you want a smaller town, go to places like Cleveland, Baltimore, Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas.

The best way to get into it is to develop a portfolio, either through school or just on your own, and run around to agencies and show them your book. You should include about fifteen strong pieces with at least one campaign including magazine and newspaper advertisements, TV boards, and billboards, all dealing with one product. The rest should be your best magazine or newspaper advertisements or TV boards.
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