The World According to Creative Directors

Published: 18 October 2016 By Creative Review

Do you aspire to reach the top of your profession someday? Jada Balster, Marketing Director EMEA at Workfront, shows you what things look like from the typical Creative Director’s seat.

The World

So many ambitious young graphic designers and creatives dream of the day that they’ll occupy the Creative Director’s office – calling the shots, selecting the winning comps, brainstorming the high-level concepts and leaving the grunt work to junior staff. No more boring production work or copy-editing tasks. No more executing on someone else’s vision.

Achieving that Creative Director title – it’s surely the ticket to the good life. But does the reality measure up to the fantasy?

We wanted to find out, so we partnered with Mighty Guides to survey 457 creative directors who work at agencies or companies with 500 or more employees. Here are four of our key findings.

1. Third of Creative Directors Can’t Get No Satisfaction

While 66% consider themselves at least somewhat happy in their jobs, 22% say they’re somewhat unsatisfied, and 12% are very unsatisfied. We found this result surprising, given that so many creative professionals aspire to this role for years and years.

It’s important to acknowledge, however, that today’s creative industry is vastly different from what it was 15 or 20 years ago. The speed of work, the number of communication platforms, and customer expectations have skyrocketed in ways nobody could have predicted.

2. Lack of Creative Time and Resources Plague CDs

As you mature in your career, your ability to do hands-on work becomes less important than your ability to manage other people while they do the hands-on work. It’s the natural progression of things.

But that doesn’t make it easy to let go of your first love – whether it be designing or writing or video production – in order to spend more time managing people, overseeing processes, and troubleshooting problems.

    Of the top five challenges Creative Directors face, the number one was ‘not enough time for creativity’

Of the top five challenges CDs face, the number one answer by a large margin was ‘not enough time for creativity’, likely due to the factors listed above. A full 50% of respondents struggle with this. Other challenges include:

  • Not enough resources (team members): 30%
  • Too many interruptions and distractions: 26%
  • Chaotic request and intake methods: 26%
  • Difficult client behaviours: 23%

3. CDs Spend Less than 40% of Their Time Being Creative

We know that half of CDs feel that they don’t have enough time for creativity. But what exactly does that look like?

In any given week, the average CD spends 60% of their time attending meetings, reading and answering emails, performing administrative tasks, and dealing with interruptions, among other distractions, leaving just 40% for the coveted creative work.

    In any given week, the average Creative Directors spends 60% of their time attending meetings

This means the ‘creative’ half of the job title fills about 16 hours out of every 40 – or two complete workdays – while the ‘director’ half comprises the other three days. Those who are aspiring to be a CD someday best learn to find at least a little bit of enjoyment in leadership and administrative work.

4. Almost Half of Creative Directors Double as Project Managers

A surprising number of CDs (42%) say they double as project managers for their team, while just 21% rely on project or operation managers (also called traffic managers). This could explain where some of those administrative tasks are coming from.

Of course, as org charts continue to flatten, marketing and creative professionals of all stripes are finding themselves in ‘accidental project manager’ roles, often enabled by project management software. 72% of CDs say they’re more productive because of such software. Without it, they’d either have to have a project manager on staff, or they’d have to say goodbye to even more of their creative time.

If you’re a creative director now, your options for being happier in your day-to-day work boil down to two broad choices:
a. learn to love your leadership role – and everything that comes with – as much as you love being creative, or b. reduce distractions like email and meetings in order to increase your creative time above that abysmal 40% figure. Both are well within reach, especially with the right project management software at your fingertips, which can streamline processes, increase collaboration, reduce administrative busy work, and leave you with more time for the work you love most.

If you’re still aspiring to be a CD, go in with your eyes wide open and a willingness to address common challenges, and you’ll have a much better chance of counting yourself among the ‘very satisfied’.


Read Workfront’s full in-depth report into life as a Creative Director

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