At some point, most corporations toy with the idea of transforming their in-house production team into a full-fledged in-house agency. Success requires more than a new vision statement and a cool logo--although those definitely help! One critical element that can fuel real change is a new organization featuring retooled roles, starting with the head honcho: the Creative Director.

According to the AIGA, the professional association for design, the in-house Creative Director is the "head of design for a business unit or company, responsible for strategy, integration, and execution of design activities."

In general, this role is responsible for leading a team, developing creative guidelines, and directing creative work, whether for print or online. Creative Directors oversee the creative team, including copywriters, designers, and account managers, to make sure client needs and creative goals are met. CDs conceptualize ideas, assign projects, verify deadlines are being met, and often present work to clients.

Creative Directors must be great leaders who can maximize the talents of their teams. The best Creative Directors know how designers work--what makes them tick-- and how to help them get better. It's about making space, inspiration and enough real-world discipline to make sure work actually gets done--on time, within budget, and up to standards. Creative Directors are able to recognize a great concept in a poor design and coach designers to reach the potential of the concept. Other critical non-design duties include managing a budget and participating in corporate strategic planning.

At the end of the day, the proverbial buck stops at the Creative Director's desk--for both successes and failures.

The AIGA reports that the average salary for In-House Creative or Design Director in 2014 is $77,000 a year.[1] This number is not adjusted for location and is pretty low--potentially due to some watering down of the title at organizations. There are times when the CD title is given, but the role is not as robust as you would see in other organizations. Another salary guide puts the CD range between 92K-177K, which is more in line with the level of CD this post is advocating. To attract the best candidates, you will need to put together a package that offers creative growth and autonomy, professional development, and an environment that nurtures talent and rewards appropriate risk-taking. With the right CD on board, you have an important element in place to take your in-house team to new heights.

Don't confuse Creative Director with the Head of Creative Services. Yes, they are often the one and same, but not always. It takes a strong services leader to recognize she may not have the creative chops to take the team to the next level creatively. However the Creative Services Manager or CS Director role is still important and can co-exist with the Creative Director.

What's It Take to Be a CD?
Creative Directors come from all backgrounds, with degrees in art, graphic design, marketing, communications, film, or journalism. However, more important than a degree is practical experience and a diverse skill set:

  • Excellent leadership skills. The best Creative Directors hire really talented people and let them take risks and do great work.
  • Exceptional listening skills. Great creative directors really listen to their clients.
  • Outstanding communication skills
  • Comfortable interacting with clients and internal staff
  • An intimate understanding of design, copy, and web best practices/guidelines
  • A strong understanding of brand development and multichannel marketing concepts
  • Experience with a variety of software
  • Willingness to work long hours