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Hiring a Creative Director

creative director talking to team

If you’re in the market for a new creative director, then you know how intimidating and difficult the search process can be. Regardless of whether or not you’ve hired this type of talent in the past, each recruitment push for a creative director is unique.

Part of the difficulty of hiring these creatives comes from a lack of uniformity in the position. By their very nature these professionals are, well, creative–and creativity is unique. Therefore, it’s hard to find even two creative directors who are cut from the same cloth.

That said, this doesn’t mean that you should be heading into this talent search blind. While each candidate you encounter will be unique in his or her own right, the best creative directors do tend to share some important qualities.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at some common questions you might be asking yourself as you begin this talent search, and we’ll take a look at some of the most important qualities you should be seeking in your next hire.

With that in mind, let’s start with the basics.

The Role of the Creative Director

Role of Creative Director
In the past, unless you were a major fashion brand or ran an agency, chances are you weren’t in the market for a creative director.

And this makes a lot of sense, given the creative director’s role. While each company will staff and rely on this position differently, for the most part creative directors are senior-level managers who oversee the production and quality of all creative assets a company or a brand puts out. Prior to the internet boom, few businesses had the resources or need for an in-house creative director–which helps explain their primary role in agencies that took on this outsourced workload.

However, in the information age where everyone is a publisher and every company needs a digital presence, the need for creative directors has ballooned and the types of businesses hiring these creatives has greatly diversified.

Today, you’re just as likely to see a 50-person startup searching for a creative director as you are to see a major corporation like Apple, Walmart or Google. Further, these professionals are no longer concentrated in the advertising and fashion spaces–rather, they’re finding work today in verticals like entertainment, media and web development, among others.

Essentially, if you have a client-facing brand and you’re committed to your marketing, PR and outreach efforts, you might find yourself searching for a creative director.

The Challenges of Hiring a Creative Director

There are a number of reasons it can be difficult to find, attract, engage and hire a creative director.

First and foremost, this role is often a senior-leadership position. Talent searches can be difficult for specialized talent at any level, but senior level is particularly tough. Which brings us to the second most common reason for a tough talent search and that’s culture.

Creative directors need to mesh with their existing team, adapt to the established company culture and co-exist with the management style of the senior-leadership team.

Couple that with tightening talent markets where job seekers have their pick of gigs, and you could be in for a long talent search. With that in mind, you’ll want to make sure that when you do eventually make it to the interview stage, you’re ready to quickly identify the best candidate for hire.

What to Look for When Hiring a Creative Director

Role of Creative Director

The typical search for a creative director is a long one, so you’ll have some time to get to know the person whom someday may be steering the direction of your brand. Over your rounds of interviews, you’ll want to ask questions and pay particular attention to answers that portray the following qualities.

1. An updated portfolio

A creative director without a portfolio is not one you can, or should, hire. Some candidates in today’s job hunt believe their experience alone is enough to get them through the door, but a portfolio does more than just show off finished projects a hiring manager could probably locate on their own. An updated portfolio–assuming it’s a website built from the ground up, as it should be at this level–shows off the candidate’s unique style and how they serve themselves as a client. Not to mention, an outdated portfolio or one quickly strewn together, shows a lack of professionalism and commitment to craft that’s unbecoming of top-quality candidates. Needless to say, without an updated portfolio, you won’t be able to properly evaluate the talent in front of you.

2. A Passionate curiosity

The best candidates you’ll find are those who are curious about anything and everything to do with their craft. These are the people who are most likely to be on the cutting edge of marketing innovations and understand how to make your company stand out amongst an ever-crowded landscape. Do they ask a lot of questions? Are they reading industry blogs, following influencers and picking up new skills? The answers to these questions can help you pin down a candidate that checks this box.

3. A Strategy and vision

It goes without saying that a creative director needs vision, but it’s equally important that they see the big picture. You’ll want to see if your candidates can effectively communicate the strategy behind the samples in their portfolios. Are they able to explain everything from ideation through completion? This is just as much a practice in project management as it is in showing off the ability to think creatively.

4. Exceptional communication skills

Your creative director should be one of your most effective communicators in the company. As a matter of leadership, it’s always important to hire those who can effectively communicate ideas and directions. However, in the creative space it’s critical. You’re creative director needs to not only be able to communicate the value of their ideas to stakeholders, they also need to effectively communicate how those ideas will become a reality through their creative teams. And, as we’ll discuss further, quality communication goes beyond even that.

5. A Willingness to mentor

When companies conduct outside searches for creative directors, it’s usually because there’s no one currently on the creative team who can be elevated to that position. It’s a common scenario to find yourself in and it’s no knock on an existing team. But that’s why it’s important to find a leader who isn’t just interested in meeting deadlines, but one who is interested in the advancement of all the employees they manage. A creative director who can build a stronger team through mentorship, will inevitable create a stronger brand.

6. A Lack of Ego

One of the most important qualities you can look for in any creative hire is a lack of ego. While any good hire will be confident in their work, it’s important that you look for candidates who are willing and happy to give credit where credit is due. Candidates who leave their ego at the door are also much more likely to be open minded, helping them take advantage of industry trends and evolving best practices.

7. A T-Shaped Mentality

A T-Shaped mentality is the ability to be an expert in one skill, while also maintaining a knowledge and understanding of many other skills. This is a quality you’ll want to find in a creative director, as someone who needs to oversee the creative work of an entire team. You’ll want your eventual director to understand enough about each member of their team’s work, so they can help make the appropriate tweaks and suggestions, but not so much that they’re stuck in the weeds trying to perfect everything.

8. An Analytical Mindset

Creativity isn’t something that can be distilled into a formula, but creative directors need to have a pulse on analytics. While data can’t lead a creative team on its own, it can help creative directors understand when it’s time to move on from one project to the next, when it’s time to try something new and whether or not their ideas are successful. In the age of big data, analytics isn’t something that can be ignored and therefore a quality creative director will check this box as well.

9. The Ability to target an audience

Effective messaging and the ability to hit specific, niche audiences is the difference between successful marketing and a failed strategy. In a creative director, you’ll want someone who understands your ideal customer profile and can effectively target them across all of the content they produce.

10. The confidence to say no

While you’re hiring someone to be creative with your customer-facing presence, you’re also hiring a brand guardian. Therefore, your creative director needs to be someone who understand your brand’s identity and knows how to say no when a new trend or best practice doesn’t fit with that identity. Just because something is trending online, doesn’t mean it’s right for your company to be involved with it and your creative director should know where those boundaries exist.

11. An ability to evolve campaigns

Unless you’re starting a new business, chances are a new creative director will be working within an existing brand. If this is the case, you’ll want to hire someone who knows how to take collateral and content that already exists and can build upon it. If they’re able to take old campaigns and initiatives and evolve them, they’ll also be able to evolve the brand and get it moving in the right direction.

12. A Multi-channel approach

Brands today need to be agile and can’t be tied down to one medium. With that in mind, you’ll want to bring on a candidate who has a multi-channel mindset–someone who understands how campaigns will play out online, in print and over the air.

13. A knack for constructive feedback

There might not be a more important quality in a creative leader. As someone who will be heading a team of creatives, your eventual hire needs to be able to listen, digest and give constructive feedback that makes your team better and doesn’t stifle growth.

How to Hire a Creative Director

The creative director role is difficult to fill and can take weeks if you are starting from scratch. Often times, the biggest challenge companies face in tackling this search comes from an inability to move quickly enough to land the hire.

That said, the easiest way to hire a creative director is with the help of a staffing agency like Onward Search. Not only do we have access to an expansive network of some of the best creative talent in the market, but we can help guide candidates through the often long hiring process. Further, we help you vet the talent to ensure the candidates you’re receiving check all of your boxes before they meet you for an interview.

To learn more about how we can help you hire a creative director or assist you with your talent needs, contact us today.

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