If you’re looking for advice on how to become an art director, you’ve come to the right place. I’m an Art Director myself and have been in the business for over 10 years now and have worked with some of the most prestigious ad agencies around. If you’re a creative person with lots of crazy ideas for for videos, images, ad campaigns and have a great sense of humor… you are probably fit for this career: that of an “Advertising Art Director”.
As an Art Director, you team up with a copywriter and are in charge of coming up with print campaigns, TV spots, viral videos, experiential advertising, etc… It’s no surprise that it’s a pretty fun job to have. Plus, it pays well. So, without boring you with the details of an art director’s reponsibilities (which I will get to later), here are some essential tips on how to become an art director.
Getting Your Art Director Degree or Portfolio
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a career is a college degree, right? While there are lots of schools that do offer higher education for advertising, ad agencies typically don’t really care about your degree. All they care about is your portfolio, your skills, and your drive. That said, it’s untypical (but not impossible) for someone to craft an awesome portfolio without proper guidance. That’s why “Portfolio Schools” exist. These schools typically offer a 2-year program to help you build a solid art director or copywriter portfolio that will help you land a job in an ad agency. They are much less expensive than college, and arguably even better then most colleges out there.
In short, the first step you need to take to become an art director is getting your portfolio ready. You can do that by attending a college or university, a Portfolio School, or building your portfolio on you own (preferably with some guidance, whether that’s in the form of help from a mentor, online courses, or with help from your awesome Creative Director mom or dad).
Here I will outline these different avenues for you and give you some recommendations:
Obtaining an Advertising Bachelor’s Degree with a College or University
There’s no doubt that higher education is a viable option for your advertising career. I was lucky enough to have a parent that could afford sending me to college, so that was the route that I personally took.
Here are the Pros and Cons of going this route.
Quality of education:The level of education you will receive in a college or university is pretty darn good, granted you pick the right school. I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD),and it is a top notch school for creative careers.
Reputation:Some colleges have a pretty good rep and good relationships with the big advertising agencies, so attending one of those will give you a pretty solid chance of making it in this industry.
Lots of Resources:Colleges make money. And with money come resources. From the giant Library to all the counsellors, career advisors and what not, colleges and universities give you the maximum of resources that will help you succeed. The only catch is: It’s your job to take advantage of all those resources. They won’t come to you.
Great Network:Chances are, your college roommate or classmate will become the next big shot (if not you) in some of the most prestigious ad agencies around. Some of my classmates went on to become Creative Directors at awesome ad agencies like Droga5and DDB
Easy to Change Your Career Path:With a Bachelors degree, you can always change your career decision well into the second year. Say you decide to major in Advertising… You have a killer freshman year learning to draw, to master color theory, learn all about Psychology and Public Speaking, and dive into your Advertising major as a Sophomore. After two advertising-specific classes (Intro To Art Direction / Art Direction I…) you realize Art Direction isn’t really your thing, and you want to be a Graphic Designer instead! Well… you can always steer into Graphic Design with no problem. That money you spent the first year is not lost at all. And off you go to become a killer graphic designer. Boom.
Education Diversity:You get to befriend people in other fields related to your own and learn a bit about those (illustration, film & television, motion graphics, etc…). Plus you can even take elective courses in those other fields.
It’s Fun: Last but not least…college is fun :).
Pricey!: If you don’t have wealthy parents, a college education will break your parents’ bank or your own if you use Financial Aid. We all know that Student Loans can put you in debt for life, and repaying those will be hard, even if you land a cushy art director gig in a big agency.
4 Years: Four years is a long time as opposed to the two years it will take you to build a solid portfolio in a portfolio school… Which is good segway into the next section of this post:
Attending an “Advertising Portfolio School”
Like I mentioned previously, a college degree is not a requisite when it comes to landing a gig in an ad agency, no matter how big or small that agency is. All they care about is your portfolio, which led to the rise of Portfolio Schools. These schools will dive straight in the subject with you, removing the need to go through lengthy general studies courses (which are great though). I personally wanted to attend one of those ( Miami Ad School,) but for immigration purposes (Haitian dude wanting to work in the U.S) I had to go through the college route. Portfolio Schools are much smaller and usually get you ready for the ad industry in the span of 2 years.
Some of the most popular portfolio schools include Miami Ad School, VCU BrandCenter,The Creative Circus,and Brainco.
Here are the Pros and Cons about Advertising Portfolio Schools
Quality of education:Like Colleges, the level of education is really high. You have top notch professors who likely worked in the field for quite some time. The number of students per class is typically small, which means you get more out of your class and professor. That also means that these schools are not easy to get into. They pick the Cream of the Crop.
Reputation:Some of these schools have the reputation of producing top art directors and copywriters. If you look at the One Show Student awards(Young Ones), you’ll for sure see a lot of winners from Miami Ad School and other portfolio schools. These schools are also well connected with ad agencies. In fact, they tend to be strategically located in cities where top ad agencies are found. Miami ad School for example has campuses in Miami, New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, just to name a few.
Great Network:If you attend one of these schools, You will be in great company. Your classmates will have TALENT. And I mean those capital letters! Make good friends… Those friendships might come handy later.
Small:Size matters. While these schools have grown in the past few years, they remain smaller than universities. Classes are smaller, campuses are smaller, which in turn fosters better relationships and a One-to-One education atmosphere.
2-Year Program:It goes without saying that studying for 2 years is better then studying for 4 years. If you loved studying you’d be a doctor. Most of these schools (if not all) get you out with a solid portfolio in hand in two years.
Cheaper than collegesTuition for Portfolio Schools are typically half the price of a College of the same caliber. Say you were to compare SCAD’s Tuition to Miami Ad School’s, The latter would be half the cost.
Hard to get into: Since space is limited, these schools are really hard to get into.
No Bachelor’s Degree: If you are an international student looking to get a work Visa after you graduate, a Portfolio School is not an option for you because a Bachelor’s degree is required to get that work visa.
Limited degrees: Once you enroll in a portfolio school, there’s no turning back. Sure you can change your degree to graphic design, photography, or copywriting, but that’s about it. Unlike Colleges where you can change your major to pretty much anything.
After you’ve made it through college or the portfolio school, you can call yourself a Junior Art Director. You have a solid portfolio website and you’re off to find a job.
And this, is how you become an Art Director.
The only question is, do you have what it takes? Is it what you are truly passionate about? To help answer these questions I recommend you read the following book prior to attending college or a portfolio school. By the end of it you will for sure know if you want to do this or not. Plus, it’ll give you a head start if you do decide to learn art direction.
Leave a comment below if you have any questions. I’m here to help!