How to become a Creative

The creative department of an agency is where the campaign comes together. It’s where that great idea or stunning visual is dreamt up. They take the client brief and work with it to invent ideas to address the brand’s business problems. From here, they work with media planners/buyers and the production department in order to make those ideas, that have been approved by the client, into a reality.

What does a Creative do?
 “Creates ideas, ideas, ideas!”
The creative department of an agency is where the campaign comes together. It’s where that great idea or stunning visual is dreamt up. They take the client brief and work with it to invent ideas to address the brand’s business problems. From here, they work with media planners/buyers and the production department in order to make those ideas, that have been approved by the client, into a reality.


How does a Creative Team work?
Traditionally a ‘Creative Team’ is made up of an Art Director and Copy Writer. This essentially means one ‘visual’ and one ‘words’ person.  However most creative partnerships are far more fluid and collaborative than this: in other words while Creatives may perhaps be stronger in say copy writing than art direction they may both act as Art and Copy Director within the team. Creatives often find partnerships of this kind work very well as they can inspire and refine each other’s ideas. Creatives work to client briefs set by the agency click here for real examples.

This said not all Creatives come in pairs and individuals may be called upon to work in conjunction with another team or on their own projects. As long as you have a strong portfolio (‘Book’) demonstrating strong art and copy direction there is nothing to say you have to part of a creative duo to get a job.

Below we will outline the most common route into the Creative side of the Advertising industry. However Advertising is an industry that celebrates academic and artistic diversity and there are many different pathways (see Alternative Route section below) to becoming a Creative.


Becoming a Creative

Creative Team Path


How to become an Art Director
Traditionally most Art Directors have studied an Art-based BA degree such as ‘Graphics’ or ‘Design’. Typically these sorts of degrees often have Advertising based units within them.

To achieve entry onto a degree course such as this students will most likely have studied Art at A Level  or a Art BTEC, and then gone on to take a one year ‘Art Foundation’ course. It is here where students produce a portfolio on which their BA course entry will be judged. For a list of Foundation courses please see http://www.ucas.ac.uk/students/beforeyouapply/artanddesign/foundationcourses/

A BA degree typically lasts 3 years with some including a  4th year in working in industry. These years can be a useful time to get Advertising based experience, contacts and refine their portfolio for a possible MA admittance or employment straight after graduation.


How to become a Copy Writer
Most copy writers tend to have studied English at A Level and a 3 year BA such as English or Creative writing before going on to do a ‘Creative Advertising’ or ‘Art Direction and ‘Copywriting’ MA. However an English degree is not essential; many copywriters come from degrees as diverse as Law and Biochemistry. But to gain entry on to a Postgraduate course you must display relevant academic and professional experience.


Post-Graduate Courses  (MA)
Most budding Art Directors and Copy Writers then tend to then go on and take a year-long Masters Postgraduate course in ‘Creative Advertising’ or ‘Copywriting and Art Direction’ at Universities such as Falmouth or West Herts.  See UCAS www.ucas.com

It is here that students work on briefs for real products to build up their portfolio with the aim of securing a Creative Placement on graduation. It is often here where creative partnerships are formed. (although there are organizations such as ‘The Book Club’ (see NABS career planning and advice or ‘D&AD Talent Pool’ who help ‘matchmake’ creative teams if you fail to meet a suitable partner at university or college)


The Alternative Route


What if I have not studied Art or English? Can I still be a Creative?
Even if you have not studied an arts based course at degree level you are not necessarily barred from a career as an Art Director or indeed a Copy Writer. It may seem daunting at first but if you can demonstrate you have the right aptitude and have a good degree of any discipline there is nothing to say you can’t succeed in your application for a post-grad course. Although students who have an arts based degree can be at an advantage you can strengthen your application by gaining relevant experience by getting e.g. a work placement and an agency. Click here for tips on getting work experience


Do I definitely need MA?
An MA degree is not essential in getting a Creative Placement as long as you have a strong Book/Portfolio. But many novice creative’s find the coaching, advice and training they receive on their MA invaluable in helping them gain a placement- especially if they are not from an Arts background. The Advertising charity NABS run portfolio critiques and placements for those looking to break into the industry see NABS career planning and advice


Getting a Creative Placement
Once you have a formed a Creative team and/or have a strong portfolio as a singular Creative you need to get a Creative Placement with an Advertising Agency for when you graduate.

By getting a placement at an Agency you will be able to refine the skills you have learnt by working on real briefs and by being mentored, and advised by professional Creatives working in the Industry. Placements are the ideal way to experience Agency life first hand and see if it is really for you and what kind of agency suits you best.

Competition for placements at the top agencies is fierce so you need to exploit any contacts that you can make through your teachers and universities to get your foot in the door. Your University tutor should be able to help you get a placement. Universities with Creative Advertising MA’s often have close ties with agencies. However there is nothing to stop you taking an active approach to secure a placement. 

You could try sending an agency something that shows you really understand their work, ethos and your own original ideas. Be inventive but hold the line at brazen and pushy! Industry folklore tells the tale of two wannabe Creatives posing as strip-o-grams to gain access to the Creative Director, they were not successful!


How to make the most out of your placement
During your time at the agency you need to be proactive and full of energy and enthusiasm. You worked hard to get here so make the most of it. You need to demonstrate in your work that you offer something the agency lacks, making yourself indispensible in the process. Get involved in extra projects, ingratiate yourself with the studio, traffic managers and account people as well as the Creative Directors. Ask to sit in briefings, and get yourself along to shoots to get a perspective of the whole production process. If you are positive and resourceful, and original you will be remembered and hopefully hired!

Creative placements are mostly paid- although often not huge amounts (Approx £100-250 per week). Which if you don’t live in London often means sleeping on sofa’s, however most agencies will cover travel to a certain degree. Most teams work on placement at 2-3 agencies refining their skills before securing a permanent job or taken on as a freelance creative.
Last updated 15/09/2011
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