Many people outside of the industry view creative as the "romance" part of the business. Romantic and exciting though it may seem, copywriting and art direction is hard work. Creative services jobs are indeed exciting, but failure is easy to come by.
Once the creative strategy is set (by the account services folks) and approved by the client, and once the consumer research has been transformed into a media plan, it's time for the Big Idea - a creative translation of the strategy into a compelling and persuasive ad. And there is nothing more difficult than facing a hard deadline and sitting at a desk, well into the night, staring at a blank sheet of paper, in an office littered with balled up sheets of paper, while thinking, "Lord, send me an idea!"
Copywriters, who write the copy (words, script, whatever) and art directors, who visually design the ads, work as a team. Together, they create ads, not only for the current campaigns but for "back up" - campaigns that are continually tested in the event that the current advertising loses its effectiveness, or "wears out" - campaigns as well.
The creative process, for new ads, is initiated by the client. Let's say the client calls the account executive and requests a four-color ad for Modern Maturity magazine. The account executive writes a creative strategy statement for the ad (obviously aimed at an older audience) and takes it to the creative supervisor. The creative supervisor assigns the ad to a copywriter and art director team with a due date. Once the ad is completed and approved internally, the copy and layout are presented to the client.
Copywriters and art directors must:
Have dancing minds. The creative process is often a journey of serendipity - making fortunate discoveries by accident. The creative mind allows these discoveries or insights to happen on a subconscious level and then consciously acts on them. "You never know where or when an idea comes," said an art director at a large agency. "I could be watching a movie, and all of a sudden something clicks, and all I want to do is rush back to the office to get it down on paper."
Be students of advertising. Good creatives are aware of what's current and what has come before. The secrets of advertising are contained in the history of the great ads. Some notable campaigns are Apple Computer's "1984" commercial that introduced the Macintosh computer; the Wendy's "Where's the Beef?" campaign, and the Ad Council's Smokey the Bear Forest Fire Prevention campaign, which began in 1944 and is still running today!
Be aware of what your colleagues are doing. Smart creatives know who is doing great work, who isn't, and why it matters - after all, some of them are producing ads for your client's competition! A bible of the field is Communication Arts, a design magazine known for discovering and acknowledging fresh ideas in print and advertising. (Check out the web site at www.commarts.com.)
Be students of human behavior. Creatives are sensitive to the world they live in. They have to know what's hot and what's not, what's on the edge and what's overplayed. Smart copywriters and art directors immerse themselves in the latest trends, whether it's fashion, cinema, literature or politics.
Be good salespeople. Often, several copywriter and art director teams are designated to work on a campaign. Although the creative strategy sets the boundaries of the creative effort, there's still a lot of room to be different and effective. Smart creative people know how to sell to the agency and the client.
Be skilled in the basics of their craft. Copywriters are masters of language and grammar, and art directors are masters of the visual arts. A 30-second commercial costs hundred of thousands of dollars to produce, and hundreds of thousands more to place in a television show. At those prices each ad is precious. The actors must be properly cast, the lines delivered without a hitch and the setting and wardrobe believable.
Be resilient. Rejection comes with the territory. Before an ad ever gets to the client it's examined internally. Some ads make the grade, many do not.
Be disciplined. Ad making doesn't happen in a vacuum. Every ad must meet the objective standard of the creative strategy statement. Is the promise clear and convincing? Is there sufficient support for the promise? Is the tone appropriate? Is it single-minded?
Be businesspeople. It won't do to create an ad that costs $100,000 when the budget is $25,000.
Art directors must have had some training in film, layout, photography and typography, and above all, good taste.
Salaries and hours
Given the peculiar unpredictability of the creative process, the workweek may be long, up to 60 hours per week, but there is some freedom vis a vis the time one arrives for work. Salaries will range from $30,000 per year for junior art directors and copywriters, to $180,000-$200,000 for supervisors, and $400,000-$500,000 for the creative director.