The Creative Department of an Advertising Agency

What Makes Up a Creative Department, and Who Are The Key Players?

Creative Department
Creative Department. Getty Images

Although every department is essential in an advertising agency, the creative department is the one that defines it. If an advertising agency has a product, it is creative work. And that is done by the talented people who work (and often live) in the creative department.

Everything from print ads and direct mail, to broadcast ads, websites and guerrilla campaigns are conceived here. Without the creative department, there is no agency.

In fact, many people consider the creative department to be the engine of the machine, although, without the other departments to support it there would be no work anyway.

Who Works In the Creative Department?

Although it varies a little from agency to agency, the creative department is generally made up of the same bunch of characters. Here are the key roles:

The Creative Director

If the creative buck stops with anyone, it's the creative director (CD). It is his or her job to ensure that the work the teams are doing is on brief and of a certain quality. The creative director also decides which teams will work on which projects, the time they need to solve it, and will often be there to present the work to the client, alongside the team who devised the campaign.

When the occasion arises, the CD may have to help with a problem, or even solve it if no other creative person can. It's for this reason that the CD is often called the "last line of defense" in the creative department.

Originally a copywriter or an art director (and sometimes a designer or account executive) the creative director will steer the work and, if successful, be instrumental in making the agency a financial and critical success. Creative directors like David Abbott, Bill Bernbach, Lee Clow and most recently, Alex Bogusky, shaped the agencies in this way.

Some agencies will have several levels of creative director, starting with associate creative director, creative director, senior creative director, and finally, executive creative director. 

Copywriters and Art Directors

They usually work as exclusive teams, although this model is changing too. It was devised by Bill Bernbach, and it has worked very successfully for decades. The CW/AD team is given a brief and then works on it together for days or even weeks. When ideas are presented and chosen, they will then work together to craft copy and create visuals for the ad campaign. It should be noted though that although an art director has the word "art" in the title, drawing skills are not required. This is a job of creative thinking, execution can be handled by other people. There are many levels of copywriter and art director, ranging from junior all the way to associate creative director (with an emphasis on art direction or copy).


There are many types of designers, including those proficient in graphic design, web design, and even product design. However, most agencies will have graphic designers on staff to assist the art directors and copywriters with campaign materials, and also to work on jobs that require pure design without the need for a concept team.

Designers are very valued, as they can take ideas to the next level and give the finished work a polish that the creative team could not add. In smaller agencies, designers may not be on staff, but will be hired as freelancers as required, or will work at a design studio whose services are requested from time to time.

Production Artists

The production artists have the (often) thankless task of taking campaigns and preparing them for print. This will include setting the files up for the printing press, creating versions of one ad for multiple publications, and also creating updates to existing campaigns. Although it's not a job that requires a lot of critical thinking, it does require a great attention to detail and a studious attitude.