How do I Become an Advertising Art Director?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus
Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

If you want to become an advertising art director, you are likely to first need experience working as a graphic designer. An apprenticeship or entry-level position along with an arts or advertising degree may be enough to land an art director position in an ad agency. Supervisory experience typically is preferred, however, since an advertising art director is usually expected to manage a team of designers in an advertising agency.

Creative jobs in ad agencies tend to be highly competitive. In order to become an advertising art director, you will have to convince the hiring manager that you have the right blend of leadership abilities, experience, and education for the job. Advertising is all about promotion and you will have to promote yourself and your skills to work in the field. You typically will need to use top-notch communication skills when speaking with a creative director who is interviewing you for a job, but you also will need to show samples of your work.

A portfolio typically is an important career tool for creative people who work in the advertising career field. These people include copywriters who write the ads as well as art directors and graphic designers who add photographs, images, and graphic techniques. If you hope to become an art director, purchase a professional portfolio from an artist-supply store and place your best work in it. The work can be from art school assignments or from ad campaigns you have worked on in an apprenticeship at an advertising agency. You can even work freelance in partnership with a copywriter and add a copy of the finished product in your book or portfolio.

Having an online portfolio in addition to your print items usually is a good idea. To become an advertising art director, you will be expected to be skilled in using industry software. If you are not sure which graphics programs you will need, you can call the ad agencies you would like to work for to find out what skills they require.

Remember that creativity alone usually is not enough to work for a creative director in advertising. A senior copywriter and an art director typically report to a creative director in an advertising agency. They are each expected to oversee a team of junior employees, and must have the skills and knowledge needed for effective leadership. You will have to convince a creative director that you have the combination of talent, skills, and knowledge needed to exceed agency expectations if you hope to become an advertising art director.

Discussion Comments


@feasting – It probably just depends on the type of advertising firm you are looking to work at. I am a graphic designer at a newspaper, and the advertising art director here isn't highly skilled at the design programs, but he was a sales rep for many years before he got this job.

In fact, he worked in sales at the newspaper for maybe five years or so before this position became available. The newspaper prefers to promote and hire from within, so he was a shoe-in for the job.

I have taught him things about our design program from time to time so that he can help out with small things when the designers don't have time. He knows more now than when he was a sales rep.

Keep in mind that newspapers are on the low end of the pay spectrum for everyone from designers to art directors. You might have to start out at one to earn experience, but if you are looking for great pay, you will probably one day seek to move on to a better job.


I've held advertising sales jobs before, but I've never been the person in charge. I'm really good at selling ads, but I've never designed one before, and I don't know how to use the programs.

I wonder if my leadership and sales abilities alone would be enough to get me a job like this? I could always learn to use programs later.


I recently saw an ad for an advertising art director at a marketing firm. They had a lot of requirements.

They wanted the person to be a skilled artist, as well as a graphic designer. They wanted the candidate to have skills in several types of design programs, because he or she would have to train new hires who might not be familiar with these programs.

I think that they wanted someone who was good at art just because people with artistic skills tend to do better with graphic design and ad design in general. Though he or she might never really get to draw or paint at the job, those skills can say other things about a person.


Design agencies are pretty picky when looking to hire advertising art directors. I worked as a sales rep at one for years, and they took their time hiring a replacement when the ad director left. They wanted to make sure they got the best person possible for the job.

It took them six months to replace her! In the meantime, we all just kind of communicated with each other and tried to keep things going.

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