What do you think when you hear the term “creative director? Do you see Don Draper, fancy offices, and dollar signs?
It’s true, a creative director is a key player in the oft opulent world of advertising, marketing, and design. Some may work for ostentatious agencies and hold meetings in sunlit corner offices. Some also work out of their house in sunlit bedrooms and pair up with small businesses and startups. Here is why I like working with small businesses and startups like yours:
Your unique and new ideas inspire me.
Working with the owner or founder directly typically allows for faster creative launches.
Because small businesses and startups often have limited budgets, I am hands-on with design and writing.
In this article, I’m going to outline what a creative director does and how I apply the role to working with small businesses and startups as a fractional creative director.
What does a creative director do?
A creative director is responsible for the overall creative vision for an organization. They work with stakeholders (CEO’s, directors, managers, etc.) to understand the goals of a project. The project could be anything from creating the overall brand identity of the organization to a landing page for a particular marketing campaign. The creative director builds a creative brief that outlines the overall creative vision of the project, including the tone and aesthetics. They may also support their creative vision with mood boards, sound bites, smells, anything that builds a feeling that the company wants to portray.
In addition to conjuring a creative vision, the director also oversees a creative team that could consist of copywriters, graphic designers, videographers, video editors, podcast producers, website designers, developers and more. Generally, creative directors pitch ideas to stakeholders, stay on creatives to do their work, hit deadlines, and delight people with fun, effective creative ideas.
Where do creative directors usually work?
A creative director can work in-house (meaning that the organization has its own creative director that is an employee of the organization) or an agency. Creative agencies aka marketing agencies aka ad agencies usually take on multiple clients. They are often out of the price range for small businesses and startups.
What is a fractional creative director?
A fractional creative director is someone who has experience in creative direction, but who may work for themself, or another business that provides fractional creative services. They might have one client at a time, working almost as a staff member to help launch a brand, rebrand, or they might have several clients at a time and provide consultation and services for smaller projects.
Are you thinking...How can a fractional creative director help me?
A fractional creative director is great for small businesses and startups because you can get professional support at a fraction of the price of an in-house creative director or an agency. A fractional creative director is typically hired on as a contractor, not an employee, so you don't have to pay or manage employee taxes or provide benefits.
"We absolutely loved working with Mary Jane! I loved seeing our mission and vision as an organization come to life in a concise, clever and thoughtful brand book. I now have a useful marketing tool that I can reference for our strategies, share with our members and educate our community partners." - Madison Originals (Restaurant Group)
Depending on their experience, a fractional creative director can help people see your brand more clearly in many ways and why you should hire one. Some common examples include:
Brand Research: Data makes creative decision making clearer. If you are having trouble figuring out what your brand should look like or sound like, a creative director should be able to provide you with secondary research to support creative direction. They should also be comfortable interviewing or surveying your customers or target audience to gather insights about what your brand or offering to inform creative decisions. If they are not comfortable doing it themselves, they should have experience working with a company who provides market research.
Branding: A fractional creative director can help develop a strong brand identity that resonates with your target audience. This may involve creating a brand strategy, designing a logo, developing messaging and tone of voice guidelines, and ensuring consistency across all marketing materials.
Marketing campaigns: If you're not sure where you want to focus your messaging and how, a fractional creative director can help a small business plan and execute marketing campaigns across various channels like social media, email newsletters, direct mail and guerilla marketing. This may involve developing creative concepts, designing assets, writing copy and overseeing the production and distribution of marketing materials.
Website design: A fractional creative director can help a small business create a website that accurately reflects the brand's values and offerings. This may involve designing the website architecture, selecting imagery and typography, designing the website, and ensuring the site has the right language to attract customers through SEO.
Content creation: Have you run out of ideas to share with your fans? A fractional creative director brings a new set of eyes and ideas to your communications plan and can help a small business develop content that resonates with their target audience. Areas they might help in include blog posts, videos, infographics, and other types of multimedia. They could develop a content strategy, create editorial calendars, produce content and project manage content creation as well as the distribution.
Photo and video shoots direction and management: If you are looking for photos for your website, social media, or marketing campaign, a creative director may take photos or work with a photographer or videographer to create these incredibly valuable brand assets. A creative director would come up with the concept and design a mood board to help the photographer or videographer understand the creative strategy. They would organize the creatives, set dates, find models, and collect appropriate props for the shoot.
Brand alignment: If your communications are visually or tonally inconsistent across channels, a fractional creative director can be the "bad girl" and be the one that tells people, "No, you can't use that off-brand color!" so you don't have to. A creative director could help you ensure that all marketing materials and campaigns are aligned with the brand's vision and goals. This may involve working with internal teams and external agencies to develop and execute and refine creative ideas. A good project for a fractional creative director is creating a brand book for your business.
Public relations: If you have big news but don't have time or ideas of how to share it, a creative director may be able to help. Although creative directors don’t typically work in public relations, they may be able to produce or direct the writing and visuals of press releases or other PR efforts in your brand voice and aesthetic and can assist with determining the appropriate publications and influencers to share your news.
Getting Clear Creative Direction
Overall, a fractional creative director can bring huge strategic value and creative thinking to small businesses. A creative director should help you feel clear. You should understand why your brand is communicating a certain feeling and how that feeling is illustrated through the creative. The creative direction should clarify your brand to your target audience and help you attract and retain loyal customers.
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