Becoming a Creative Director at a Video Game Marketing Agency

WHAT DOES A CREATIVE DIRECTOR DO?

The creative director for a video game marketing agency is a tough job. They direct the overall vision for all media and products that an agency produces. While it takes a dedicated team to create a collector’s edition or marketing campaign, the creative director is responsible for maintaining the consistent vision between all parties.

The creative director is more like a producer than anything else. Despite the title, they won’t spend a lot of their time being “creative”. Most of their time is spent with organization, communications, and updating the team. It requires a very different skill set from your day-to-day artist.  Instead of making their own work on their own time, the creative director is constantly on other’s peoples time and schedule.

The most important skills that a great creative director needs are…

Art

MONTREAL, QUE.: NOVEMBER 13, 2012–Artist Joel Viegas draws a video game character at the Wacom booth during the Montreal International Games Summit, in Montreal on Tuesday, November 13, 2012. Wacom rep Jerome Abramovitch is pictured at right.(Allen McInnis/THE GAZETTE) ORG XMIT: 45120

Of course, any great marketing creative director needs to have have a strong background in art. But a “background in art” is a very broad statement. Traditional art ranges from 2d animation, sketching, painting, sculpting, and countless others. While many artists today have traditional backgrounds, there is a significant population that primarily work with digital media. Digital art itself ranges from modeling, texturing, motion graphics, photo editing/manipulation, digital painting, and much more.

No single person can be expected to be proficient in every art form. However, a creative director needs to be an expert in the fundamentals of art: shape, color, form, light, storytelling, pacing, etc. There are many core aspects that are present in all other forms of art. With a solid understanding of these fundamentals, as well as expertise in their personal types of art, a creative director can effectively communicate with any other artists on their staff no matter what medium they use.

Why is it essential for a director to be familiar with any type of medium? The creative director is often the final say in concept ideation. After the client’s request, the creative director is in charge of deciding the overall artistic vision for the project. Often times that means deciding on mediums they may not have direct experience with. Therefore, being able to communicate a variety of artists to achieve the overall vision is essential. For example, when creating an integrated marketing campaign, like the one we launched for Shadowverse, a creative director needs to balance a large variety of projects into one cohesive campaign.

Taking lead on the art direction of a project also comes with its own problems. Many artists are very skilled in creating the image in their mind onto their medium. But it is very difficult to have your own vision realized by someone else. Moreover, as the creative director, no one is above you to give feedback on your concept. It is imperative for a creative director to communicate well with their team; that they communicate their ideas properly but also take their team’s feedback into consideration as well. Because the creative director may not spend time physically creating the work, they have to consider the perspective of their staff.

Business

A creative director’s background in art is the foundation of all the work they do. However, the day-to-day of a creative director is usually not spent doing many creative tasks, and usually involves considering the bigger picture over all else. This is the main struggle for those coming from a strong art background: they spend most of their career practicing art but suddenly need to develop an entirely new skill set once they become a director.

The creative director is the liaison to other departments: finance, executives, and most importantly, the clients. A creative director needs to be able to communicate between departments and consider their needs as well. When the art department is struggling to make a deadline or hits a roadblock, the creative director needs to communicate those issues to the rest of the agency and propose solutions to them. The creative director is the face of their department and always need to consider that when communicating internally. 

Because this position requires so much interaction, it requires a likable personality. While this may seem like a superficial quality at first, it is incredibly important. An agency lives and thrives off its relationships. When the creative director is  the primary contact for a client, the client needs to feel comfortable working with them in the future. It is important to consider that a creative director needs to be adept at constantly interacting with other people.

Direction

The “directing” side of being a creative director boils down to the central point of both the previous sections: communication. Directing is the act of being that liaison between the creativity and business; walking the line between being an artist and being the boss. Doing this well is impossible unless you have a solid understanding of both sides.

Part of directing is keeping up with modernity in art. Design trends are constantly changing, especially in the digital realm. With marketing, keeping on top of modern art trends is doubly important. In addition to this, it is important to know previous trends in art, which can often be revived for appropriate projects. Like we touched upon earlier, it is very bad for a creative director to have a limited scope across different art forms.

Modernity today has also brought a blessing in disguise for marketing: statistics. While agencies have always tracked how successful their campaigns are, it is much easier today to track down exact statistics (clicks, views, SEO, etc.). Because of this, the creative director needs to balance their own creative intuition with the statistics of what does well and what doesn’t. Moreover, a director should know how to properly interpret statistics. Without a background in stats, it would be very easy to confound variables among trends, misinterpret data, or draw conclusions from misleading trends. And a good agency shouldn’t just keep up with trends, they should stay ahead of them (which is very difficult to do, even with the plethora of statistics available). WePC compiles short summaries of the latest video game trends and statistics by region, demographics, and other factors.

Check out Phillip VanDusen, founder of Verhaal Brand Design, discuss his thoughts on the role of a Creative Director.

Conclusion

The path to becoming a great creative director for a marketing agency involves wearing many hats over many different years. Those hats include a strong artistic background, business sense, organization, and communication. If it boiled down to one main quality, it should be keeping the big picture in mind. Whether you are a motion graphic artist or a project manager for an agency, keeping the big picture in mind allows you to develop the right mindset for a creative director.

Keeping the big picture in mind lets you make better decisions for the overall growth of the agency, no matter what your position is. Keeping the big picture in mind also allows you to have better communication between departments. It creates a mindset that can better consider the perspective of others: clients, artists, etc. When working with so many different video game companies and brands, it is vital to have a well-experienced director at the helm of the agency.

Check out more of the WAYPOINT blog for deep dives into the art and business of video game marketing. Check out our process for creating great video game key art or ways to increase sales at the point of purchase.

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