So you want to be an ad man: forget booze and nicotine. A real-life creative director needs vision and guts

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WHAT YOU’LL DO

A conductor of an imaginative symphony, the creative director is responsible for the creative output of an ad agency. You manage the creative talent, editing and (most of all) killing their ideas until the client gets the best solution for their brand. Girls in bikinis for Nike? Or grandmas in tutus for Pfizer? You decide. Other key responsibilities include working with clients, and hiring new employees as needed to keep the creative team fresh and motivated.

IS IT FOR YOU?

It’s a job that uses both the left (organizational) and right (creative) sides of the brain. So you’ve got great creative vision, you’re the type of person who can generate a lot of ideas and execute them, and you’re also someone with a natural ability to lead.

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WHAT YOU NEED TO GET IN

Advertising is unconventional in its approach to educational credentials. To get your first job, all that matters is that your “book” (your portfolio of self-created ads) is good. But the best way to get a good book is to go to a great school. Advertising programs require okay academic marks (an average of 70 per cent), but mostly you’ll have to show a penchant for creativity (animation, photography, sculpture, website design, etc.) through a portfolio.

SCHOOLS TO CONSIDER

The Ontario College of Art and Design and Humber, both in the Toronto area, have the most well-regarded advertising programs in Canada–Humber for copywriting, OCAD for art direction. Internationally, the VCU Brand-center and the Miami Ad School (both in the United States) are seen as the benchmarks.

WHAT YOU’LL STUDY

Subjects such as typography, idea development, media design, layout and copywriting are typical features of advertising programs. Co-op programs can give students hands-on experience.

EXTRACURRICULAR STUFF THAT CAN HELP

Anything that gets your creative energy flowing. Whether it’s nature, playing sports, reading a good book: be curious, be stimulated. It also helps to learn from the best: read Marketing magazine and Adweek, and check out the winner of the Cannes Lions and One Show to keep abreast of award-winning ads.

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JOB PROSPECTS

Many people are attracted to the supposed glamour and excitement of advertising, and in this recession advertising budgets have been slashed to the hilt. The result: an oversupply of talented young people and a lack of jobs. Expect to shop your portfolio around for months, suffering some rejection (remember that need for passion!). But like every profession, the cream will rise to the top.

HOW MUCH YOU’LL MAKE

Depending on the revenues of the ad shop, creative directors can make anywhere from $75,000 to $650,000, according to Marketing’s 2009 salary benchmark report. Remember, though, that a creative director is near the top of the food chain. Before you’re the boss, you’ll have to make do with either a copywriter or art director salary–both starting at $25,000–for years.