Posted 28 February 2024
Mention Wieden+Kennedy
Written by Katy Edelsten
Written by Gabriel Gayle

What is a creative in advertising, and how do you become one?

Whether it’s commercials interrupting your Spotify playlist, huge billboards, or posts popping up on your Instagram feed, advertising is everywhere. While you could be aware that advertising agencies are often behind major campaigns, you may not know that it’s the role of a creative to come up with the wild and wonderful ideas behind them. We ask Katy Edelsten and Gabriel Gayle, two creatives from Wieden+Kennedy, to tell us all about the role – from the kinds of projects they work on to the skills they needed to become one, plus free resources for anyone wanting to get into the field.

🤔 What does a creative in advertising do?

Within an advertising agency, creatives are the ones who come up with the big idea for brands. We won’t always be referred to as a ‘creative’ though – we come in a few flavours, including:

  • Art director
  • Copywriter
  • Creative technologist
  • Designer
  • Hybrid creative
  • Creative director

Sometimes, creatives come as a creative duo, with one person specialising in the visual side and the other in the copy side. So you could have an art director, for instance, partnering with a copywriter. At a creative company like W+K, creatives can also be producers, strategists, music supervisors, editors, content creators and more – it’s all about sharing your unique perspective and skillset.

A creative will usually start out at a junior level before advancing to middleweight and senior positions. Beyond this, you might progress to the role of a creative director, executive creative director, or chief creative officer.

📂 What kinds of projects do creatives work on?

A creative’s job entails being briefed by a brand on a project – usually about a product or service they want the world to know about, or a problem they're experiencing.

Together with their team, creatives then figure out how to communicate a message or promote something in a unique, memorable and interesting way. When done successfully, people end up remembering those ideas or items in their everyday lives – when they’re shopping, for example, or looking for a new car.

There are many ways to solve a problem, so creatives can find themselves working on any or all of the below:

  • A TV, radio, newspaper, or billboard advert
  • A PR stunt
  • A social media post
  • An event or experience
  • A product idea
  • A music or documentary collaboration
  • A partnership with another brand (and a million other things!)

Whichever is chosen ultimately comes down to a number of factors, such as the client’s needs and ambitions, audience and consumer sentiment, budgets and the media or context that feels most appropriate. Some agencies will work with more traditional mediums like TV and print advertisements; others are more experimental and use social media or experiential marketing.

WK Nike Home

Nike ‘Home’ campaign by W+K

WK Nike Home Metro

Metro newspaper cover wrap for the Nike ‘Home’ campaign

👀 Where have I seen the work before?

Recent examples of projects at Wieden+Kennedy include:

UEFA Women’s Euros
During the UEFA Women’s Euros 2022, our team created the ‘Home’ flag that Nike released on the pitch when the UK women's team won. There was also a cover wrap on Metro newspaper the next day which celebrated their victory – and even a snap of Sadiq Khan wearing a T-shirt with the “Home” logo while being interviewed.

See the UEFA Women‘s Euros campaign

Nike Running
Our midweight creative team also worked on a Nike London running campaign. We were pitching the idea back and forth to Nike over the course of seven months, so it started with writing lines week-to-week. The work then came through with a photo shoot on the streets of Peckham, which was super fun and crazy hectic. The final ads were fly-posted all over Peckham in July of last year!

See the Nike Running campaign

Nike Running, ‘We Run With It’ by W+K

TK Maxx
Another recent project was the TK Maxx brand ad, which has been running on TV and across social media. Called ‘There's No Deal like a TK Deal’, it’s about instilling FOMO in TK Maxx fans and not-yet-discoverers alike.

See the TK Maxx campaign

‘There's No Deal like a TK Deal’ by W+K for TK Maxx

🔨 What skills or traits are required?

If you’re naturally collaborative and find yourself trying to understand an advert on the tube, or thinking, “God, that [advert’s] grim – I could deffo do better,” you’re probably already halfway there.

Other qualities that make for a great creative include:

  • A creative mindset

  • Endless energy for ideas

  • A love of challenges and problem-solving

  • A love for coming up with and developing ideas

  • An obsession with layouts and tiny details, like dodgy kerning in small print

  • An ability to be both introverted and extroverted (ideating and creating often involves time alone, but you have to channel your most extroverted self to present your ideas with confidence)

💼 What tasks does it involve?

Depending on whether you work on the copywriting or art direction side of things, your tasks will differ.

Ideating and visualising
The team will usually start with visualising ideas using mood boards and mock-ups, as well as creating presentations and decks to clearly explain them.

We then present our ideas to clients, creative partners, or other agencies – and if our pitch is successful, we move on to finding collaborators who help bring it to life. These include directors, animators, talent and composers.

Overseeing the project
If you’re working on video, you'll also be overseeing everyone involved and ensuring they all know what's going on. For example, we create briefing documents for collaborators – such as music houses, the sound effects team and the wardrobe department – as well as sign off on wardrobe or locations. We also work with directors on things like casting, making sure that actors deliver their lines correctly and finding props.

If you’re on the copy side, you'll also be handling scriptwriting, writing headlines, or creating social captions.

🗺️ What kinds of companies hire advertising creatives?

There are so many creative companies that most people have heard of, like Google, Apple and Spotify. However, when it comes to creative companies that specialise in marketing and branding, some big contenders are:

💰 What can I expect to be paid?

It all depends on your role, the market you’re working in, your experience and how much a company can pay you.

🧫 What are the culture and hours like?

Crazy busy or eerily quiet
It depends on how many projects you have on your plate and their respective timings. There will always be times when the heat is on and you need scripts ready by the next morning, but there will also be times when the work is being shown around on the client’s side and it'll be eerily quiet.

Working weekends
Depending on the timeline and deliverables, you can find yourself working after hours or on weekends at times – so finding the right balance and understanding expectations are key.

Remote and in-agency
Post-pandemic, creative companies have learnt that our industry can work virtually more often than not and that employees want more flexibility. At W+K, we’re encouraged to work from the office around three times a week because a lot of the job involves collaborating with others and figuring out creative solutions for problems together – all of which is definitely easier to do in real life. Plus, a big part of advertising is agency life and getting to work with a load of fun people! All that said, it’s nice to have the flexibility to work from home and some creatives find it helpful for their process.

Location, location
You won't always be in the office, as projects with live-action work tend to require travelling to shoot on location. There's even an industry-wide joke about creatives starting a script for an advert with, ”We open on a beach”, just so you get sent to a holiday destination! In reality, you'll usually find yourself working the whole trip – although doing that with fun people in a place you’ve never been to isn’t such a bad thing really, is it?

You might also work at other companies’ studios and offices for parts of the process. For example, you could be going down to music houses, post-production houses, or animation studios. It's an exciting part of the job as you'll be getting to see other talented creatives lives at work.

💬 Advice on getting started

Try to get a placement
Creatives often do a few placements before getting hired, which is a great way to get your head around the requirements of a job. It’s gruelling and unnerving to not know if you’re going to stay somewhere, but it’s a golden opportunity to see how different places work. Every company has a different vibe and doing placements allows you to keep moving on if you realise that it isn’t for you.

Reach out to advertising creatives
We recommend emailing a few people whose job titles are creative, copywriter, or art director at an agency. Plead them for a coffee and grill them for information. Everyone likes to be told that they’re in the position you’d love to be in, so stroke their egos and get as much information out of them as you can.

Create a strong portfolio, and remember that less is more
A strong portfolio shows great strategy and a keenness for ideas. It’s not at all essential to be the world’s best illustrator, designer or writer at this point – it’s all about showing potential for ideas. Showing less work of high quality is better than loads of mediocre stuff. Work hard to generate loads of ideas and you’ll find some golden nuggets; also, bring your interests into your work so that your portfolio excites you too.

Practise presenting your work
You’ll usually be asked to talk through a portfolio when applying to be a creative, so it’s great to practise presenting your own work and figuring out how to sell it, even to other creatives. How you carry yourself is also important as people will often be assessing the way you’ve communicated an idea.

Be confident in what you bring
Being confident enough to back yourself and fully show your work goes so much further than simply being [overly humble and] British about it. Agency life is all quite informal – at least in our experience – so don’t be boring! Let agencies want to chase you.

Keep up personal work
Even once you’re in the industry, stay creative in your own way. No matter what job you get, which big brand you’re working on, or what fancy office you’re sauntering into, creative people have a lot to get out of their systems and professional work won’t always satisfy that. Look after yourself by keeping other projects ticking along. These could include producing your own work, creating and collaborating with artists, pitching TV shows and more.

Resources for budding advertising creatives

Like the sound of becoming a creative in advertising? Below are some essential resources, platforms and tools to help get your foot in the door.

🧑‍🏫 Access schemes and courses

Wieden+Kenndy: The Kennedys
A creative incubator where up-and-coming creatives from diverse backgrounds are given a crash course in creativity and agency life. We have been running the five-month programme for nine years and welcome people with a range of skills and perspectives – including writers, photographers, designers, filmmakers and people with very little creative experience. Most of them have continued their careers in the creative industry and some of them still work at Wieden+Kennedy.

An association that represents global creative, design and advertising communities, D&AD offers lots of programmes, resources and courses, including New Blood briefs.

School of Communication Arts
A highly awarded, specialised school for advertising creatives that boasts a network of over 1,000 industry mentors. It offers a 12-month intensive course in London and students have an 80% success rate of landing a job in the industry.

Creative Advertising MA at Falmouth University
A well-respected master’s programme, it offers an intensive environment which replicates a full-service advertising agency so that you can develop the creativity and key skills to forge a successful advertising career.

BA programmes
Some of the most renowned include the Kingston University's Graphic Design BA and UAL’s BA in Advertising.

📚 Books, magazines and online resources

Damn Good Advice for people with Talent
Created by George Lois, this has some interesting gems of truth; but don't follow its advice of having a four-hour sleep cycle!
A growing collection of creative reference and digital entertainment, this has lots of cool internet projects you can submit to.

This is like Pinterest, but more awkward and filled with art directors. It’s a terrific tool for collecting references as it saves you having to download things to your hard drive. Other art directors often have boards of interesting, hand-picked, non-algorithmic references.

It’s Nice That
An editorial platform spotlighting creative practitioners and projects from around the world, featuring inspiring work, ideas and processes.

Campaign magazine
A business media brand that provides news, insights and analysis about the marketing, advertising and media industries.

David Reviews
An online resource for companies and people involved in making filmed advertising content.

An online magazine that curates creative advertising campaigns, as well as offers insights and opinions about the craft of advertising from a creative perspective.

Dave Trott’s Blog
A blog run by creative director and author Dave Trott, who founded agencies such as Gold Greenlees Trott, Bainsfair Sharkey Trott and Chick Smith Trott.

Vikki Ross Writes
Vikki Ross, a copywriter who has worked with major brands, created the hashtag #CopywritersUnite to connect people in the field and provides helpful insights on Twitter.


Wieden+Kennedy is a Creative Lives in Progress brand partner. Every year, we partner with like-minded brands and agencies to support our initiative and keep Creative Lives a free resource for emerging creatives. To find out more about how you can work with us, email [email protected]

Mention Wieden+Kennedy
Written by Katy Edelsten
Written by Gabriel Gayle