Creative Agency Hierarchy & Common Roles Explained
What is a creative agency hierarchy and who reports to whom?
While creative agency hierarchy can be quite straightforward and intuitive, it can largely vary from company to company. Each organization, big or small, has specific needs based on its size, scope, field of operations, the collaboration needs between employees and departments, etc.
And while there are many types of creative agencies like marketing and advertising firms, digital agencies, design agencies, public relations (PR) businesses, social media agencies, video production studios, and more, the creative agency hierarchy may differ according to specific positions taken in each organization.
Still, there are certain rules to group members of the team into a specific hierarchy level. But first, let us clarify:
What’s the difference between a hierarchy and an organizational structure?
It’s quite common to see the terms hierarchy and organizational structure used interchangeably in the context of a company. Types of hierarchy and types of structures seem to return similar results as terminology and descriptions. No matter how bound both terms are, there is a significant difference between them. Let’s define what is what.
What is hierarchy?
A hierarchy refers to the systematic order of people based on factors like importance, authority, rank, level of responsibility, and more. Hierarchy clearly outlines groups of people into levels with each of them being subordinate to the previous one.
When it comes to hierarchy in an organization, such as creative agency hierarchy, the term usually indicates the ranking of people’s positions within the company. The highest level of the hierarchy is associated with the most authority and decision-making powers. The strength of these factors gradually lowers, as you reach the lowest-level positions.
What is an organizational structure?
An organizational structure is a formal settlement whose purpose is to define and arrange the roles and relationships of positions within a company. When documented, an organizational structure looks like a schematic plan that encompasses the whole framework of a company.
While an organizational structure is largely based on hierarchy, hierarchy alone cannot form an organizational structure. The latter also includes components like the number and size of company departments, communication channels, collaboration needs between employees, and reporting relationships within a department, as well as across the entire organization.
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Creative Agency Hierarchy: Common Roles
Creative agencies typically have a range of positions and roles that work together to produce and deliver creative projects to clients. The hierarchical order of roles in a creative agency can vary depending on the agency’s structure, size, and of course industry in which it operates. It’s important to note that while there is a hierarchy of roles, creative agencies’ work is often dependent on collaboration and teamwork. This means that roles may overlap and evolve over the course of time in order to adapt to the project’s needs and be more effective.
Different positions naturally come with different levels of responsibility and seniority. As already mentioned, the specific hierarchy of an agency can vary. However, we can typically outline the following positions into three levels of hierarchy: high-level, middle-level, and low-level positions.
High-level positions in the creative agency hierarchy
These are leadership roles with the highest authority. They are responsible for the agency’s brand strategy, performance, and direction.
The CEO or the Managing Director is the same position for most creative agencies. This means the terms can be used interchangeably.
The person who takes up this role is at the top of the hierarchy, so they hold the most responsibilities for the management and financial performance of the agency. The Managing Director makes important decisions regarding the business strategy of the agency and is accountable for the agency’s financial growth. The Managing Director sets financial goals and operates with the budget. They also monitor and evaluate the efficacy of everyday agency operations.
And since this is a creative agency, they may work closely with a Chief Creative Officer, as well.
Chief Creative Officer (CCO)
The Chief Creative Officer is another high-level position with broad-scale responsibilities. They work closely with the Managing Director of the agency in order to make sure that the creative output of the agency works in favor of its financial goals.
The CCO is accountable for the overall creative strategy of the agency and its successful performance. For this purpose, they are often occupied with developing, executing, and adjusting strategies and creative ideas that contribute to the agency’s brand vision and direction.
However, you can only see such a position in larger agencies. For the majority of agencies, these responsibilities are taken by a Creative Director.
The Creative Director is a typical high-rank position in a creative company. The person taking up this role is usually the head of the creative team.
For this reason, the Creative Director is responsible for executing the creative strategy of the agency while monitoring the work of the creative team. This could be art directors, project managers, designers, copywriters, animators, video producers, and more. It’s the Creative Director’s responsibility to make sure that all creative campaigns that the agency produces, are aligned with the quality standards adopted by the company and correspond to the client’s needs.
Once the agency gets a new project, it’s the Creative Director that organizes team meetings in order to discuss project goals, brainstorm ideas, delegate tasks, and more. They are usually accountable for project budgets and execution within a specific timeframe, especially if they take up the role of a project manager, too.
In case the company has merged the CCO and Creative Director positions, this person may have the power to make managerial decisions regarding the creative vision of the agency. Since these decisions can highly influence the agency’s professional path, they are usually agreed upon with the head of the organization, i.e. the CEO/Managing Director.
An Art Director is a professional responsible for the whole visual style of a project. They manage and monitor all visual aspects of a campaign, including design elements and functionalities, layout choices, and the overall aesthetic of the visual arrangements.
It’s the Art Director who has the final word on which photos, illustrations, colors, and other design elements to use. People taking up this role manage and direct subordinate creatives that produce artwork and layouts. The Art Director works closely with the copywriter, as well, so both creative directions work in symbiosis in order to communicate the client’s message effectively.
The Art Director typically reports to the Creative Director or a higher-level position like the Managing Director.
Mid-level positions in the creative agency hierarchy
People occupied in mid-level agency positions are responsible for the management, development, execution, and production of actual projects. These people often collaborate with each other and the upper management, and report results to a higher-hierarchy level.
The Project Manager could be a mid-level to a senior position in a creative agency, depending on the particular case. This person is responsible for the overall management of a project in its logistical aspect. They are occupied with the planning, execution, and delivery of a project from start to finish. In order to do so, they communicate and coordinate across different departments. They monitor progress and manage timelines, budgets, and resources.
In smaller agencies, the responsibilities of a Project Manager can overlap with those of a Creative Director. Regarding bigger agencies, these are two different positions working closely together. In the latter case, the Creative Director focuses on the creative direction of the project while the Project Manager makes sure the project meets its budget and timeline requirements.
The Account Manager is a mid-level position in the creative agency hierarchy. They are the primary point of contact for the client. Their responsibilities are building relationships with clients, maintaining regular contact with them, managing clients’ accounts, providing project updates, and making sure that the agency meets the client’s needs and expectations. Therefore, the Account Managers work closely with the creative teams, as well.
In the case of a larger agency, there may be an Account Director managing several Account Managers to whom they report. For smaller agencies, the Account Managers report to the Creative Director. There are cases, however, when the roles of an Account Manager and a Project Manager merge into one position.
The copywriter is a common role in a creative agency. They are responsible for creating the written content for a particular campaign. This could include slogans and headlines, crafted in a compelling and persuasive way, copy for websites, email campaigns, banners, and more promotional and advertising materials.
The copywriter uses a specific tone and language that would appeal to a specific target audience and prompt them into action. The copywriters collaborate with other middle-level specialists like graphic designers, UI/UX designers, video editors, art directors, and more. They usually report to the Creative Director or the Project Manager.
Graphic designers are the most common specialists in the middle level of the creative agency hierarchy. They are responsible for creating all kinds of visual materials for a particular campaign. These would be different types of designs (graphic compositions), crafted in specific software. A few examples are logos, business cards, brochures, banners, posters, package design, etc.
The graphic designer uses colors, typography, images, illustrations, and layout that would most effectively appeal to the target audience. The visual materials should work in symbiosis with the written content created by the copywriter, so the final creative output successfully reaches its goals and objectives.
Within a creative agency, the graphic designer communicates and collaborates with other mid-level positions like a copywriter, a photographer, a web developer, etc. They report to higher-level positions like a Project Manager, an Art Director, and a Creative Director.
Along with graphic designers, you will also find UX/UI designers as part of the creative agency’s team. The role of this position is to create and improve the visual representations (user interfaces) of websites, digital applications, and software, in order to provide an effortless and intuitive user experience.
Among the key responsibilities of the UX/UI designer, there are user researching, wireframing, prototyping, combining colors, typography, and layout. The goal of this professional is to create visually appealing, logical, and easy-to-use interfaces.
The UX/UI designer usually reports to upper-level managers and directors – the people who lead the design and development teams.
Motion Graphic Designer
Motion graphic designers are occupied with creating dynamic visual content for particular projects and campaigns. This could be explainer videos, video ads, animated social media content, and other visual content that moves. Just like other types of designers, motion graphic designers make sure the visual elements and style appeal to the target audience’s emotions and provoke action.
Motion graphic designers often create visual content that tells a story and use well-established storytelling frameworks. People that occupy such positions collaborate with other creatives from the middle-level hierarchy, as well as managers and directors from the upper-level hierarchy to report ideas, progress, and results.
A Production Manager is responsible for managing and monitoring the production process regarding the technical aspect of creative projects. The responsibilities of a Production Manager may overlap with those of a Project Manager. However, the Project Manager’s job is to ensure everyone involved is working efficiently together in order to move the project forward and complete it on time and within budget.
On the other hand, the Production Manager also makes sure expectations are met but is mainly occupied with monitoring the technical details of the production process. This includes sourcing vendors and materials for physical production (brochures, posters, invitations, packaging, etc), coordinating with third-party contractors, overseeing the process of preparing the design for printing, and so on. The Production Manager can be occupied with managing digital production, as well.
He’s also a subordinate to senior management and reports on metrics and progress related to the production process.
The Production Artist reports to the Production Manager. Their role is to take the design concepts created by a graphic designer and prepare them for print or digital publication. Unlike graphic designers, production artists are focused on the technical aspect of the visual materials, as well. People that take this position prepare artwork and files according to printing or digital specifications for the particular project. Just like the Production Manager, their goal is to make sure the final product looks as intended.
Social Media Manager
The Social Media Manager is a middle-level position in the creative agency hierarchy. They are responsible for developing and executing social media strategies that correspond to the agency’s goals and vision. Among their responsibilities, there are creating and publishing content that engages the agency’s target audience. The main channels of distribution are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and more.
The Social Media Manager is also responsible for communicating with people via social media channels – responding to comments and messages that are received. They regularly monitor and analyze social media metrics and create reports of performance.
The Social Media Manager organizes, manages, and monitors advertising campaigns that are conducted on social media channels. They are accountable for optimizing budgets in correlation to achieving desired objectives.
Low-level positions in the creative agency hierarchy
At the low-level hierarchy, there are administrative and supportive positions, as well as interns and junior creatives that help the work of mid-level positions.
The Junior Creatives are entry-level additions to the creative team in advertising, marketing, and design agencies. Their responsibilities overlap with the corresponding position from the mid-level and senior-level agency hierarchy. Junior Creatives execute simpler tasks and are usually still in the process of learning.
Among the Junior Creative positions, you will find Junior Graphic Designers, Junior UI/UX Designers, Junior Copywriters, Junior Video Editors, Junior SEO specialists, and more. These people work under the supervision of senior staff to whom they report the progress and results of given tasks.
The administrative staff provides support to the agency’s day-to-day technical operations. They are accountable for managing office supplies and equipment, organizing files and records, answering the phone, scheduling phone calls and meetings, sorting out travel arrangements, and more.
The administrative staff can include positions like an office manager, an administrative assistant, a receptionist if the agency has a physical location, and more.
To wrap it up,
Creative agency hierarchy and position relationships can largely vary from agency to agency. It all depends on the specific niche where the agency is operating, the size of the company, its focus, and its needs. For example, a creative agency occupied in video production will have several specific positions related to this direction, such as a Video Producer, a Video Director, a Cinematographer, and so on. A marketing agency, on the other hand, doesn’t need this many specialists in video production.
While the listed positions may vary, the mentioned roles generally fall into these three levels of the creative agency hierarchy. It’s worth noting that a creative agency requires a collaborative approach between specialists in order to work efficiently. So very often, especially regarding small agencies, the roles and hierarchy change and adapt over time in order to respond to the evolving needs of the incoming projects.
We hope this information was useful to you and you got the idea of how the hierarchy in creative agencies works.
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