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Everything You Wanted to Know about Working as a Chief Creative Officer: Real Professionals Share Their Stories

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Have you ever wondered what a chief creative officer does? Well, wonder no more. In this article, you'll discover through the lives of successful chief creative officers not only how to immerse yourself in the advertising industry but how to thrive and succeed as a chief creative officer, as well.

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to interview several CCOs (chief creative officers, also commonly known as creative directors) in the advertising industry. All have different stories to tell; however, one thing remains the same: they love what they do.

You must be interested in becoming a chief creative officer, or you wouldn’t be here. Of course, I’m no expert, but folks like Tom Ortega, Robert Gourley, and Tom Simons are. All of them are successful creative directors who continue to thrive in the industry.

Below you’ll find the mini-stories of these creative directors: how they got started in advertising, what their responsibilities as CCOs are, and what their successes have been to date. So, if you’re curious about what it takes to become a successful chief creative officer, read on.

Tom Ortega: Creative Director at RIESTER

''I started my career laying out ads for Furr’s Grocery Stores and illustrated products. I then moved to Dallas without a job and switched over to copywriting because it was the first job I was ever offered,'' says Ortega, who graduated from Texas Tech University with a BA in Advertising.

But his rise to the top was only just beginning. Ortega had stints with top advertising companies such as McCann and Erickson before deciding to freelance with friend Tim Riester and his company (RIESTER). The two hit worked well together, and in 2000, Ortega joined the company full-time. Today, he is RIESTER’s creative director.

Ortega’s Responsibilities as a Chief Creative Officer

''I oversee our entire creative department and am directly involved with the development and production of RIESTER’s strategic advertising efforts,'' says Ortega of his responsibilities. ''I also work with the Context Planning Department to ensure that all creative [work] is strategically on target.''

Ortega’s Successes as a Chief Creative Officer

Numerous are the awards Ortega has won for his creative work. From winning several national and local ADDY awards and displaying his work in the Communication Arts Advertising and Design Annuals to winning a Copywriter of the Year award from the Phoenix Advertising Club, Ortega shines in all that he does.

Robert Gourley: Creative Director at Mojave Interactive

Unlike Ortega, Robert Gourley began his career outside of advertising — in psychology.

''I left school were I was studying psychology to move full-time into graphic design. I had taken a night job at school doing a variety of small office tasks, and quickly found my skill in producing marketing materials. I ended up growing a whole department in the company and decided to leave psychology to work in graphic design full-time.

''I got into advertising in 1992 from the ground floor — production,'' continues Gourley. ''I was a designer working on visual design and layouts, and from there moved into concept development and art direction. My big move came when I saw the Internet in 1996, and I quit my job in traditional advertising to focus almost exclusively on online advertising.''

And in May of 2007, after leaving his position as Interactive Creative Director of Young & Rubicam, Gourley founded Mojave Interactive. He says, ''I saw a shift in the industry towards more engaging advertising and wanted to start a small, nimble company to capture the momentum and help clients in this new space.''

Gourley’s Responsibilities as a Chief Creative Officer

''I oversee all strategic communications, brand development, and art direction for our clients. A typical day for me might be meeting with a team to develop a creative strategy, researching new interactive tools to reach consumers, presenting concepts to a client, art directing a rich media campaign, or overseeing an online video shoot.''

Gourley’s Successes as a Chief Creative Officer

''One of my highlights was being brought into Apple right after Steve Jobs rejoined the company. I was hired to create the site, which has been redesigned several times, but still contains many elements of my original design,'' says Gourley.

Tom Simons: President and Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons

Tom Simons discovered his creative passion at Harvard University while majoring in visual and environmental studies.

''Like a lot of Harvard, my concentration was rich in euphemism,'' says Simons. ''[My major] was really a studio art major. [Originally,] I was…drawn to it because the courses didn’t conclude with exams, which I thought was seductive. Of course, I found out [later] that it did not mean there wasn’t a ton of work. Frankly, I had two instructors who convinced me I had some creative/artistic mettle. I owe them a lot.''

Simons’ Journey into the Advertising World before Becoming a Chief Creative Officer

Ad agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, was where Simons got his start, working as their art director. Next, he moved to Arnold & Company, where he later became its associate director. And in 1989, he founded ''PARTNERS+simons, [which is] now one of the largest independent advertising and marketing services firms in New England, depending on who's counting,'' says the firm’s website.

Simons’ Successes as a Chief Creative Officer

Simons lives and breathes advertising. The proof? Not only was he named among New England ADWEEK’s ''Creative All-Stars'' in 1992 and 1994, but Simons has also ''accepted two Arnold Rosoff Awards for brand building advertising campaigns directed at diverse audiences — one with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and one for the United Way of Mass Bay,'' according to a mini-bio.

Some Final Thoughts on Becoming a Chief Creative Officer

From the lives of Ortega, Gourley, and Simons, we can see that not every chief creative officer arrives at his position by the same road. Ortega studied advertising in college, but for Gourley it was psychology, and for Simons it was visual and environmental studies at Harvard. But regardless of their different starts, they all knew one thing: they loved creating.
On the net:RIESTER

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