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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Agency Profile: Arnold, Boston


Agency Profile: Arnold, Boston

Posted on February 22, 2008 and read 5,973 times

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My Super Bowl plans seemed so simple.

I’d settle in on the couch, snacks and drinks at arm’s length, laptop nearby in order to catch the commercials that I, as a Canadian, always hear about but never get to see. I’d watch Tom Petty do his thing, and when it came to the game, I’d watch Tom Brady do his thing. Then, after the New England Patriots bested the New York Giants and completed the perfect season, I’d go to my bed, with visions of the sweet chaos I’d be a part of over the next few days as I traveled to Boston, home of the Super Bowl XLII champions!

Ah well, crummy weather for a parade anyways.

Boston is one of the oldest cities in the US, with a rich history stretching back long before American independence. It’s the home of America’s first public school, its first subway system, and the area is famous for a number of schools of higher learning, such as Harvard University, MIT and Boston College. Boston has a number of popular neighborhoods, including Beacon Hill (the location of the Bull & Finch Pub, AKA “Cheers”) and Back Bay, the latter of which is the home of the Prudential Center, one of Boston’s trendiest shopping locales. It is within this chic center that you’ll find the wood and marble entrance to 101 Huntington Avenue, the office tower global headquarters of Arnold.

Arnold was founded right here in Boston in 1946 by Arnold Z. Rosoff, who took the unusual step of naming the agency after his first name, instead of the tried and true last name method. “I’ve always felt this made the agency a little more personal, like a smaller agency,” says Pete Favat, Arnold’s Chief Creative Officer. “We’ve continued in that tradition by having everybody here at Arnold go on a first name basis, with all of our business cards emphasizing our first names.” Having trouble tying a name to a person? Don’t worry: each business card also contains a really quirky story about the person whose name is so boldly displayed. “My card talks about getting bit on the knee by a squirrel when I was three years old,” laughs Pete.

Arnold possesses a formidable client list. You’d be hard pressed to hear creatives hear asking ‘when are we gonna work on some good clients?’ “We’re fortunate enough to work with companies and brands like McDonald’s, the American Legacy Foundation (the renowned ‘Truth’ anti-smoking ads), Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, ESPN, Volvo and Ocean Spray,” says Pete. “We’re also very proud of the fact that we’ve gotten results for our clients.” In one part of the offices of Arnold, not too far from its gigantic wall of Cannes Lions, One Show Pencils and other accolades, are framed displays of the results the agency has achieved for their clients. “We took all of our clients and pitted their numbers and results against the numbers of the S&P 500, and they actually outperformed the market by 65 points,” Pete continues. “So we either attract a very smart client base, or we’re pretty smart ourselves and help these clients get better. I’d like to think it’s a bit of both. We’ve won a ton of awards, but we know at the end of the day we have to impact business if we’re to maintain our clients.”

Arnold’s Boston headquarters is pretty sizable, taking up eight floors and incorporating over 700 staff members. About a third of these people fall under the category of “creative’, and this includes everyone from traditional writers and art directors to designers to interactive to production people. “Since nowadays projects can hardly be classified as ‘just traditional’ or ‘just online’, we keep everybody mixed up, with no set departments for the various disciplines,” says Pete. This also means that creative teams are generally a bit larger than the traditional writer/art director pairing, frequently including a designer and an interactive person into the mix on every project. And while there are many common areas to brainstorm and shoot around ideas (including ‘think rooms’, creative spaces designed by individuals to last 6–8 months at a time before being redesigned all over again) every creative at Arnold has his or her own office with a door that can close for some peace and quiet.

“You can sometimes learn more from MRI tests than from focus groups.”

While this blending of the various creative disciplines into one big department is hardly unique to Arnold, the agency does have a curious approach to providing their creatives with the information they need to do great work. Enter… The Department of Human Nature. Working alongside traditional planners, this department is made up of people such as cognitive scientists, anthropologists, behaviorists and psychologists. “ These people understand exactly what’s happening inside your brain when you’re in front of a store shelf and you grab for the blue product instead of the red one,” says Pete. “We have these people from this department working directly with the creatives and account people, sharing their expertise on human behavior. You can sometimes learn more from MRI tests than from focus groups.” (And Pete knows all about focus groups; I’m sure some of his horror stories helped lead Arnold to create this piece for last year’s Hatch Awards.)

When coming up with a brand strategy for a campaign, Arnold employs its own process, one that requires the involvement of everyone at the agency. “When establishing a strategy, we ask three questions of everybody involved, not just the account people,” says Pete. “Number one: what do we stand for? Some clients say they want to stand for all things to all people, but nobody can, and anyone who tries will be sniffed out as a phony. So we establish what the brand’s ‘true self’ is and have the brand be itself.”

“Number two: who’s the enemy? If the brand were a book or movie, who would the antagonist be? Some are more obvious than others. For Truth, the enemy is Big Tobacco. But what’s the enemy of Royal Caribbean? For us, we determined it’s a complacent vacation where you just lounge around sipping pink drinks.”

“Finally, number three: why do we matter? What makes the idea, or even the brand relevant? If this can’t be answered, there’s no point in putting out any message. This is where we also really push the client. We know the client loves their ‘baby,’ but not everyone loves your ‘baby,’ so what is it about your ‘baby’ that people should love?”

These three questions can be found printed on giant, mural-sized chalkboards throughout the halls of Arnold, where everybody is welcome to add their own thoughts and insights. It is from these responses that a proper strategy can be determined.

One of the most fascinating areas within Arnold is its “R&D” department. Located steps away from Pete’s office, the R&D department is a virtual mad scientist’s laboratory where creativity and high-technology come together as one. Staffed by creatives and engineers, these people are busy building things from robots that can draw to pieces of foamcore with the multi-touch capabilities of an iPhone screen. “The people in this department are given free rein to come up with ideas for our entire client list,” says Pete. And it has already begun; the R&D department has developed soon-to-be launched ideas for brands such as Southern Comfort and Volvo.“What’s really amazing is that I never thought I’d be working in an ad agency,” jokes Todd Vanderlin, Lead Technologist.

“If it weren’t for the fact that everyone is working so hard, it might seem like a bit of a country club.”

Every agency has its little perks, and Arnold is definitely one of them. “Our head of HR has really outdone herself when it comes to providing for our employees,” says Pete. Some of the benefits at Arnold include emergency daycare, laundry and dry cleaning service, massage and manicures, a winter wellness program, public transit passes, 401(k) programs and others. “If it weren’t for the fact that everyone is working so hard, it might seem like a bit of a country club,” jokes Pete. This policy has perennially put Arnold near the top of the Boston Business Journal’s ‘Best Places To Work In Massachusetts’ list.

So what does the agency do to keep everybody involved and having fun? “Due to our size, it’s often difficult to get everyone together,” explains Pete. “I tried to put together a snowboarding trip for the creatives, but it was near impossible.” Instead the agency gets together every Thursday afternoon for a ‘town hall meeting,’ where different teams get up and talk about what they’ve been up to, or to bring in inspiring guest speakers. The town hall is also an opportunity for people to show off non-work related projects. “We have many musicians here at Arnold, and even some published authors, and the town hall has often served as a chance to screen new work for the entire agency. We’ve even had record release parties and book signings here,” says Pete. “I’ve always thought the ancient Romans did alright because they had a very public forum to put out news, and that’s what our town hall Thursdays are like. They sure beat mass emails.”

Outside of the town hall meetings, another way that Arnold brings together people in the agency is by hosting workshops. These workshops are put on by staff members, and are basically opportunities to share knowledge with their fellow employees. The workshops are voluntary, and can range in topic from how to put together a professional photo album to starting your own podcast.

As mentioned, music is a big part of the lives of many people at Arnold. To accommodate the agency’s many musicians, Arnold has put together a music room where in-agency bands can get together and jam. “The soundproofing leaves a little to be desired, but we’re working on that,” says Pete. And for those who are less than handy with a real guitar, the agency has an ongoing Guitar Hero tournament room (it helps to have Activision on your client list.)

So at the end of the day, what can somebody new to the Arnold environment expect from their workplace? “To be perfectly honest, our goal is to be as genuine as possible with each other,” explains Pete. “We are always trying to do the most breakthrough, compelling work possible, but we also want to do that in a very caring, nurturing environment that treats everyone like family. It sounds corny, but it’s true. We’re very aware that everyone here has personal needs and family needs outside of the office, and although the hours here can be long, extending into the night and even on weekends, we try very hard to help our staff and give them the freedom to tend to life outside our doors. With that freedom, the work and the work environment can only get better.”

Thanks to Pete, Meredith and everyone at Arnold for having us visit. And don’t worry about the Pats; you still have the Celtics, and the Red Sox just won the World Series, for cryin’ out loud.


Brett McKenzie
Chief Writer/SBN2
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