Podcast: The A-Typical Trajectory of a New CEO -- Kiran Smith of Arnold Worldwide

By Insider InSites Podcasts Archives
Cover image for  article: Podcast: The A-Typical Trajectory of a New CEO -- Kiran Smith of Arnold Worldwide

Kiran Smith (pictured above right) is four months in to her new role of Chief Executive Officer of Arnold Worldwide, and what intrigued me immediately was not only hearing a fresh perspective, but hearing it from someone who had never before worked on the agency side.  The following is a topline of the full conversation with her on navigating the agency world as a brand marketer.  It has been edited for length and clarity. Listen here and subscribeto all Insider InSites episodes via Apple podcastsStitcherGoogle Play, Spotify or iHeartRadio.

E.B. Moss:  Kiran, you were most recently Chief Marketing Officer at Brookstone, and before that you headed marketing at Stride Rite, and Shaw's Supermarkets, and also worked at Accenture.  So you came up through the marketing ranks to beCEO of Arnold Worldwide.  Tell us more.

Kiran Smith:  As I said to the recruiter, "You know I don't have a day of agency experience, right?"  He said, "That's exactly why we want to talk to you."  So, I just expressed my opinions on what I thought about agencies and the opportunity for CMOs.  CMOs are under more pressure than ever.   Their budgets are getting tighter, their teams are getting leaner and they're looking for partners to help them address business needs and give them an independent perspective on what's going on in theirs and other industries.  I'm not a creative person.  I'm a business person and despite the fact that I'm a marketer, I am a computer science major, so it's a very atypical type of trajectory.  Arnold is a creative powerhouse; what I didn't appreciate was the amount of capabilities we have from the standpoint of business insights, strategies and analytics that allow us to be able to better serve our clients.  So, it's not about the creative alone, it really is about everything we surround the creative with.

Moss:  What are you recommending as new channels of application to your clients?

Smith:  Our job is to stay ahead of trends so that we can better advise our clients.  What's going on with AR, with Voice, with AI?  They need us to be their partner in looking forward so that we can tell them how we can apply it to their businesses.  [But] the first thing we say is, "Just because everyone's doing it doesn't mean that you have to, too."  If it's not right for your brand, if it's not right for who you're targeting from a consumer standpoint, then don't rush to be at the front of that line unless it's absolutely right, unless you're set up for success.

Moss:  Concerning how you prioritize your approach for clients, is it a split in terms of performance versus content?

Smith:  Content has to perform.  It can't be creative for creative's sake.  What behavior are we looking to get from someone interacting with that content?  All of that has to live in the analytics portion of it, because if we just do it because it looks good [or] sounds good then we're not doing our jobs well.

Moss:  What's your take on more brands bringing their business or part of their business in house?

Smith:  I'm going to say something that might surprise you.  I think every company should have an in-house agency because there is a reason they exist.  You don't need an Arnold or a big agency to do iteration work or execution work like moving a digital banner from horizontal to vertical.  But you do need an Arnold for [that] independent viewpoint of what good, amazing, creative and brand work looks like.

Moss:  What are some of your favorite examples of that amazing creative from Arnold?

Smith:  I think the 10-year relationship with Progressive [and] the success of the Flo campaign, extending that family, the longevity and the effectiveness it continues to have, but also going into new parts.  We just did an activation with Santander around homelessness in Boston which was unbelievable from engagement, cause marketing and use of AR technology to really raise awareness around the plight of homeless -- and Santander is up to $200,000 [in donations so far] for an amazing cause.

Moss:  How do you approach storytelling at the agency?

Smith:  What I give our creatives so much credit for is that they work so well with our insights and strategy team to say, "Okay, tell me about the consumer.  Tell me about the opportunity."  They take all of that into account and then they write the story.  That, for me, is so much more impactful because it's creative with a purpose, so that's how we look at it.

Moss:  Where do you pull your data from primarily?

Smith:  We obviously have the syndicated data that you can subscribe to.  We also do a fair amount of our own qualitative or quantitative research for every single client, both current and prospective.  My whole thing with every pitch that we do is I want to teach the client something they didn't know about themselves.  When I was on the CMO side those are the agencies that I remembered.

Moss:  What do you think is new and next?  What about audio, AI, OTT?

Smith:  Specifically, I would say AR is super important.  Voice, 100%.  I think the smarter people who understand how to leverage and use them to their advantage and not get overwhelmed [by them], not get buried or so lost in it that they lose perspective in terms of what they're trying to do are the ones that are going to win.

Moss:  The ANA just published adiversity reporton the ad industry.  It seems your leadership team is very diverse, but tell me about your experience creating a corporate culture and your plan for that?

Smith:  Diversity and inclusion has always been important to Arnold in terms of top priorities, so I am inheriting an organization that has all the ingredients there.  Everybody'sjob is about D&I, and it's not just about gender or race.  [It's including the need] to take into account how you think. For example, we've got super right-brain and left-brain people, and we've put them all in one building and we mix it up, and that's what makes it so special.

Moss:  With three children I guess you have empathy for flexibility and work/life balance.

Smith:  It's taught me that there is no such thing as balance!  You do the best that you can do, and you give yourself a break once in a while to let yourself off the hook when you feel like you're not doing everything right.  But what gives me a lot of passion is keeping women in the workforce and giving them opportunities to not opt out of working by saying, "What can we do to make this an environment where you feel rewarded and refreshed and able to go home and do your second job?"

Moss:  What about insights for young people coming up in the industry?

Smith:  I think what I would say is take a look at advertising ... at agencies.  We have some amazing young talent in our business and they often will say, "I came on it by chance.  I didn't really know much but it seemed like a cool place," and then they realize how many different paths there are for career growth.  Whether it's on the strategy side, insight side, creative side, marketing account side ... they really can find a path that's right for them.

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