Rosie Arnold is in a minority, being one of few women to have broken the male-dominated advertising industry’s glass ceiling. Arnold has spent her entire career at BBH since joining as a graduate in 1983, and is now the agency's deputy executive creative director, second in command to advertising legend Sir John Hegarty.
As last year’s president of D&AD and a juror at this year’s Roses Awards, Arnold is uniquely placed to tell us where the industry is at – and where it is heading as we look ahead to the next 12 months and beyond...
Rosie, 2013 is here. What’s in store for the ad industry this year?
I think we’ve all got a big problem. I’m one of those people who, when you have the option to skip an ad on YouTube, I’m literally going in one second ‘skip!’. We’ve got to be sensitive to the fact that you cannot sell anything to anybody if they’re not listening. The more channels we find for interrupting people and getting on their nerves, the more we’re going to become the devil that they hate. I think we have a real responsibility to be sensitive about where we’re advertising, who we’re speaking to and what we’re shoving down their throats.
Much is made about digital, but one of your big successes last year was the Yeo Valley dancing farmers television ad that stopped people in their tracks during the X Factor…
That was a really interesting model because what we did was create a long-form film that ran once as a two minute ad, once as a one minute ad and four times as a 40-second advert. It ran six times and that was it. What we tried to do was create something that people would love enough to look it up themselves, which is what happened.
I think long-form advertising is on the comeback. Finding destination spots where you know that lots of people are going to be watching it, tweeting about it, sharing that experience with their friends… I think we’re going to do more speaking in that environment. I think it’s a more successful way of entertaining people in a mass audience situation rather than just constantly interrupting people on their own.
You were president of D&AD last year. What did you think of the standard of work and what stood out for you?
I don’t think, sadly, that it was a record year creatively. As ever you have a few outstanding pieces of work but I hoped we’d have seen more. One of the things I’ve been really interested in is the ability of creative thinking to change the world and do fundamentally good things. So, for instance, the Honda Internavi work where Honda had designed a car that could tell you what the state of the roads were. They opened up that technology after the earthquake in Japan so that everybody could work out which roads were open and clear. That was a really interesting piece of thinking; maybe not advertising, but a communications piece that I thought was really interesting.
As one of the ad industry's female flag bearers, you’re inevitably going to be asked why there aren’t more women in creative roles…
I’m sad because it’s such a brilliant job. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy by male creatives to keep women out of the creative departments; I think it’s actually a very tough job. Almost every minute of every day in some way you’re being rejected, because people are looking at your ideas and they’re criticising them. I think that’s tough. This is a generalisation, but maybe men are better at handling that.
This is another massive generalisation, but we tend to be peacemakers. Great creativity is not about compromise. It’s about single-vision, and pushing it through when someone says ‘You can’t have a bearskin rug, it’s un-pc, make it a toy rug’. No. It’s a bear. It’s been shot. It’s a bear-skin rug.
Awards juries are like the industry in microcosm: dominated by men. You’re judging the Roses Creative Awards this year. What differences will it make having a female presence on the panel, and do men and women judge work differently?
Absolutely. If you think about the films women like to see and the books women read and the activities women enjoy, it’s very different from the same things that men do. One of my bugbears and maybe one of the reasons we’re not getting so many women in the industry is that it’s all-male juries, so therefore the work [women] do isn’t rated.
It’s no surprise to me that over the last 50 years or so, sports brands and beer brands have dominated the awards. It’s quite difficult if you’re a woman. I love the Boots ‘Here come the girls’ work – that’s very feminine but would that be judged as an award winner by men? Would the John Lewis little boy advert? It won some awards, but notably it didn’t win at D&AD.
What do you look for? What separates a great idea from mediocrity?
All awards are about ideas beautifully crafted and executed. You start off looking for a great, outstanding original piece of thinking and then you look at how well it’s executed. What’s happened is because of this explosion of different media, I think people mistake technique – a new widget, say – for an idea. I think that’s where I’m going to be saying, hang on, I might be impressed that you can do this, a singing poster or whatever it might be, but actually what is the idea? And have you taken the idea beyond the widget or the gadget or technology?
Speaking of technology, BBH won the agency of the year title at the 2012 Webby’s – a big coup for a ‘traditional’ agency in the digital world’s own back yard. Is that a sign of the times that convergence is now truly upon us?
Our industry has always been about ideas. New things come along and people don’t always understand the technology around them. It’s at that moment everybody springs up and says ‘I can do it’. I think we now understand the technology – we’ve got experts in who can help us – and ultimately what we’re good at is ideas. That’s what you need. I think what will happen is that as agencies understand the technical requirements they’re gonna start beating places that have just set up with technological discipline and expertise and who haven’t invested in people who really think of the ideas and how to use them in a creative way. [Ad agencies] will start bringing in the technological skills and making it work with their creative people. I think it’s a sign of the times myself.
There's a great story about you having to redraw your entire portfolio the night before your interview with Sir John Hegarty because D&AD refused to relinquish it from their student exhibition. Do you see that same hunger in today's young creatives?
I really feel for them. When I was lucky enough to get in the industry I did work really hard but I don’t know, it seems harder still for people coming into the industry now. So many teams are working so hard. The thing I worry about is the young talent that don’t have a London base. It’s so hard for them. I was lucky because I was at art school in London, I had a flat and a job waitressing or whatever it was that meant I did have somewhere I could live for relatively little. Now you are expected to work for very little. At BBH we try to pay them but there’s a lot of speculative work where you’re just touting your portfolio around. You need to be in one of the big cities, whether it’s London or Manchester or Glasgow. How on earth do you afford to live? That’s the thing I worry about.
It is hard work but it’s hard work on a pittance. We all have a responsibility to try and help new talent into the industry and do whatever we can. They do work just as hard as I did – every bit of it and more I would’ve thought.