Rosie Arnold looks back on her career and explains why she never wanted to start her own agency

As she accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award at The Drum Advertising Awards and contemplates post-agency life, Rosie Arnold is still determined to make the industry a better place to work.

“John Hegarty always said to me that when you get a lifetime achievement award it means people are telling you to retire,” groans Rosie Arnold – who ironically, since receiving The Drum Advertising Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, has announced she is calling time on her 35-year career in advertising. She’s stepping down from her role as creative partner and head of art at AMV BBDO to focus on helping more diversity into creative departments.

She’s honoured but mildly embarrassed, primarily because she thinks “there are so many people that are so much more worthy of it,” but also because, from where she stands, her life, work and enduring career are entirely matter-of-fact.

On the surface, Arnold’s arrival on the advertising scene was fairly straightforward: school on the south coast, a foundation year in Bournemouth, a graphics course at Central Saint Martins in London, a terrible interview outfit but a great book that landed her a job at Bartle Bogle Hegarty for 33 years. But she still harbors a sense that it all could have been different had she continued down the path that was paved out for her since childhood.

“My generation of women were really expected to be wives and mothers,” she says. “I think there was one other girl from my class who went on to have a career. My mum’s idea of success would be me marrying aristocracy.”

Arnold chose not to be – as DH Lawrence put it in one of her A-Level English texts – “a threshold” for the lives of her children. So led by a desire to do it all when it came to ideation, typography, illustration and all the disciplines that once fell under the banner of ‘graphics’, she pulled the D&AD annuals off the library shelves and set about finding a mentor in a new and novel industry called advertising.

It was the early 1980s, and incredibly she found a female art director in Collett Dickenson Pearce’s Judy Smith. “I had wondered where the hell all the women were, so it was a blessing to suddenly find her,” remembers Arnold. “I was horribly persistent about making her see me. And she was so rare and giving and kind of helpful. I wouldn’t be here without her today.”

For a long time, it seemed to many that Arnold would never leave BBH. And why should she have? Her status as ‘employee number 11’ granted her somewhat of an unofficial mentor in Hegarty, and she was there through the good times, the best work and coolest clients – the likes of Levi’s, Yeo Valley, Lynx and her first TV ad, Pretty Polly tights. Of course, other agencies came knocking, but: “I didn’t think anywhere else would really offer me better than BBH.

“It’s also why I never started my own agency – another thing people ask me all the time. You have to have a point of view about why you want your agency to exist. I wasn’t going to do it just so I could sell it in three years’ time and make money. BBH had a really clear set of reasons why they wanted their own agency. And I wanted to be in a place I could believe in.”

Her decision to finally leave in 2016 came down to more than the job. There were the years she spent caring for husband as he became sick, tackled six rounds of chemotherapy and died. A close friend’s suicide came soon after. So, when she came back to work, everything was cast in a different shadow. She needed “a change – a different route to work, a different office”. A few tube stops away, AMV BBDO carved out the space she needed.

Arnold didn’t want the post of chief creative officer at her Omnicom home, nor an executive creative director role. She cared too much about ideas and nurturing young talent to get side tracked by the politics of recruitment, and she’s never been one for “turning left on the plane and all that stuff”. She ran accounts too (as the global lead for Galaxy/Dove chocolate and looking after Tropicana, Quaker and Martini in the UK) but it was her recent work on Maltesers, which stemmed from the brand’s inclusivity drive around the Paralympics in 2016, that she was most proud of at AMV.

One of her final ads at the agency overtly addressed the menopause – a stage in life that Arnold has been vocal about entering and now wants to make visible in advertising. It’s the latest stage in her career-long crusade to give women and those historically shunned by casting directors a place on posters, TV and online. Her efforts were cast in stone when in 2011 she launched the White Pencil award for work that does good during her presidency of D&AD.

Interestingly, the creative is more comfortable discussing legacy than the notion of ‘lifetime achievement’. The White Pencil and “challenging people to ‘unstereotype’ the world through advertising” is hers. And recently she’s been working on getting the industry to cool its obsession with reach and rediscover a love of beautiful advertising.

But all of this is a matter of fact. Tomorrow, with or without an agency to go to, she’ll be doing what she’s always done – making advertising (and the world) a better place.

Arnold has since announced her intention to leave AMV BBDO and the advertising industry altogether after 35-years.

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