Close-Up: Profile - Arnold London needs to make a name for itself

There's a Volvo reason for the move to the UK, John Tylee reports, but will it be enough to win renown for the newcomer?

It may be debatable whether the newly opened Arnold London is an agency born of opportunism or idealism. Or a bit of both.

There's no question that, in establishing a UK outpost, the Havas-owned and Boston-based Arnold Worldwide has significantly bolstered its position with Volvo.

Arnold is the car-maker's lead global agency, while Nitro has its UK assignment. How fortunate, therefore, that two of Arnold London's three founding partners are Paul Shearer and Johan Fourie, respectively Nitro's former creative chief and managing director.

Despite a less-than-happy time at Nitro ("Too much decision-making on the hoof," Shearer says), he dismisses any suggestion that Arnold was tempted to set up in London only by the prospect of sweeping up the remaining Volvo business not under its control.

Rather, he says, it was a fortunate confluence of events. Arnold was as eager to have a UK presence as Shearer was set to exit Nitro. It was a case of Arnold approaching him, he says, not the other way round.

Demarcation lines were agreed with Nitro's global chief executive, Chris Clarke. "It's not perfect, but we're having to live with it," Shearer says. With a pledge not to poach Nitro staff, Arnold London begins life not only with some significant business but the prospect of exploiting Shearer's links with Nike.

His relationship with the sportswear giant began 12 years ago at Wieden & Kennedy in Amsterdam and continued at Nitro.

Nevertheless, Arnold London sets out with much to prove, despite the probable cushion of referred business from Boston.

There's no escaping the fact that Arnold is launching into the teeth of an economic gale. It will be a tough challenge for a senior management team that is not the most experienced in the world.

Shearer has a high creative pedigree developed during spells at Butterfield Day DeVito Hockney, Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow Johnson, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and the then Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper. But he often has difficulty staying in jobs for extended periods. He quit as Leo Burnett's joint executive creative director after just six months, for instance.

"He's a real talent but he's an acquired taste," a former colleague remarks. "And you have to ask why he never seems to stay anywhere for very long." Some ex-colleagues are even more unequivocal.

Meanwhile, Fourie, whose primary role is managing the Volvo business, is a no-nonsense South African recruited by Nitro to usher in a more disciplined approach. His agency career spans Lintas, Publicis and TBWA in Europe and the Far East.

For Judy Mitchem, who completes the senior line-up, taking day-to-day charge of the agency may be the passport to the management role she has long coveted but that has so far eluded her during a 19-year agency career.

Renowned for her meticulous organisational skills, Mitchem was a mercurial seeker of new business at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R and M&C Saatchi.

However, as the chief marketing officer at Lowe, she couldn't convince Amanda Walsh, the then chief executive, that she was managing director material.

"Her approach to new business is actually quite old-fashioned," a former colleague remarks. "She's a charismatic character that people like, but her experience at managing difficult situations is limited."

Another ex-associate believes Mitchem's natural role will be as Arnold London's cheerleader and profile-raiser. "It's what the agency will need most and what's she's most comfortable with," he says.

Just as well, perhaps, since Arnold, a top 20 agency in the US with billings of $1.4 billion, is almost unknown here. Indeed, Arnold Worldwide is a misnomer since its network comprises offices in Boston, Washington, New York and five other US regional offices.

A few years ago, Arnold operated a handful of offices beyond the US. This ended when Havas decided to retrench the brand. Non-US outposts either went independent or were aligned with Arnold's sister network, Euro RSCG.

Now, Pam Hamlin, the Arnold Worldwide president, says more of her clients are looking for help beyond the confines of North America - not least Volvo, which likes the idea of having an agency a short hop away from Sweden.

However, some industry bosses question whether the group is the dynamic force it once was, particularly since Ed Eskandarian stepped down as its leader last year. Others believe that because the US ad scene is so New York-centric, it's hard for operations like Arnold to expand beyond their home cities.

"Fallon managed to pull it off through the sheer force of its ability," a New York-based network chief says. "But Arnold doesn't occupy that space."

For their part, the Arnold London partners believe a perceived negative can be turned into an advantage. "Boston culture is very similar to that of the UK," Mitchem claims. "It's courteous, subtle and civilised." Shearer believes tradition translates into Arnold's creative output. "The place is just like BBH ten years ago," he says.

But, in an already over-supplied UK market, will clients want to buy what Arnold London has to sell?

For Martin Jones, the AAR's director of advertising, the answer is a maybe.

Volvo could be a mixed blessing, he claims. While it provides a high comfort factor, it may be a turn-off for other prospects fearful of being overwhelmed by it.

The same goes for the management, he suggests. Although Mitchem and Shearer are familiar with the local scene, they aren't a tried-and-tested team. "That's what a client buys into when they hire a start-up," Jones says.

At the moment, the planning director is conspicuous by his or her absence, although Mitchem and Shearer say they're on the way to hiring one.

"You don't necessarily have to start with one but you need to get one in quickly," Jones advises. "Otherwise you just look like a creative consultancy."

In the end, if you get the right people, the fact that prospects don't know your name may matter little. After all, as Jones points out, the lack of recognition never hampered Fallon.

"I don't know if our lack of familiarity will be a problem," Hamlin confesses. "I like to think there's some limited knowledge of us. It's up to us to create more."

ALL ABOUT ARNOLD

1946: Arnold & Co established out of conglomeration of Boston-based agencies. It is named after its founder and chairman, Arnold Rosoff.

1986: Rosoff retires. Sells agency to employees.

1990: Agency acquired by Ed Eskandarian, former president and chief executive of the New York agency HBM/Creamer.

1995: Arnold sold to Snyder Communications (SNC).

2000: Arnold acquired by Havas when it buys SNC for $2.1 billion.

2000: Havas launches Arnold Worldwide as global network, by merging Arnold with six agencies of the Campus network, which includes the UK's WCRS and Partners BDDH.

2001: Arnold Worldwide joins Procter & Gamble roster with Bounty kitchen towels assignment. Havas merges the UK direct marketing agency Brann into Arnold Worldwide.

2002: Arnold Worldwide wins Dunlop's US account but is dropped from P&G roster. Closes San Francisco office when dotcom business dries up.

2004: Takes $10 million Timberland account from Fallon.

2005: Radio Shack appoints Arnold Worldwide to its $250 million account. Volkswagen of America dumps it after more than a decade and switches creative assignment to Crispin Porter & Bogusky.

2006: Wins $30 million Lee Jeans account. Pam Hamlin, an Arnold senior manager for the previous ten years, named president of Arnold Worldwide.

2007: Plugs VW gap by winning lion's share of Volvo's global account. Eskandarian steps down as head of Arnold, which agrees 24-month compensation package, paying him $500,000 a year until February 2009.

2008: Arnold opens London office.

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