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From Retail CMO to Agency CEO - Kiran Smith of Arnold Worldwide
Nov 15, 2018 · 20 min
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Kiran Smith 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 from someone who had never worked on the agency side before... Here's the topline. Listen to Episiode 23 of's Insider InSites for the full story! 

E.B. Moss:  Kiran Smith, you were most recently Chief Marketing Officer at Brookstone, and before that you headed marketing at Stride Rite, and Shaw's Supermarkets. So you came up through the marketing ranks to be CEO 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 the business needs, 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 a business insights, strategies and analytics standpoint, and that allows 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." ....

Moss: In terms of 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, sounds good, then we're not doing our jobs well.


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

Smith: Progressive [and] the success of the Flo campaign...but also going into new parts. ...We just did an activation with Santander around homelessness in Boston which was unbelievable from an engagement, cause marketing, and use of AR technology standpoint.

Moss: How do you approach storytelling at the agency?

Smith: I give our creatives credit for working 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.

Moss: Where do you pull your data from primarily?

Smith: We obviously have syndicated data. We also do a fair amount of our own qualitative or quantitative research for every single client, both current and prospective ... With every pitch that we do I want to teach the client something they didn't know about themselves. When I was on a 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], 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 their diversity report on the industry. 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's job 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.

...Listen to Insider InSites to hear all Smith's thoughts on what's trending, if in-house agencies are a good idea, and creating a work/life balance. 

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