Fran Kelly, vice chairman of Boston-based global advertising agency Arnold Worldwide, spoke to Emerson graduate students in the Charles Beard Room on November 8, sharing his insights into the advertising world.
When asked by students what his best work has been, Kelly was quick to list the famous 1998–2006 “Drivers Wanted” ad campaign that Arnold Worldwide developed for Volkswagen.
“It had never been done before, it was enormously successful, and it was a joy creatively,” he said. “I’m very proud of what we did…Volkswagen was one bad year away from exiting the United States [before the campaign].”
For an hour, Kelly shared anecdotes from his more than 35 years of experience in the advertising industry. The discussion was led by four Emerson graduate students from the Global Marketing Communication and Advertising (GMCA) and Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) programs. The event was part of the recently launched emersonNEXT professional development program run by the Office of Graduate Studies, which provides opportunities for graduate students to meet and learn from industry professionals.
Kelly joined Arnold Worldwide in 1994 and began serving as its CEO in 2006 before becoming vice chairman. Today, the company employs 1,200 people in 13 offices on five continents. The agency represents a diverse group of well-known brands including Hershey’s, New Balance, and Jack Daniel’s.
Kelly is the co-author of two books, The Breakaway Brand (McGraw-Hill, 2005) and What They Really Teach You at the Harvard Business School (Piatkus Books, 1987), and is a self-identified “branding and integrated marketing fanatic.” But he told students that his lifelong career in advertising wasn’t the original plan.
“I simply thought being a doctor was a great way to make a lot of money, play golf on Wednesday, and still go to heaven,” said Kelly, who enrolled in pre-med at Amherst College.
When he realized it was “a grueling program” and his advisors began to “strongly suggest” he look at other career options, Kelly considered advertising as a sophomore after he successfully delivered a pitch to Amherst donors conflicted over the college’s impending decision to become co-ed.
Kelly often referenced the importance of finding, or creating, the “magic” in advertising. When asked how to best market an uninspiring product, Kelly replied, “I would encourage you to try really hard not to do that.”
“You’ve got to try to work on stuff you know you love, because you’re going to have a hard time making something magical,” he said. “Work for things that you love that you can talk more people into loving.”
Kelly and Arnold Worldwide are the forces behind other successful campaigns such as the OceanSpray cranberry juice’s “straight from the bog” commercials and a revamp of Reese’s marketing that focused on the simplicity of chocolate and peanut butter.
“It’s incredible when you see a product succeed,” he said.