When Jeff Charney was Aflac's chief marketing officer, he led an agency review that saw Arnold fight to become one of two finalists but ultimately finish behind the other shop. Mr. Charney sensed that Arnold , while almost recovered from the downturn, was still warming up.
Arnold was Ad Age 's Comeback Agency of the Year in 2010, boosting revenue 6% when the prediction was that it would lose money.
But the Havas-owned agency clearly wasn't satisfied with merely being back on the scene.
It closed 2011 with revenue up an impressive 23%. The growth came from marquee clients such as Volvo, Hershey and Ocean Spray, and a slew of new accounts, including Dell, Sanofi-Aventis, the Boston Bruins and Tribe hummus. Arnold opened offices in Australia and China, and it will soon have an outpost in Brazil.
"What a difference a year makes," said Mr. Charney, now the CMO at Progressive . He joined the insurer about 14 months ago with no intention of changing the agency of record. Arnold now ranks No. 1 in his book.
"They understand my philosophy of out-create, not outspend," Mr. Charney said. "I'm a big believer in letting these guys be a part of the culture. They are in every meeting we have. ... I treat them as part of my extended staff."
The Progressive brand has never been stronger, largely because of Arnold 's keen insights on consumers' love for Flo, the character the agency created to represent Progressive . Flo's Facebook page has earned 3.36 million "likes," and her white uniform and signature hairstyle was among the most popular Halloween costumes in 2011.
"We continue to acquire new customers and retain them in a big way," said Mr. Charney.
Undoubtedly, Arnold gets what it means to be a progressive agency.
"One of the things we've done is hire digital talent ahead of revenue," said Arnold CEO Andrew Benett, adding that the ability to deliver digital work attracts clients.
More than half of the 200 people Arnold added to its U.S. workforce last year have digital and technology specialties. Among them are Dave Dugan from BzzAgent, Matt Howell of Modernista, former Microsoft digital marketer Sebastian Gard, creative technologist Anthony Stellato and former Time Inc. digital marketer Angela Wei. Mixing the staff makeup has resulted in different types of assignments, such as customer-relationship management and digital marketing for Dell.
Arnold 's passion for talent extends beyond its house; it is committed to leading talent reform within the industry. The agency partnered with the 4A's to conduct a study on talent management, and Mr. Benett regularly speaks on the subject.
"The irony is that there's so much that is critical for an agency's success that revolves around bringing in the best talent and motivating them, yet we do so little to invest in talent management as a whole," Mr. Benett said.
Doug Speck, global president-marketing and sales at Volvo, appreciates Arnold 's broadened capabilities, as well as its attitude.
"They aren't just a mouthpiece for what we ask them to do," Mr. Speck said. "An agency needs to push back on the client in a respectful way, and they're really good at that ."
Arnold 's investment in enhancing its European presence to better serve the automaker was a factor in the agency's being entrusted with Volvo's U.K. business in December, he added.
"Other agencies might have said, "If you commit to us, then we'll go hire the people and put the infrastructure in place,' " Mr. Speck said. In contrast, he said, Arnold made the investment "and were confident that this would prove such a compelling proposition [that ] we'd have a long-term relationship on the back of it. It was a risk, but a calculated risk."