|Scott Donaton, editor of 'Advertising Age.'|
Arnell's confidence -- some call it cockiness -- coupled with his C-suite access and unheard-of ability to price his brain at a million dollars a month, provoke admiration and resentment in equal parts. Those who've been in pitches with him relay how he wins over CEOs with soulful, passionate conversations about everything but advertising, and they're often torn between being in awe of that ability and dismissing it as hokum. In any case, they can't ignore it.
Since selling to Omnicom Group three years ago, Arnell has lived a dual existence: as agency boss and as John Wren's secret weapon. More often than any Omnicom network chief would like to admit, Arnell is called in to help win or save a piece of business. A client roster doesn't come close to representing the companies he works for on projects that often have little to do with print ads or TV spots. Some succeed, others spectacularly don't (Celine and Chrysler being the wreck rivals most enjoy gloating over).
Advertising as architecture
But as the advertising business is transformed into the marketing business, and as
|Peter Arnell sees big roles for design and architecture in marketing's future.
"Design and architecture are commercial arts where imagination and dreams are still present and paid for," Arnell said over dinner at midtown Manhattan's Hatsuhana, where he eats three times a week and keeps his own set of chopsticks. "When was the last time a client called himself a patron of advertising? Everyone who hires Frank Gehry calls himself a patron."
Arnell is talking about architecture in the physical sense, built environments ("A client in Japan has asked me to rethink billboards and urban landscapes") and sensory experiences ("Apple's stores are the finest example of an invitation that converts to a transaction"). But he's also talking about a front-end marketing approach that could return agencies to a seat at the strategy table.
"The industry we know today called advertising tends to have an extremely limited contributive platform by virtue of either their skill sets or their access," Arnell said. He envisions a role "where we walk in and share the path of the design of that company from the front end. Product development. Strategy. Helping to style a brand's future.
Agency as moneymaker
"There's a true intersection between culture and commerce, and design is absolutely the next power tool," he said, adding that agency visionaries who can "create a company's language and translate it into products" will be viewed by client CEOs as moneymakers rather than expenditures.
He talked about projects clients won't let him publicly reveal yet, involving new product lines that could transform their companies. But he's aware he'll need case studies of success before skeptics will give credibility to his theory.
Which, of course, he confidently predicts he can deliver. As his weight loss shows -- the diet began after Wren asked him to shed a few pounds for his health -- Peter Arnell loves a challenge.