Kiran Smith on Rebranding Boston

The new Arnold CEO on why she wants to steal business from New York—and not from other local agencies.

kiran smith

Photo by Diana Levine

WHO IS SHE? The new chief executive officer of 73-year-old advertising agency Arnold Worldwide.

REMINDS US OF: Mike Mahoney, who took the helm of a stagnating Boston Scientific in 2011 and brought it to a new level of success.

HOW SHE IS MAKING HER MARK: By leading “one of the heritage companies of Boston,” as Smith puts it, back into prominence—and helping to establish the Hub as a leading home for rising creative stars in the process. Together with a new chief creative officer, Icaro Doria, and new chief strategy officer, Guy Lambert, the former Brookstone and Stride Rite exec is assembling an impressive Boston-based creative team that has already won industry honors for its work. The question is whether Arnold, owned by the French company Havas since 2000, can still land big accounts in an industry facing widespread disruption. The choice of Smith, who is new to the ad agency side but specializes in rejuvenating brand marketing, is meant to bolster the company’s chances by bringing fresh insights and a deeper understanding of how to navigate the modern consumer market. One early success: gaining the Hardee’s restaurant chain account.

HOW SHE CRACKED INTO BOSTON’S POWER STRUCTURE: Contrary to the city’s reputation, Smith says, “I have been met by nothing but warmth.” She now sits on the board of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, where she’ll lead an upcoming women’s networking breakfast, and recently spoke at the Ad Club’s Women’s Leadership Forum. “It’s not just Arnold’s work in advertising” that she’s focused on, Smith says. “It’s our role in Boston—in the efforts as a city to bring in talent.” Heads of Boston’s other big ad agencies have even sat down with Smith to discuss the common goal of making the city a haven for creative talent. “We want to steal business from New York,” Smith says, “not each other.”

WHERE SHE SEES HERSELF IN FIVE YEARS: Bragging about “how Arnold became a global powerhouse,” Smith says. That means providing the creative team with the right culture, and the best accounts, to showcase their talents.

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