Interviews

Jo Arden, Chief Strategy Officer, MullenLowe

"I think we’re gradually tuning in to the fact that we can and should spearhead change in all its forms. That we have the platform to actively tackle lazy stereotypes and that in doing so we can be more relevant."

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE

Share


Jo Arden loves people who’ve taken a winding path to where they’ve ended up because they mirror her own career journey: “Obviously you think that the way you’ve done stuff has got its merits.” Having completed a degree in women’s studies and a marketing masters, Arden originally moved from the North to London for a job in recruitment.

It was a heartbreaking TV ad for smoking cessation she saw when she was a child in the 80s that was her impetus to move into marketing and more specifically into creating smoking cessation campaigns. “It really, really affected me.”

Good ideas come from having very murky boundaries between different disciplines. The fact that ideas can come from anywhere.

Jo Arden

From recruitment to business development, then agency side to Iris, Beta, 23red and now MullenLowe, Arden believes that “good ideas come from having very murky boundaries between different disciplines. The fact that ideas can come from anywhere.”

To date, her proudest moment is Stoptober because “it’s evidenced to have worked. You can literally count the number of people who have stopped [smoking] because of Stoptober.” Arden speaks passionately about the brilliance of integration that resulted in such a powerful campaign. From Dare to Freuds, Wavemaker, 23 Red and Public Health England, each had “a shared respect for each other’s discipline.” She credits the Marketing Director of Public Health England, Sheila Mitchell for the success. “[She] has a real knack for putting great teams together across agencies.” 

I actually don’t really have any natural talents which is, I think almost the secret to my success.

Jo Arden

Arden laughs as she self-deprecatingly reveals “I actually don’t really have any natural talents which is, I think almost the secret to my success.” Alongside her day to day work, she is involved with WACL and is chair of NABS Fast Forward, “one of my big loves”, an eight-week training programme for future marketing leaders. “You spend every Wednesday night with all these amazing young people and see them grow and become friends and develop great ideas.” She also has four female mentees who she “loves spending time with.”

As a member of a book club, “I read a book a week”, Arden has no end of good recommendations from Ariel Levy’s memoir The Rules Do Not Apply, to Political Tribes by Amy Chua. She’s currently a keen, but beginner surfer as well as being a fellow of the RSA. But ultimately, work is where she gets her kicks: “I’m a massive work geek ... I fucking love my job.”

Creativebrief: As Chief Strategy Officer at MullenLowe, what is your primary focus?
Jo Arden: Helping to create a collaborative environment where we can all make work that makes an impact. I’m very lucky that when I joined two years ago, the existing strategy team had some extremely talented people and a shared ambition to do their best work. I’ve added to that team with people from diverse backgrounds, who have fresh perspectives on the world. Collectively, we actively believe that working with people who don’t think like us, means we all become better; that’s the core of our ‘hyperbundled’ philosophy. Building that team, making sure that everyone has the opportunity to excel and be fulfilled is what worries me and excites me in equal measure.
Creativebrief: What has been your agency's best work in the last year?
Jo Arden: We’ve made some cracking work in the past year. Work which has made a difference to some thorny challenges; recruiting nurses for the NHS; encouraging victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse to share their experience with the Truth Project. We’ve made work that has made people think differently about brands like revitalising the brilliant British Heart Foundation brand as they talk more expansively about their remit. Work that entertains like the hit show ‘Back to Mine’, a collaboration between our client Dunelm and the talented folk at ITV. And vitally, work that sells stuff; savings and travel services for The Post Office, or our elegant work for Wagamama amongst many more. I’m proud of it all because I know it’s been effective, and I know how much energy our whole agency put into each of those projects.
Creativebrief: Industry wide, what work has excited you most this year?
Jo Arden: I wish I’d made the Blood Normal work last year, it was most definitely work that got an unfair share of attention. Everything about it is brilliant. Great insight well executed across an incredible number of moments and culturally bang on the money. At the risk of being dramatic, I think it changed the world a bit. I loved Elton, and I’m generally a bit meh about the Christmas ads. I’ve ascribed loads of meaning to it about belonging, acceptance, hope and the nature of home, that may or may not have been intentional. And I really, really like the work that Lucky Generals have done for NABS on #TimeTo. It’s strategically brilliant and very well crafted too.

I think we’re gradually tuning in to the fact that we can and should spearhead change in all its forms. That we have the platform to actively tackle lazy stereotypes and that in doing so we can be more relevant.

Jo Arden
Creativebrief: How do you see the advertising industry evolving over the next few years?
Jo Arden: I think we’re gradually tuning in to the fact that we can and should spearhead change in all its forms. That we have the platform to actively tackle lazy stereotypes and that in doing so we can be more relevant. We like to think we are progressive in advertising, but the vast majority of work perpetuates a regressive culture. I think 2018 was an epiphany for lots of people and now it is time to put theory into action. Certainly, this is a major area of focus for us and we know that how we champion diversity in our work comes from our own culture. We’re not where we want to be yet but we’re heading there, for example through our work with Creative Equals. I think that’s very, very exciting, dare I say, more exciting than AI?
Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for MullenLowe over the next few years?
Jo Arden: We’re going to continue what we’ve started this last couple of years: to make work that genuinely makes a difference, to businesses, to brands, to society and to people. We’re a determined and restless group of really good people, in all senses of the word. Our clients are smart and bold and work for brands that you can’t help being motivated by. And we all love working together. There’s a lot of reasons to be courageous and optimistic at City Road.
Creativebrief: What piece of advice do you give to the junior members of your team?
Jo Arden: I don’t think the junior members of my team want advice from me, they want my belief and support. I hope that is what they feel they get. Advice is a poor substitute for the chance to lead a pitch strategy; I’d rather give them the latter.

Related Tags

Agency Leader