Rosie Arnold at the ADC Festival 2019 in Hamburg

»We have the power to change things from within.«

– Rosie Arnold

What really matters in the end is how people feel when they are around you. Rosie Arnold couldn’t have done it any better. She is a lion in the creative business and well-known for her work, especially in the category of Impact Design. As former president of the D&AD London, she implemented the design award The White Pencil. An award that honors work which has a higher purpose than simply selling itself. Work that has an impact, moves people and wants to make our world a little bit better.

Rosie Arnold auf dem ADC Festival 2019
Rosie Arnold auf dem ADC Festival 2019

With more than 30 years at BBH London, countless campaigns followed by great success, experiences in jury work and mentorship, she is an absolute powerhouse of a woman. In her keynote at the ADC Festival she talked about one of her biggest cases during her time at AMV BBDO – The Trash Isles. A campaign that exceeded expectations. Together with LADBible and The Plastic Oceans Foundation she managed to form the 196st country in the world. A country created by human consumption and ignored by governments. We are talking about nothing less than eight million tons of plastic, which enters our oceans every year and has now formed a space as big as France, at the Pacific Ocean, close to Hawaii’s coasts.

To no longer ignore that problem and raise awareness for change, Rosie and her team managed to fulfill the criteria needed to form a official country, The Trash Isles. This campaign skyrocketed all across the media. Hundreds of thousands of people supported it, some of them are big celebrities. Plastic is an issue that matters to all of us. It has a huge impact and consequences for us and our future. And this is just one of the topics Rosie is raising awareness of.

Nowadays new creatives ask themselves more frequently if what they do has any impact or even a sense at all. Many aspire towards more than just pure success – they want a purpose, they want change, they want to move people.

After her speech I asked Rosie for a spontaneous interview. She smiles at me and says: »Of course, lets go!« Not only on stage does she have great energy, as we have to walk backstage to reach the set it’s quite narrow and the steps are made of stone. Rosie just speeds up in her bright high heels and I’m impressed. We have a little chat before and then we start.

I would like to know what Rosie thinks about new creatives and how they can start out while also maintaining their values. She talks about her experiences in advertising and which kind of challenges she had to face in her own career.

»I always felt passionately that we have the power to change things from within.
[…] If I just let advertising go off and do its thing over there, it’s never going to change, so the idea that you always use very slim, beautiful models all the time and that you are maintaining the stereotypes, that’s going to happen unless we passionate believers work from inside.«

»So my message really is: you got an enormous amount of power!«

As a design student I am absolutely inspired by what she is telling me. Still, I’m curious whether or not the new generation has enough courage to say no to a case if it’s against their values.

»Years ago, when I was at BBH, BBH got a company called Monsanto, which was a
genetically engineered food source, which I fundamentally disagreed with, and at that time I didn’t want to work on it. So I went to John Hegarty and said: ›I don’t believe in this, I don’t want to work on it.‹ And John was a hard taskmaster. – He is also one of my favorite people on the planet. – And he said: ›Ok, well.‹ He worked out what percentage of income Monsanto gave BBH and he deducted that percentage from my salary. So I had ten percent deducted from my salary, because I wouldn’t work on Monsanto. But, I honored him for that, because actually, you know, he’d always say: ›A principle isn’t a principle, until it costs you something.‹ […] I actually really valued the fact that he gave me that opportunity, rather than forcing me to work on it.«

Well, while a lot of people would love to work with somebody like John Hegarty, what about the ones who have an even harder taskmaster not being so nice? Should one fight for their values no matter what?

»Well, it depends on what it is and how strong your values are and I think we are living in a world where people do value ethics. […] I think you have to question yourself, what does it mean to you? Yes, I am starting out, but how passionately do I feel about this?«

I think this is a great advice to take seriously. Rosie herself first came into advertising because of her love for ideas. Actually worrying that graphics could be very particular, she wanted to do everything. Realizing that in advertising she could have everything made her heart jump. »I couldn’t believe there is a job that existed that was about design and ideas – oh my god –, it was like heaven.«

In the 80s it was really hard to be successful or even seen in the business, while also being a woman. She tells me about her female mentor, who helped her to take root and how she had to adapt her work to a male orientated business.

»[…] you get into a brief, you create an idea and then you show it to your creative director, who guess what, 95% of creative directors are men and they’re gonna have to like your work to buy it. And then it is going to be presented to a client, who guess what, are all men. And then if you’re gonna make it, you’re gonna make it with a director and photographer, who guess what, are all men. And then if you’re gonna get your career to move on, you need to win awards, and so who are on the jury? Oh, all men. And then I look back over the last 15 years about what the big winners are and its changing I’m glad to say, but in the past, particularly my generation, it was football, cars, technology, beer, things that really appeal to guys, […]. And I was lucky, because I worked at Lynx or Axe, which was a big, sexist brand. And I ran that, and I won lots of awards on it, because male juries were voting on it.«

While at the ADC Festival a lot of designers receive a Nail, there are a lot who don’t.
I’m interested in what Rosie thinks about awards and which advice she has for creatives without one. Are awards really that important? Do they make you more seen in the business?

»Yeah they do. I’m sorry to say it, but they do. Because […] if you think about it. If you are gonna go to a solicitor […] you need to get some recognition that they do their job well. So, they need to have a certificate that says: I’m a really good solicitor. And where do you get those certificates if you are a creative? The awards are all certificates to say: This is a good creative person.«

So designers seem to need awards to prove their value. I can partially agree with that, but still, as she mentioned before, judging design work is always subjective and it depends on the jury if you receive an award or go home without one. Rosie confirms that there is work that wins everywhere and people love it and then there is work where opinions go both ways »[…] depending on the jury you got on the day.«

So to all the great designers out there without an award, don’t give up on it! After years of success in the business, Rosie left AMV BBDO at the end of 2018, to focus on her own projects. Right now she is working on a piece, which wants to change the way people treat the sufferers of Alzheimer’s. »If you are elderly and you’ve forgotten something, or you’re confused, people get really impatient with you. But if it was a child, you would be endlessly kind and reassuring and thoughtful.«

But this isn’t the only way Rosie keeps being a massive changemaker. In her private life, she also helps out whenever possible. As a member of the charity organization Creative Equals, which tries to get more women and more diversity into the workplace, she is currently supporting a student from Birmingham. One big problem in London is finding an affordable place to stay, especially as a student. In this case, Rosie offered her own place to help her stay and be able to study in London.

Right before she tells me this, I asked her if she believes in mentorship or having someone to look up to. »I think so! And I think if you are choosing a mentor, trying to find one, look at work and find out whos work do you really love? And then try and get to see them, and then keep going back to see them […]«

I think this student can be very grateful to have found Rosie as her mentor right there. Rosie herself values having a mentor and people who inspire her like John Hegarty does. For everybody who shows her their work, she can be one as well.
»[…] whenever a student comes and shows me their work I go: ›Come back! I’ll help you work on it.‹«

I think every feedback she can give is full of experience and an open mind.
As I thank her for having us she says: »It’s good fun you see. I think just be aware that you do have fantastic opportunities and it’s great fun, it’s a great fun job!«

Thank you Rosie, it was an absolute pleasure talking to you! We will believe in our power to change something!

written by: Julia Wolf
August 2019

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