Having founded independent agency Profero in 1998 with his brother Daryl Arnold, Wayne Arnold has come a long way, with the agency recently ramping up its Southeast Asia operations, and with Arnold moving to Singapore. Marketing catches up with him.
What was the toughest part about co-founding Profero and keeping it as an independent after all these years?
I started the business with my brother in our early twenties, and part of our early success was definitely down to naivety and innocence. We basically knew nothing about the industry or running a business. In many ways this helped us, as we were completely open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Needless to say not everything worked and we learned that out of challenges often come the most rewarding moments.
We did something very few people have done, because we never doubted ourselves or knew any limitations. Namely creating a global business covering Asia, EMEA and the Americas from scratch with no outside investment, let alone do it in digital in the days before Google and in markets like China.
Describe one of the most challenging moments in your advertising career
There have been plenty but the ones that stand out always seem to be around building the business.
There was a point about a couple of years in where we had about SG$15 to our name, full stop. With no money to cover wages due in the next few days, let alone personal rent. Call it fate or luck, but a long overdue client cheque came in 48 hours later.
This allowed us to carry on, and luckily I did not have to think about an alternative career at Marks and Spencers on a check out!
The business never looked back from that day and has grown globally to the size it is now. Going that close to the wire means you never take anything for granted.
Describe your management style
“Collaborative” “Honest” and a little “Idealistic”.
Proudest moment in your career
The successful launch of the New York office and team – the New York market gives you one chance. I like the fact it will give you that chance, but boy if you don’t deliver it will stamp on you and then stamp on you again and again. New York it is not for the faint-hearted.
In many ways it is the most open yet difficult market in the world to crack, it is very unforgiving if you get it wrong and has been a graveyard for many great businesses that have tried to open there.
From a standing start with one client project (thank you Mr Berger) we now have a thriving business of close to 100 people doing amazing work for the likes of Unilever, Diageo and the iconic New York Times.
I was back there only last week and it made me very proud to see the team in their great new office grower stronger than ever.
Craziest thing your staff has told you
Sitting in a bar in Denver Colorado on a Monday night, our account manager for Western Union announced that he had just booked five tickets for us to all fly to Vegas for the night and was kidnapping the client’s husband. Needless to say it was a big night.
One thing you would say to a newbie in the industry
Always do yourself out of a job. This may seem strange, but find a way to do yourself out of your current role by nurturing your successor and defining your next challenge. Not only will you progress well in your career but the entire business will be in a much better shape in the long run.
It has been said a market like Singapore has a long way to go before becoming mature as a digital market. What are your thoughts?
I think it is a fair comment. I have had the privilege to judge quite a lot of awards in the region over the last few months, and the truth is the digital focused work coming out of Singapore is OK, but not great. Markets like Thailand, Australia and even China now are leading the way.
At the same time it can be tricky for a market like Singapore where the size of the population leads to smaller budgets. Often this has tended to mean digital being left to then end of the process, having a direct impact on quality.
At the same time Singapore punches above its weight in terms of regional influence and this is where it has the opportunity to lead. Singapore should become a market leader in digital strategy and thinking for the region, not necessarily the place where all ideas and production need to originate.
Harshest thing said to you in your career
Before I started in marketing I worked in a law firm. At 21 I thought I had it all, my own office in central Hong Kong and my own secretary, what more could you ask for? Well I thought more money, so I asked my boss for a raise.
He then asked me the question I was not prepared for, “OK, I will give you a pay rise if you can demonstrate the value you are adding to our business’ bottom line?”
And of course I couldn’t. I learnt that day that there was a commercial reality to all our roles and that as individuals no matter what we do we need to add value in order to be fairly rewarded.
When you’re not working, what are you up to?
About 10 years ago a friend persuaded me to do a marathon. This soon grew out of control, and before I knew it I was doing ultra marathons like the Marathon Des Sables (hardest foot race in the world) and an Ironman. As you can imagine, I have worn out a lot of running shoes over the years.
More recently I enjoy living out the core Profero value of being “Globally Curious” by exploring remote parts of the APAC region at any opportunity and trying any food that looks strange.
How did you get into advertising?
By being a really, really bad lawyer. I quickly realised just how bad and bored I was going to be practicing law, so made the decision to move on.
I escaped, and by chance discovered Asia’s very first Bloomberg machine, understanding its potential to send information globally, the rest developed from there.