Head of Arnold Worldwide makes an abrupt exit

After barely a year of running one of Boston’s most prominent ad agencies, the chief executive of Arnold Worldwide has made an abrupt exit.

Arnold’s parent company, French media conglomerate Havas, confirmed Kiran Smith’s departure this week but declined to say much other than to offer a supportive statement from her boss, Paul Marobella, the chief executive of Havas Creative North America.

“Kiran brought many good insights to Arnold and we thank her for her contributions,” Marobella said. “We wish her much success as she moves forward in the next chapter of her career.”

Left unanswered: the reason behind Smith’s departure, and who will take her place. On its website, Arnold lists Icaro Doria, the chief creative officer, as its top manager. Major clients include Santander Bank and Progressive, the insurance company.


When Smith took over the top job at Arnold for Pam Hamlin in July 2018, some in the industry considered her to be an unconventional choice because she came from the corporate world, not the agency world. Smith was chief marketing officer at Brookstone before joining Arnold, and had also held marketing jobs at Stride Rite and Shaw’s Supermarkets. She got her start in consulting, before joining the marketing industry.

At the time Smith joined Arnold, she pledged to apply the data-driven approach honed during her years in consulting to the advertising business. “This is not about a clever campaign,” Smith said at the time. “It’s about a clever campaign that’s based on true insights, data, and the return you get from that investment.”

That quote underscores the seismic shifts under way in Boston’s ad industry as digital competitors emerge, seemingly from all corners, to disrupt nearly every aspect of the business. In particular, those shifts have taken their toll on employment at two of Boston’s big three traditional ad agencies: Arnold and Hill Holliday. (The third, MullenLowe, remains on a growth trajectory.)


Arnold employed 250 people in Massachusetts out of 500 in total, according to the latest Boston Business Journal research, compared with 300 and 590, respectively, a year ago. The paper’s latest tally of ad industry jobs, out in August, also showed a drop at Hill Holliday, where local employment fell to 360 from 559 a year earlier, and total employment dropped to 635 from 744 positions in 2018.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.