Career-building blocks led Andrew Arnold to LEGO

Andrew Arnold, Public Relations and Communication Manager, Consumer Education and Direct (CED), LEGO

“I saw the job posting for LEGO, which was one of the companies in the world where I most wanted to work.” Andrew Arnold

Backgrounder – Early career years: a degree in economics and many journalism hats

Andrew Arnold achieved a university degree in economics in 1987. Although most of his cohort graduates were being “pushed” into careers in management or accountancy, neither of those options appealed to him. Andrew instead, “fancied trying journalism, as it seemed like a great opportunity to have a ringside seat on current affairs.” In fact his first post-university job was for his local newspaper in Caerphilly, South Wales, which he admits was “not exactly ringside.”

A transition into trade and business journalism saw Andrew working for a range of media outlets over the next few years. There was a brief detour into internal communications with global ICI Pharmaceuticals (later renamed Zeneca), which would give him a first (but not last) taste for specializing in organizational communication.

Next it was back into journalism, although Andrew switched his focus to magazines in the food and drink sector (including joining an Internet food and drink start-up called Channel 11). The next career piece included a geographical (and personal) component, with a permanent move to Denmark as a freelancer,

where Andrew worked as a financial journalist on a newswire service, and reported from the Nordic region for many trade magazines as well.

The journalist moves in-house

Andrew returned to the in-house fold with the iconic Danish beer company, Carlsberg; it was seeking a trained journalist to look after internal publications. He remained with Carlsberg for six years, honing his internal communication skill set. Andrew later worked in a similar capacity with Hempel, a leading coatings manufacturer.

Andrew felt it was time to give agency life a try, with a role at Hill & Knowlton in Copenhagen. But when H&K transferred the major account Andrew was working on to the London office, he moved into its Danish business development area. “Most of the Danish companies I spoke to were interested in PR, but didn’t want to spend big agency money,” states Andrew. “So I decided to start my own PR firm with a couple of partners to fill that gap.”

His boutique agency fared well at the beginning, but it was hit by the financial crisis. Andrew decided to close his PR company and shifted to working with the same partners in their marketing communications firm, Eye for Image. There he wrote internal communications guidelines and marketing copy. Eye for Image is a leader in providing international communications texts and services for Danish companies. Andrew indicates, ‘’Contact with corporate communications meant I began to miss working in one company as part of a team working towards common goals.”

Final career block optimizes the LEGO scenario

One of Andrew’s last assignments for Eye for Image was with Saxo Bank, a foreign exchange bank. He was responsible for its social media project that included a blog, Twitter, YouTube and a whole range of social media and search engine optimization areas. It proved to be the final piece for Andrew “…that helped me transition into my current role at LEGO.”

PR Motion interview with Andrew Arnold

Describe your new role at LEGO, including what motivated the career change to go back to the public relations side of the equation.

In my current role, I am public relations and communications manager for a part of LEGO called Consumer Education and Direct (CED), which means I handle internal and external communications for the business units within LEGO that deal with consumers, rather than customers. These include:

LEGO Digital (video games and licensing)
Consumer Experience (which covers consumer insight, consumer service and community management)
LEGO Education
Direct to Consumer (retail and stores and online shop)
New Business Group

When I left my job in Hempel as its communications manager, I wanted to try a bit of agency life to get a more rounded side to my career in external communications from an organizational point of view. Coming into communications as a journalist – and a self-taught one at that – I’ve always had a slight worry about not being experienced enough. Also, I think I needed a bit of a rest from all the politics that is part of the internal communications side of the job, so I could try something a bit more commercial. However, when I started getting back into writing guidelines and managing corporate issues again, I realized I actually missed it. And then of course I saw the job posting for LEGO, which was one of the companies in the world where I most wanted to work.

You indicated there’s been a bit of a “relearning” curve; what areas, specifically?

Working either as a freelancer or in an agency, there is always a bit of distance between yourself and what you’re promoting. Sometimes that’s a good thing – I nearly ended up doing a public relations campaign for a male “enhancement” product. (I’ll give you a clue: it was mechanical).

I enjoyed the detachment because when working on a one-off project or campaign it means that you can focus on the strategy and tactics alone, and not have to worry too much about how it all fits in the big picture – although sensitivity to the rest of the company is what marks out good agencies.

Back in-house, I’ve had to make the psychological shift: now it’s “my” company I’m 100 per cent focused on in my role. That also involves all the compromises and deals you have to make to get things to run smoothly.

More specifically, the relearning curve has also involved having to plan full-blown PR campaigns, which need to run six to 12 months, rather than one-off projects or releases. It’s great, once again, to feel a part of a company’s big-picture, business strategy.

From an early age you’ve lived in a several countries. Is this a decided advantage when it comes to managing public relations for an iconic, global brand?

I was born in the UK, but only lived there for two-and-a-half years before my family moved to Uganda, East Africa, where my dad was national coach for the Ugandan athletics team. In 1972, we moved back to the UK, first to Yorkshire, then later to Wales, where I stayed until I left for university in Salford – which is “next door” to Manchester, never part of it!

I met my wife-to-be, Lene, in Denmark during a working-media visit in 1991, when I was a UK journalist in the food and drink sector. (After marrying, we lived in England for a few years. We decided to relocate to Lene’s native country, Denmark, in 1996.)

I can’t say it’s an advantage, but coming with a slightly different perspective makes you less likely to hop on the obvious, “Oh, they’re just like us, with a funny accent.”’ It still happens, of course.

Where, so far, are you spending the bulk of your work time with LEGO?

There’s a broad spread, if only because the business units I work with are so varied in their type and how much they have worked with PR in the past.

There’s traditionally been a focus on marketing communications in Danish companies, generally, and LEGO isn’t any exception, but it is also really leading-edge in community relations and co-creation with the fans and other stakeholders. So, there’s counsel in both traditional areas of PR and communication in terms of dealing with vertical media and social media. One of my jobs is also to be stakeholder for the LEGO Parents site.

There is more focus on social media because it is “hot” right now, so much of my counselling involves explaining how difficult it is to keep a Facebook page or a Twitter account running.

In Richard L. Brandt’s book, Inside Larry & Sergey’s Brain, Brandt describes (co-founder of Google) Larry Page’s love of LEGO from an early age, including how “Larry not only used LEGO to build a computer printer in grade school, he repeated the stunt when he built Google’s first computer server at Stanford….” Are these the type of amazing “stories” you’re seeking out and sharing?

LEGO has a quite remarkable fan base – incredibly dedicated and slightly overwhelming – but they do love the brand! They do more than we ever could to share the great stories…they create most of them!

Despite the huge footprint LEGO has, we haven’t been that active in sharing these stories. We have a very fine balance to keep, so we try not to “play favourites” of one group over another. We haven’t gone rushing into social media for just this reason. LEGO tries to avoid “owning” anything – the stories belong to the people (or LEGO fans) creating and spreading them.

There are so many stories it’s impossible to know where to start – or stop. Just put LEGO into Flickr, YouTube or Google and see what happens. No matter what results you get, the LEGO story is going to be amazing on some level.

I’m also involved with something called “Build the Change,” which uses LEGO as part of a process to help children and adults visualize their futures. It’s been used to encourage individuals to think about what sort of city they want or how their new school or community should look.

We “met” virtually in the late 1990s, on Melcrum’s Communicators’ Network listserv, where you impressed me with your knowledge and expertise in several boundary-spanning areas (including a Danish article you referenced having to do with the psychology of administration). How do you keep up-to-date and informed, whether related to PR industry or other areas?

I have a restless mind. I love being able to take things from one place and see if they fit elsewhere – so LEGO is the ideal company for me!

Most of it is about having an open mind and an open browser window. I subscribe to too many RSS feeds, have Twitter open all day and have lots of clever people in my network.

The truth is that I’m not up to date on many of the subjects in which I used to have an interest. I gather knowledge fanatically, bury myself in a subject for a while and then move on to the next thing that takes my fancy. It goes in waves. I’ve now got to get back into the whole “corporate PR” thing, again.

I don’t believe in information overload; I always get annoyed with journalists complaining that they get too much stuff from PR contacts – have they not heard of the delete button? The same goes with my own consumption of information. Nobody says you have to know this stuff: take as much as you want or need and dump the rest.

Lene and you have a daughter and son. How do they feel about Dad’s current job? Is the family proving to be an informal “focus” group?

Both Emily and Alexander are very proud of my new job with LEGO. My son is the real fanatic, though, and always has been – I imagine Alexander will only get worse as he ages. The LEGO company shop is far too much of a temptation and I find myself coming home with a little something for them each week. (With LEGO headquartered in Billund, I’m currently based there four days a week. It’s on the other side of Denmark, compared to our family home in a suburb of Copenhagen.)

I suppose I do use them as a focus group, in a way. For example, my son and I are testing the new LEGO Universe online multi-player game.

A question from American, Tac Anderson (who appears to be just as big a fan of LEGO as his kids are): “I’d like to know Andrew’s favorite piece of LEGO user-generated content?”

Right now, my favourite piece of user-generated content is the submarine Alexander built. He used the Design by ME function on the LEGO website, which allows you to build something in 3-D, design the box and then place an order. It sounds like an outrageous puff for the company, but I was really proud that Alexander could do everything himself, including the online payment! (Dad wielded the credit card first, though.)

Other than that, at home Lene and the kids have just finished building the Grand Emporium, which is an exclusive LEGO model from the online shop. Interestingly, it was designed by a fan that was so talented with LEGO that he now works for the company in Billund. That for me says something good about the fans and the company.

Finally, any words of advice for other PR practitioners on having a successful and fulfilling career with a global brand?

Dealing with global brands is immensely complicated; you aren’t going to be able to take it all in or understand it all. As a result, I believe many people become too rigid in trying to control their company’s brand, rather than working to understand how it is adapted by cultures or age groups.

As the head of community engagement at LEGO says, “We own the trademark not the brand.” That might not always please your legal department, but it certainly helps keep your head level.

Here is an example of LEGO being adapted in a different culture; in this case the video was created by a Canadian! How the fans helped build LEGO Universe.

Photo of Andrew Arnold © Helen Rae.

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Andrew Arnold has worked in journalism and communications for more than 20 years. Since 1996, he has worked in Denmark helping Danish companies communicate globally in English.

Andrew has a presence on almost every social media network known on earth, but really only uses Twitter and LinkedIn. He also blogs about the economic history of lager beer, from a UK perspective (no, really!) at Lager Frenzy.

Earlier PR Motion interviews:

Mike Spear
Tom Murphy

Please follow our blog:

12 Replies to “Career-building blocks led Andrew Arnold to LEGO

  1. It’s come to our attention that credit wasn’t given for the great photo that Helen Rae took of Andrew Arnold for this PR Motion interview. Isn’t it great to have a sister who is also a professional photographer?

  2. Andrew, on Tuesday night (Sept. 14th) I attended the international screening premier of Susanne Bier’s newest film, Hævnen (English title: In a Better World), at the Toronto International Film Festival (#tiff). She’s long been one of my favourite directors (I have a fondness for both Danish and female film directors….).

    Anyhow, I was absolutely delighted to find that LEGO plays a small, but pivotal, role in this film. If you haven’t seen Hævnen yet (Susanne Bier indicated that it opened domestically in Denmark a few weeks ago), look for LEGO to appear in the very gripping final 20 minutes or so. (The audience gave Susanne Bier a standing ovation at the film’s end.)

    Now I’m going to be on the “watch” for LEGO in all Danish films!

  3. Andrew, two questions that struck me post-interview (one thing I didn’t know about you, the other things I did):

    1. In our discipline we’re always being told that we must have a firm grasp on the “business” end of our organizations. Do you think your university degree in economics has proven a distinct advantage over your career (including in several different sectors and disciplines)? It’s especially interesting that you are “self taught” when it comes to the fields of journalism, communication and public relations.

    2. Secondly, although it was implied, neither of us mentioned the fact that you have become fluent in Danish since moving to Denmark in 1996. How important do you think that fact is on you landing this position? (i.e., would someone who only spoke and wrote in English have been considered for the same job?).

    Heather, over the years (in your personal blog) you’ve shared so many wonderful stories about your parents, but I think the vision of your father “construct[ing] fabulous [LEGO] buildings whilst my brother and I were in bed” is one of my all-time favourite visions. Plus I really like how you indicate a belief that LEGO has helped you to develop your critical thinking–that’s a great story. And not really that different from Google’s Larry Page making use of LEGO in constructing prototypes for his future career.

    Mandy, I agree with Andrew that Melcrum’s listserv is as an example of a “well-functioning network.” I “virtually” met so many smart (and fun) colleagues on the listserv (and now in your LinkedIn Group), whom I’ve remained in touch with over the years. And at least three of them I’ve now had the pleasure of meeting in person. An American (who was on holiday in Toronto), Andrew himself when I visited Copenhagen (after Sweden) in March 2008, plus our great mutual Australian friend, Rodney Gray, who thanks to Robin Crumby’s kind suggestions, squired me around Sydney and beyond, when I visited Australia. Melcrum really does excel at “Connecting Communicators,” worldwide. Plus this PR Motion interview with Andrew Arnold likely wouldn’t have happened, if we had not “met” on Melcrum’s listserv. Serendipity.

    1. Judy, my economics degree was more of the economic history variety and public policy than any business subjects as such. Any business insight I have comes from being involved in nearly every branch imagineable! The actual business they are involved in differs, but the organisational structure and how all the parts fit together can be remarkably similar.

      Although, having the historical context helps me ground me in a “this too will pass” sort of way – chahge is constant.

      As far as the Danish is concerned, I think learning a language is an important way of getting into the customs and habits of a country. I think knowing Danish has helped negotiating the personal and political territory in all the companies I’ve worked in over here. But LEGO is so multinational in many departments that I end up speaking English – even to my Danish colleagues. SO perhaps I would have got the job if I didn’t speak Danish, but knowing Danish makes me more efficient in doing my job.

  4. Thanks for the interesting profile Judy and Andrew. I couldn’t resist basking in a little reflected glory on hearing that you both initially connected via my company Melcrum’s Communicators’ Network listserv over a decade ago (wow, has it really been active that long?!) during Andrew’s internal comms phase. It’s really interesting to hear about the incredible fan base that LEGO enjoys – what an iconic brand to be involved with. But I’ve been equally impressed by stories of the brand loyalty that exists within the company too.

    We interviewed brand expert Mary Jo Hatch, author of “Taking Brand Initiative” (a book co-authored with fellow Dane, Majken Schultz) for a piece of research Melcrum did last year on “Communicating the internal brand”. Mary and Majken have both worked with LEGO Group for many years and have inspiring stories to share about their experiences. For example when the organisation was in a turmoil in the late 90s and the new CEO at the time attended “Brand School” along with his employees. Mary talk about how he watched as the employees “built” the problems the company was facing in LEGO bricks and talked about their concerns to save the company and the brand, at which point he realised they care as much about the brand as he did. Taking the company’s internal fans seriously too clearly paid dividends. (Good luck in the new role Andrew!)

    1. Thanks Mandy, I still bring up that listserv as an example of well-functioning networks.

      Building solutions to problems using LEGO is still very much part of the company fabric. We actually have a programme now called “Build the change” aimed at kids (girls and boys!) and challenge them to build their ideal school, park, city etc. We have an opening this month in Denmark of a park featuring three gardens built by kids at one of these events.

      It’s one of the ways we are taking LEGO beyond sets and using it as a creative medium in itself, as natural to use as pen and paper.

  5. Andrew – thanks for the fascinating insight. It is great to hear of your work with an iconic brand and how you extend beyond the product promotion aspects. One question for you though in terms of target groups in respect of reaching to the female market (girls and women). I loved LEGO as a child and my parents made no difference in how my brother and I played with it (I’m a child of the 1960s). But it seems that since the 1980s onwards, girls have been treated differently with products that tend to stereotype the interests of girls and boys. Is this really necessary (if you agree) and do you feel that the PR function perpetuates such stereotypes?

    1. Heather, thanks for the comments. The boy/girl bias is one of the questions that has popped up most frequently since starting with LEGO and the answer is a long and rambling one!

      But first, the short, cheeky answer: why doesn’t anyone question why Barbie doesn’t do more boy’s toys?

      Basically, we have a situation where our core audience is boys aged 5-9. They are the ones who buy (or parents buy) most of our products. And in the crisis that Mandy refers to in the comment below, we simply had to focus totally on what we knew we were good at: boys 5-9. DUPLO for pre-school kids is unisex and that is also an important part of our range.

      From my own personal experience, my daughter loves the minifigures, while my wife seems to be getting hooked on building houses/street scenes. Those are both ranges that are expanding.

      There’s two elements to the question of whether PR perpetuates the bias. First, is that product PR promotes what exists – so if we make LEGO City scenes then we promote those fire engines, police cars and diggers. It is commercial reality.

      Second, the sets in the shops are only one part of LEGO, there are millions of fans out there who see LEGO as a creative medium and use it to build, teach and develop – there are many women/girls as LEGO users who don’t get seen. We are doing our best to promote what all LEGO fans do, no matter what gender.

      LEGO Education sets used in classrooms for science teaching have as many girls as boys using them.

      We are widening our main target group as we also want to cater for younger and older fans and for girls. But it will take some time and a lot of resources before we get there.

      1. Thank you for clarifying. BTW, I personally would ban Barbie pink as a colour as I blame it for a host of social ills, but that’s another story!!

        The chicken-and-egg situation of business focusing on what it does best and therefore reinforcing that this is what it does, is fascinating. I totally understand since I used to work in PR at Toyota GB and being known for reliability and quality was great, but at the same time limited the market. Undoubtedly focusing on extending the market at the expense of the core values contributed to the recent challenges that company has experienced.

        Construction of buildings always fascinated me as a child in using LEGO – and I believe it helped develop my logical side. One of my happy memories of my father was that he used to construct fabulous buildings whilst my brother and I were in bed – and we would then work out how he had done it.

        I love the idea of extending the market to older fans – in terms of how society could benefit from seeing older (I am thinking of 60+) people having fun with “toys” as well as the physical and psychological benefits of doing so. I can definitely see how LEGO could be involved here (both online and offline).

Comments are closed.