“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.
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