How Arnold Worldwide is finding the next generation of comedy writers

The agency launched the Center for the Comedically Gifted residency program to discover talent from non-traditional backgrounds.

Comedy writing in advertising isn’t easy, but there’s plenty of people who could nail it — if only they were given the chance. 

In June, creative agency Arnold Worldwide launched the Arnold Institute for the Comedically Gifted residency program to find the next generation of comedy writers outside of the traditional talent pool. 

The creative agency, whose clients include Progressive Insurance, Cox Communications, HomeServe and DuckDuckGo, takes on more comedic briefs than other agencies. 

“We've always thought about the challenges of finding comedy writers because there's such nuance about what one finds funny or not,” Julianna Akuamoah, Arnold’s chief talent officer, told Campaign US.  “There's lots of funny people out there, but there's a specific kind of humor that we try to nail down for Progressive or some of our other accounts.”

The struggle to find comedy writers dovetailed into Arnold’s eagerness to attract talent from diverse backgrounds. 

“I'd been worried about how to staff funny campaigns, when the existing infrastructure to find people doesn't support it,” CCO Sean McBride said. “Then it dawned on me that the diversity discussion is the same. The lightning bolt for me was like, ‘I'm trying to solve the same problem in two different places, and maybe they're complimentary.”

Arnold’s comedy writing program is a paid, two-month residency that will select two residents to participate at a time. Residents will work on real client briefs and interact with different creative directors. 

The length of the program is flexible: participants can continue their residency beyond two months or have the opportunity to come on staff permanently, if there’s a fit. 

Arnold finds potential residents at improv schools, comedy shops and writers’ rooms around the U.S. The goal is to identify two residents every two months: one resident with experience and the other a budding writer. Interested residents can apply via Writerinresidence@arn.com

McBride welcomes finding full-time hires and cultivating long-term relationships with residents, but that’s not the only goal. 

“If we get great ideas from emerging comedy voices that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise, and they develop a skill that might keep them employed as they try to make a living being a funny person, that’s a good outcome for me, too,” he said. 

The program is also a way to give diverse talent a seat at the writers’ room table.

“It's not just just about representation; it's about the end goal, which is to sit around a table and have all voices be heard in ways that reflect culture,” said Akuamoah. “If we don't have people in the room having conversations in deep, authentic ways about those audiences, we're not setting ourselves up for success.”

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