Goodby grows up

By Published on .

Most Popular
Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, two of the most respected creatives in the ad business, are handing over day-to-day creative responsibilities to the next generation.

The Goodby, Silverstein & Partners co-chairmen sit on either side of the half-century mark and are not quite ready for retirement. But in recent years, the founders have grappled with the challenge of how to maintain the agency's corporate culture as it evolved from a San Francisco boutique to a bigger player on the national advertising scene.

The answers they came up with -- and their vision for the future -- were spelled out to the Omnicom Group agency's 350 employees during a June 8 boat ride around San Francisco Bay.

The biggest surprise: The duo will drop their co-creative director titles and turn over day-to-day creative responsibilities to two rising stars, Steve Simpson, partner and creative director, and Paul Venables, promoted from associate creative director to creative director and associate partner.

A group of about 10 associate creative directors will report to Messrs. Simpson, 40, and Venables, 34, and will be given greater control over the accounts on which they work.

By spreading responsibility around, the founders hope to retain talented creatives who might otherwise feel the need to step out of their shadows. The restructuring also frees up Messrs. Goodby, 48, and Silverstein, 51, to spend more time on strategy and long-term planning. They plan to serve as mentors to younger creatives and to get involved in the conceptual rather than the final phases of campaign development.

The partners also said they might explore the creation of a production company and projects such as TV shows or films. What they're not doing, they insisted, is cutting back.

"This isn't a retirement thing; we are not one step closer to playing golf better," Mr. Goodby said, "it is a step to ensure there are other people who will keep the culture going."

Mr. Silverstein said the changes pave the way for the agency's long-term survival. "The health of the agency is better served by Jeff and myself having a good time here," he said.

With creative staffers regularly lined up outside his office, Mr. Goodby said he was beginning to feel "like a creative-direction vending machine." Even on walks down the street, he joked, employees would pop out of places and hand him videotapes.


In his new role, Mr. Goodby said, he will be able to more easily work "in the middle of the structure instead of at the top level." He said he will be able to encourage employees to take creative risks and help them sell work to clients.

"Advertising very quickly turns into formulas, and the real enemy of a creative organization is the formulaic feeling," he said.

Mr. Silverstein said the more horizontal structure will "empower people" and motivate them to their best work. In the past, if there was a problem, he said creatives tended to assume, "Rich and Jeff will fix it."

The new creative directors currently have independent responsibility for some of the agency's largest accounts; Mr. Simpson handles Hewlett-Packard Co. and Mr. Venables handles SBC Communications and recently added Discover Card.

"Jeff and Rich are two giants, and now they are in the position to let 10 or more people step up and create their own generation," said Mr. Simpson, a 10-year veteran of the agency. "It isn't as big a change as it may seem from the outside."


Mr. Venables, recruited five years ago from Korey Kay & Partners, New York, said the new structure will free the agency's founders to spend time where they are most needed: "They will be available instead of held hostage."

The changes mark a turnaround from the agency's initial marketing strategy when it was opened by the Hal Riney & Partners alums 17 years ago. At the time, they set themselves apart from bigger rivals by promising that one of the founders would personally head up each account. But Goodby has come far from its founding; in 1999, it had gross income of $58 million on billings of $670 million.

"It's a shift we need to make," said agency President Colin Probert.

Indeed, Goodby and several other West Coast agencies that have stolen the creative spotlight from Madison Avenue over the last dozen years have reached a stage where their founders need to consider exit strategies. The task is particularly daunting for creative executives-cum-corporate managers whose decisions often are based on instinct and emotion.

At Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., Dan Wieden, 55, began the process about two years ago when he put a new management team in place. He described the succession issue as a "family matter," to be worked out over time by senior staffers "who have parked their careers here."

At Publicis & Hal Riney, after some false starts, Mr. Riney hired agency President Scott Marshall five years ago to manage the growing shop.


Mr. Marshall now has teams of creatives reporting to him, a system, he said, that expedites the work but sets up no immediate successor to Chairman-CEO Mr. Riney, 67, who remains involved with the agency but also spends more time with his family.

The structure allows creatives to focus on the work, "not whether the guy at the top is worthy of the title," Mr. Marshall said.

At TBWA/Chiat/Day, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Worldwide Lee Clow said the agency's senior creatives will determine who, as he put it, will "pick up the slack when I go to Catalina."

Mr. Clow said his role has evolved from the equivalent of a star basketball player to that of a coach. He currently is assessing the abilities of a number of his team's leading creatives to "kick ass," adding, "at some point, one of them can do it."

Succession isn't Goodby's only motivation for the changes.

Over the years, many respected creatives have worked for and left the agency (see chart on Page 14); that churn has more impact in a tight job market.

To better confront the agency's challenges, Mr. Goodby extensively surveyed the company's employees to find out what they liked, and didn't, about the operation.

One concern was that the agency had become too big; another was that there was a growing divide between veterans and newcomers.

"You can't just have a bunch of people trying to make the agency like 1985, pining for the good old days," Mr. Goodby said.


Among the other changes Goodby will institute as it remakes itself:

* A streamlined new-business approach. Rene Cournoyer, associate partner and new group account director, will serve as chief new-business contact while continuing to head the California Milk Processor Board account. She, along with Messrs. Goodby and Silverstein, will make final decisions on which pieces of business to pitch. Previously, all partners weighed in.

* The agency's interactive specialists will be integrated into the creative department instead of continuing as a stand-alone unit. ("I don't think that's the future of the world," Mr. Goodby said.)

* Account planner Jon Steel, who is currently finishing a book, will return later this year. He and Chris Chalk will become co-directors of account planning.

* "GS&P University," as Mr. Silverstein has dubbed it, is being established as an in-house school to offer employees classes ranging from Mr. Silverstein's design course to outside presentations on how to write a business plan or speak before an audience.

* Goodby also has instituted a policy of flex time to enable it to keep key employees who need to work four- or even three-day weeks.

* The agency will establish a formal mentoring program for new employees and has hired someone to ease relocation to the Bay area, especially "to hand out the smelling salts when they find out how much it costs to rent or own a house here," Mr. Goodby joked.


As the agency's employees cruised the bay last week, Messrs. Goodby and Silverstein outlined the changes and shared feedback from the employee survey.

One response in particular underscored the delicate balance between managing for growth and maintaining that mystical yet vital thing that is known as corporate culture -- the myths which hold essential truths about a company, pass from generation to generation and are key to loyalty and long-term success.

The blunt caution: "You must never fuck with the myth."

In this article: