Mr. Barrett, 40, who has a reputation for being both talented and nice, is one of the first outsiders to take on an associate partner position at Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. Nobody's saying it officially, but he's the unannounced heir apparent to Jeff Goodby, one of the two founders at one of the top creative agencies, if and when Mr. Goodby decides to pull back.
"I want him to be his own guy," taking the lead on a number of the agency's accounts, and also expanding the spectrum of the shop's creative palette, Mr. Goodby said. Co-chairman Rich Silverstein thinks it will work. "He's just like us. This guy gets it," he said.
Paul Venables, Mr. Barrett's predecessor in the post and now head of his own advertising agency, Venables, Bell & Partners, San Francisco, believes there is no better candidate for the job. "He has the complete package," Mr. Venables said.
Mr. Barrett views his challenge simply: "Don't screw it up." But the agency isn't just expecting him to shepherd the creative as Mr. Goodby and Mr. Silverstein do on specific accounts, which include Hewlett-Packard Co. and SBC Communications. The two "have high expectations for me," said Mr. Barrett, adding that includes "not just maintaining the status quo."
The biggest challenge of the job, as one insider put it, will be winning over "Jeff and Rich's trust," as well as other creatives at the shop.
Even before Mr. Barrett officially assumed his new job, he began to help the agency on one of the most important pitches in its history: General Motors Corp.-unit Saturn's anticipated $100 million launch of its Ion cars.
Mr. Barrett, who holds a degree in English from Princeton University, showed up for his first advertising job interviews in a shirt and tie, leading to the suggestion he become an account person. Eventually, he switched to the creative side of the house, and has worked at some of the nation's top shops, including Wieden & Kennedy, Publicis Groupe's Fallon and Omnicom's TBWA/Chiat/Day. Among his favorite ads he created is one in which Michael Jordan spoke about the times he failed, and one for Nike called "Fun Police," in which kids, rather than wealthy ticket-holders, were given the best seats at NBA games. "I like to do things that resonate beyond, 'that was a good laugh'," he said.
Mr. Barrett, who came close to signing with Goodby Silverstein about three years ago, decided to leave his post as creative director at Fallon, New York, and take up the West Coast offer this time just as his wife was about to give birth to twins. They also have a son who is almost 2.
"I've never had to weigh in four other people" in making career decisions, Mr. Barrett said. "It just feels like such a perfect fit at this stage of my life," he said. "It's a great feeling to care about something more than your next ad."