To understand Goodby, Silverstein & and Partners, you don't have to muck through complicated agency models or philosophies. You need only look at the work.
|Illustration: Robin Eley|
Breakthrough campaigns abounded for the San Francisco-based agency. An effort in support of the NBA Playoffs, "There can only be one," quickly permeated pop culture, even landing on the cover of Time magazine.
It found an unusual way to get buzz for H�agen-Dazs by attaching the brand to a cause you don't usually associate with ice cream: the demise of honeybee populations. For Sprint's mobile-broadband offering, the agency concocted a widget page with a robotic voice that periodically intones random facts, such as the number of e-mails that have been sent. The eerie but addicting website was featured favorably in New York magazine's weekly assessment of what's brilliant and despicable, the "Approval Matrix."
Meanwhile, there were new-business wins from PepsiCo, bringing Quaker Oats, Tostitos and Propel into Goodby's fold. All in all, 2008 provided the agency with its best year in terms of profit and revenue, and saw head count increase 9%. It was a good haul that nearly made up for the biggest black mark on the year, the loss of the massive Hyundai/Kia account.
News of the Hyundai/Kia-Goodby split came in September after less than two years, bringing to fruition several months of rumors. (Goodby is still preparing a pair of Super Bowl spots for the automaker.) The reason for the split, Goodby executives aren't shy about saying publicly, is that the business was shifted to an agency run by the daughter of Hyundai's chairman. Agency executives lament the loss of revenue, but they're not especially broken up about not having to deal with a carmaker during a particularly tough time for the automotive industry.
"As an agency we can be overly idealistic about our ability to hold on to every client," said partner and creative director Jamie Barrett. "A lot of agencies play defense and don't realize that long-term growth comes from building with winning brands." "And when you're on defense, you're not bringing new ideas, new opportunities," added managing partner Robert Riccardi.
It helps, of course, that Goodby owns one of the massive, if no less challenging, pieces of business that are quickly replacing car accounts as the growth foundations for thriving agencies: telecom accounts. In less than two years at the helm of the Sprint's business, Goodby has been able to react quickly and effectively to changes at the marketer. A series of elegant, black-and-white ads starring Sprint CEO Dan Hesse, has performed better on recall metrics than any other ad in the company's history.
When Goodby folks brought the idea to Bill Morgan, senior VP-corporate marketing at Sprint, he was skeptical. "We weren't so sure, but they pushed hard on it." After some initial testing, the Goodby-Sprint team took a chance and ended up with ads that outperformed Sprint ads historically in terms of recall and brand and message linkage.
Another client Goodby has challenged and come up with big results for is H�agen-Dazs. Group Communication Director Christine Chen thought a news story about honey bees offered the perfect backdrop for a new campaign that could drive public interest in the brand beyond what the media dollars could buy. Goodby created the "H�agen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees" campaign, supported by online videos such as "Bee Boy Dance Crew," which has received more than 1.3 million views on YouTube alone. An online hub, helpthehoneybees.com, explains the less-than-obvious connection between bees and ice cream, which, put simply, is that many of the ice cream's ingredients, such as strawberries and almonds, depend on honeybee pollination. The agency took the idea and ran with it, exceeding the media-impressions goal of 125 million in the first week. H�agen-Dazs sales are up 8% compared with last year.
"They're the most creative agency I worked with," said Brand Director Katty Pien. "They're really passionate about breakthrough ideas and that is the thing we're after these days."
In recent years, Goodby has turned its digital ability from a weakness into a strength. Interactive production exceeded traditional by 50% last year, and that's helped the bottom line. "In the last year, we've seen more clients shift from TV to online, and we're passing money from the left hand to the right hand," said partner Derek Robson.
Some of this success goes back to Goodby's lean, silo-free agency structure. "It's important that when clients buy an idea they don't split up services among different agencies," Mr. Robson said.
Agency-model discussions aside, marketers say what makes Goodby Goodby is the people. H�agen-Dazs' Ms. Pien credited the people who work on her account for getting projects done efficiently and on budget. And Sprint's Mr. Morgan said, perhaps only half joking, that 10 minutes doesn't go by without him getting an e-mail from Rich Silverstein.
"Every facet of the agency is deeply immersed in the business," Mr. Morgan said. "That's unusual these days, when many agencies struggle to keep up the pace."