An Interview With Jury President Jeff Goodby

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NEW YORK ( -- Being the Lion King at Cannes is quite different from being the executive creative director of
Jeff Goodby of San Francisco's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners prepares to referee the Cannes judging process.
your own agency in San Francisco, Jeff Goodby notes right off the bat.

"I won't be able to pull the old 'Go out and see whose name is on the front of the building' crap," he says. "I'll have to pay more attention to people disagreeing with me."

Mr. Goodby, of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, is this year's International Advertising Festival jury president -- the man who referees the often-acrimonious debate and voting on which ads really are the great ones worthy of public honors.

The jury president oversees two panels of 22 judges each, from almost as many countries. The job is, to say the least, a diplomatic and political challenge. While Mr. Goodby says he has no problem with blatant lobbying in the confines of the judging room, after-hours rallying will be strongly discouraged.

Bars every night
"I don't mind people openly trying to get others behind their point of view," Mr. Goodby said. "I just don't like it when it happens covertly in the bars at night," he said. "That's why I'll be in the bars every night, making sure that doesn't happen. At least that's what I told my wife."

Mr. Goodby's San Francisco shop is no stranger to Cannes' rough and tumble competition. Over the past 10 years, it has won eight Gold Lions, nine Silvers, 10 Bronzes and one Grand Prix (for Nike's "Skateboarding" in 1998). Mr. Goodby himself, however, has been to Cannes only once -- as a judge in 1993.

"I kept meaning to go back," he says. "Something always came up." That year the Grand Prix went to an animated Japanese campaign for a noodle soup, a controversial pick that embroiled Mr. Goodby in one of Cannes' frequent, and frequently abusive, creative imbroglios.

'People accosted me'
"People accosted me when I walked out of the final awards ceremony," he says. "'How could you vote for that crap?' But my attitude was like, 'Hey, so the world doesn't agree with you. What the hell?'"

Mr. Goodby plans to bring the same attitude to this year's festival.

"I've always liked and respected Cannes," he says. "I'm fundamentally an optimist, and Cannes is the most optimistic place -- and the least cynical. Yeah, there's all this yelling and screaming and egotistical types, but people there like advertising."

As for the judging itself, "It should be fun!" he thunders. "There should be arguments! I don't want people sitting around with their pinkies up, drinking tea."

Beware fragmentation
At the same time, Mr. Goodby recognizes that too much fragmentation could spell disaster, as it almost did last year when the Print jury, led by Saatchi & Saatchi's Bob Isherwood, failed to reach a majority after three hours of debate. (Isherwood eventually moved to overrule the need for a majority.) "The worst that could happen," says Mr. Goodby, "is that there won't be enough really good work and things become very fractured."

That is a possibility this year. "There appear to be no clear front-runners, at least as far as I know," he said. "But remember the year Frank Lowe didn't have a Grand Prix? That was a real debacle. I want to avoid that at all costs. The point of Cannes is to archive the work of the year. It's like wine -- just because the grapes aren't good that year doesn't mean you don't drink wine."

Mr. Goodby also said it's important for all participants to appreciate that what happened in the year's earlier award shows won't count at Cannes.

"Put the Pencils back in the closet," he advises. "I don't think we should put any merit on what won at prior awards shows. People always say, 'Well, that won at the One Show, that won at the Clios, so we better consider it.' But I think we should just decide what we like and what we don't, and that's the end of it."

And if the world feels otherwise? "Well, I'm not afraid of being a little bit wrong," he says.

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Gabi Horn is assistant editor of 'Creativity' magazine.

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