Agency A-List 2018

Goodby, Silverstein & Partners Is Ad Age's 2018 Comeback Agency of the Year

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Best of class (from l.): Bonnie Wan, Rich Silverstein, Brian McPherson (beard), Leslie Barrett (glasses), Margaret Johnson, Derek Robson, Christine Chen and Jeff Goodby
Best of class (from l.): Bonnie Wan, Rich Silverstein, Brian McPherson (beard), Leslie Barrett (glasses), Margaret Johnson, Derek Robson, Christine Chen and Jeff Goodby Credit: Quinn Gravier, courtesy Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

It's not as if Goodby, Silverstein & Partners ever went away. It's been right there on San Francisco's California Street, toiling away on accounts such as Frito-Lay, Adobe and Dodge Ram. You just didn't hear much about them. During a time when many agencies have been launching consulting practices, starting up sexy side businesses or struggling to compete with Silicon Valley, Goodby has quietly focused on its clients.

Until 2017, that is, when a series of head-turning wins made it impossible to overlook. Not only did the shop bring in Liberty Mutual, it scored one of the highest-profile account wins of the year, brand Pepsi, in an Omnicom shootout. All told, GS&P swept in $1 billion in new business last year, according to R3 Consulting, and $87 million in new revenue—and that was after it resigned Cisco in April.

"The work is the big key; we have been a lot more focused on what we care about, which is mass intimacy—the ability to speak to a lot of people in a way that feels personal and one-on-one," says Margaret Johnson, a 21-year agency vet, the shop's first chief creative officer and the first female partner at the agency (and our Executive of the Year).

Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer at Pepsi, says that's what drew it to the shop. "We had a robust brief, not just a one-pager, and they spent a lot of time understanding the insights we presented on paper and delivered something that was right on strategy," Lyons says. "They found a fresh and creative way that's both going to make people feel better about the brand and sell more product. They hit a home run in every single aspect we were looking for."

While it didn't hurt that GS&P had already done a lot of awarded work for sibling Frito-Lay, such as creating a Tostitos bag that doubled as a breathalyzer, a museum dedicated to Cheetos, and Stacy's pita chips packages decorated with Snap codes and designs from the January 2017 Women's March, Lyons says that was by no means the impetus for Pepsi giving it the account.

"It was because of the [Pepsi] work," says Lyons. (GS&P's ease with both business units was evident in the Super Bowl, in which PepsiCo ran two of its spots back-to-back, promoting Doritos Blaze and Mtn Dew Ice with lip-syncing from Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman, respectively. Pepsi says that was a one-off and that Mtn Dew's agency of record is BBDO.)

Todd Arata, senior VP-brand marketing at another client, Comcast's Xfinity, credits the agency for changing consumer perception of it as "a cable company" into a technology brand that allows people to live their lives better. Comcast, which has been with the agency for 14 years, last year gave GS&P its social business with the goal of what Arata calls "dimensionalizing" the brand. Since then, the shop staged an "Xfinity Diner" at Comic-Con in which it served foods representing popular programs, like a Jolly Rancher shiv from "Orange Is the New Black."

And to demonstrate Xfinity's internet speed, a viral stunt by the agency made unsuspecting movie fans at a makeshift drive-in feel thrust into "The Fast and the Furious" chase scenes via a track (think theme park ride). To highlight the company's home security system, GS&P created a heart-pounder of another kind: a Halloween video in which a creepy mask plays a starring role. That film resulted in 2.5 million views and a 33 percent spike in inquiries about the home security system, Arata says.

In addition to the work, what comes up again and again when talking to clients is the collaborative culture at the 350-person agency, which preferred to offer Johnson as its spokesperson for this story rather than namesake partners Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein.

All of its employees, in fact, streamed over to the Irish Bank, a local watering hole accessed by an alleyway near the agency, when GS&P won the Pepsi business, and each person—from Goodby himself to the mail clerk—was cheered as he or she came in. Even a rival agency got in on the act: BarrettSF, a shop run by former GS&P exec Jamie Barrett and located on GS&P's route to Irish Bank, put makeshift signs in its windows with the Pepsi logo saying, "Congratulations GSP! From your friends at BarrettSF."

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