Agency A-List 2018

Margaret Johnson Is Ad Age's Agency Executive of the Year

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Margaret Johnson.
Margaret Johnson. Credit: Chloe Aftel, courtesy Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

You don't often find someone who has stuck by one agency for 21 years, as Margaret Johnson has at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, but she says she never seriously considered leaving. "I'd look other places, but it always came back to 'I love San Francisco and Rich and Jeff.' It's learning from great legends," Johnson says, referring to company co-founders Rich Silverstein and Jeff Goodby. "I've lived with them longer than my own parents," she adds with a laugh.

She's learned well. Her team's creative gymnastics were behind an astounding $1 billion in new business last year for the agency, including the prized Pepsi account, Liberty Mutual and the social business for longtime client Comcast's Xfinity. It's an impressive run for Johnson, who is the shop's first chief creative officer and first female partner, and who is dedicated to increasing the ranks of women at the agency. Already, 64 percent of GS&P's management team is female.

"One thing I'm striving to do is improve recruiting and keep more women in Goodby's creative department," says Johnson, a North Carolina native who still has a trace of a Southern accent. "I'm working really hard to make sure our partner group is 50-50 and that the work is balanced with perspectives that are both male and female."

In addition to rainmaking, Johnson is focused on keeping up the level of creative work that yielded innovations like experiential activations for Xfinity, social statements like Stacy's pita chips bags adorned with signs from the Women's March that included Snap codes to reach your local representative, and a Tostitos bag that doubled as a breathalyzer.

She's also dedicated to keeping talent at the agency, where turnover is 12 percent despite heated competition from Silicon Valley for digital expertise.

"She's brilliant at building teams. We have a lot of great creatives on our account and they want to work for her," says Todd Arata, senior VP of brand marketing at Comcast, a client for 14 years. "It's rare for a brand to be with an agency for as long as we have, and for so many creatives to stay more than three or four years."

"She listens and is a genuinely good person," says Pepsi Chief Marketing Officer Greg Lyons of Johnson. "She handles difficult situations elegantly and is the exact person you want running your account."

And the somewhat self-effacing Johnson ("My name sounds like a schoolmarm—it's plain, not flashy, like me," she says) isn't one to accept the status quo.

"She is incredibly inquisitive and wants to know how the products work and why it has to be the way it is," says Arata. "She is always pushing us a little further."

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