Why Goodby's Talent Director Goes Far Afield to Find 'Outstanding Hires'

Five Questions for Zach Canfield

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Ten years ago, Zach Canfield started his career at Goodby Silverstein & Partners as an assistant to the office manager. He worked his way up, dabbling in the creative department along the way, and found his niche when he took on a position as senior recruiter. Mr. Canfield went on to clock time at Wieden & Kennedy as its global director of creative recruiting, but earlier this month returned to his old stomping grounds at Goodby in San Francisco to serve as director of talent.

Talentworks nabbed some time with Mr. Canfield to chat about hiring (or the lack thereof) during a recession, and some of the unique places he's found top talent.

Zach Canfield
Zach Canfield
Ad Age: Tell us a bit about your newly created position. To whom do you report? Do you have a team, or are you a one-man show?

Mr. Canfield: My new title is director of talent and I report to the partners here. The people I'll probably deal with the most are Rich Silverstein, Jeff Goodby, Derek Robson and Robert Riccardi. My role is basically going to be doing recruitment across not only creative but all the departments. The thinking is that I travel so much and have been out there so much on the creative side that it makes sense to do that across different departments as well. I'll work with Linda Harless, who is a creative recruiter here, but I also tend to run around and do a lot of my own thing.

Ad Age: You've come back aboard amid an economic crisis in which it feels like there's very little hiring going on. Nearly every agency in the industry has suffered layoffs in the past year -- Goodby has, too. So what's the agency's thinking behind you role right now? Are you even hiring?

Mr. Canfield: We have a couple positions open, not a ton. It's obviously cut back from what it was. Our approach to recruiting is that even when you're not hiring, you should always be looking and working hard to find interesting people. I need to find great people so that the second we do have something open we can get them in here. We don't have 30 openings like we did a year ago, but we've always looked at is as though talent is the most important thing we have in the building.

Ad Age: What are the toughest positions to fill these days?

Mr. Canfield: I'm constantly looking for people who have experience in all different media, not just print and TV, or not just interactive. Interactive is still new enough that there aren't a lot of people who have been doing it for a really long time, so there aren't a lot of great senior people with tons of experience in that space, in my opinion, who also have other experience besides interactive.

Ad Age: In addition to traditional recruitment methods, you've searched for up-and-comers in some pretty unusual places, such as comedy clubs and rock concerts. How much success have you had with that approach and do any memorable finds come to mind?

Mr. Canfield: I would say that, overall, the approach has been pretty good. I'm a believer that a couple of outstanding hires a year over time can make a huge difference in an agency. If I can make even five really good hires from nontraditional backgrounds a year -- it doesn't sound like much -- but in three years, those 15 people can make a big difference in terms of how the agency works on client briefs.

One of my favorite new creatives here, John Kovacevich, I found when he was performing at an improv show. I remember he was really well-spoken, he was great with the crowd, it was really clear to me that he'd be a great copywriter, and I knew if you put him in a room with clients they'd love him. So, I got his e-mail address. At the time he was an executive for a PR firm. I brought him into the agency and he turned us down at first, and I actually called him and had a two-hour massive heart-to-heart with him about how he had so much potential. ... He eventually called back and said he was going to accept the job.

That kind of thing is not uncommon; every year there are a couple of people like that I meet. Advertising is just so foreign to them -- [John] didn't know what an interactive banner is, but within a week he was already presenting to clients and coming up with great ideas. But that also doesn't mean you just go hiring poets and painters for the sake of their being good artists; they're not necessarily going to be good for advertising. You do have to look for certain qualities.

Ad Age: You've hatched some pretty, um, interesting stunts in your day, like that time you set up a website and asked strangers to donate money so you could take British rapper Lady Sovereign on a fancy date. You didn't make a love connection, but you raised $10,000 and got a ton of press. Did you learn anything from that experience that's useful to your job?

Mr. Canfield: Yes, it was really eye-opening for me. It reminded me how complicated we can make things in advertising. That website cost me $100 to make. I borrowed a camcorder from a friend, and edited it in a weekend. Obviously the finished product wasn't going to go win at the One Show, but the idea was simple enough. I look for people like that who aren't waiting for an army of people to help them create their work. The site wound up getting about 10 million hits in a month. I don't think it's impossible to do great work with little money, but that's easy to forget sometimes in advertising when people are used to big budgets and big production staffs.

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