Car and Drivers

Following Goodby, Silverstein & Partners’ $300 million Saturn win, the biggest account in the agency’s 19-year history, co-founders and co-creative directors Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein have been busy assembling what Silverstein calls “the New York Yankees of advertising.”

Four months after a chilly Friday morning in February, when Goodby’s top managers met before 6 a.m. to determine how to get their arms around the new General Motors account, the agency is finishing a flurry of creative hires, mostly recently ex-Leagas Delaney creative director and former Goodby writer Harry Cocciolo as creative director.

The agency also added former Fallon New York creative director Jamie Barrett to the mix, and recently handed him creative chores on the entire Saturn account.

This year’s account wins, which include Elizabeth Arden and Ace Hardware, make Goodby San Francisco’s biggest agency, with more than $850 million in billings. “We hope things stay this way,” says Silverstein, of the agency’s recent successes. “We’re not gloating. We appreciate the position we’re in.”

During a recent interview at their offices bordering Chinatown, Goodby, 50, and Silverstein, 53, show visitors a pro bono campaign the agency is working on for The Central Park Conservancy.

The pair, having run their agency since 1983 after departing the former Hal Riney & Partners, are still are very much in command of everything that happens in a pitch or on a shoot. Sitting in Silverstein’s office, which is filled with scores of art books and his racing bike, the partners talk about Saturn, their new hires, a mutual obsession with the O.J. Simpson murder trial and their staffs’ love for the breakaway MTV hit The Osbournes.

Adweek: How important was the Saturn win to the agency?

Jeff Goodby: You have big wins that come at all different times, but this truly couldn’t have come at a better time.

Rich Silverstein: It was only afterwards that we learned it wasn’t just a pitch for the $50 million Ion account, but that we were getting the whole Saturn business.

Goodby: You often find yourself smacking your head and saying, “what just happened?”

Adweek: What would you describe as the agency’s most difficult period?

Goodby: There have been a few. Last year certainly was, because it’s the first time we’ve had to shrink the staff.

Silverstein: Actually, the year before that was very challenging. People were being lured away by ungodly sums of money, and it all crashed down. Luckily, we didn’t have to rebuild, because our company’s character continues. One person doesn’t make our culture and the foundation is always here.Adweek: What is that culture?

Goodby: We invite a lot of styles. We invite people to come in with ideas that we wouldn’t do ourselves. You need to drop your selfishness when you come here. You need to talk to your peers. People who aren’t able to discuss and defend their work don’t do well.

Silverstein: We have a culture of treating people with respect, never talking down to them and applying intelligence to advertising so it will be well-received by the consumer and put the best light on the client. The work is everything and everyone is here to make it better. That culture has never changed. It didn’t change when we went from 15 people to 75 people to 300 people.

Adweek: How has the staff reacted to creative director Jamie Barrett?

Goodby: He’s been helpful right away, especially [given] his experience with Wieden and Fallon. He came right in the middle of the Saturn pitch [in January] …

Silverstein: He’s the only outsider that could have been brought in and perform at the level he’s performing. He’s taken half of the creative department and put it under his wing. [Creatives] aren’t saying “Where is Jeff or Rich,” they are asking for Jamie.

Goodby: People want to show him their work.

Adweek: A couple of years ago, you named Paul Venables and Steve Simpson co-creative directors so that you could step back on the day-to-day management. Have you set up a similar succession plan with Barrett?

Silverstein: That wasn’t a succession plan. It was a necessity because we had Simpson running HP. But things are evolving … we put more people in senior positions to run different accounts instead of one or two people overall.

Goodby: We’re learning to let other people do things.

Adweek: What current advertising do you admire?

Goodby: Someone asked me that recently and I had a hard time answering it.

Silverstein: I was totally riveted by that recent Gap ad with Dennis Hopper.

Goodby: We were really jealous of the World Series [Fox Sports] ad that Chiat did last October. (The ad showed appliances malfunctioning because factory workers were engrossed in baseball.)

Adweek: What makes your agency’s work different than others?

Goodby: I don’t want us to have a style. I just want our work to be different than the rest. Before we probably focused on pure storytelling, but now we have people who look at things differently.

Silverstein: The [creatives] don’t come from the storytelling background. They come from an MTV background. We learned from Hal [Riney] and made it our own. Then people learned from us and made it their own. There’s a whole new group that doesn’t see things that way. We don’t want an entire agency of storytellers.

Goodby: We don’t believe in talking down to people or repetition. We want to make things that are welcome in people’s homes.

Adweek: What is the biggest difference running an agency now vs. 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, when you left Riney?

Silverstein: More people.

Goodby: The world isn’t as welcoming to small creative agencies. In 1983 you could have a small agency like we did. It was kind of romantic.

Adweek: What is your day-to-day involvement in the creative work that leaves the agency?

Silverstein: We both see Saturn and I probably will see HP. [Goodby] sees Isuzu and Got Milk! and Budweiser, and I’ll see E*Trade. It varies with the creative directors involved. All the work is seen by Jeff or myself, but I don’t see 50 percent of it.

Adweek: What movies are you watching? What books have you been reading?

Silverstein: Billy Bob Thornton is a genius. Anything with him I love.

Goodby: We’re obsessed with O.J. Simpson. It never stops. Last night, on the plane, I finished about my 25th O.J. book, the one by Dominick Dunne.

Silverstein: Jeff’s more into books than I am. I’m a magazine junkie. I read three papers in the morning. All these pop culture stories are crazy, they are like screenplays coming to life. Oh my God, I’m fixated with all of them. I’m totally involved with Chandra Levy and the story where the little girl was taken away in Utah.

Adweek: If you weren’t in advertising, what would you be doing?

Silverstein: Something theatrical. I’ve always wanted to put on a play or an opera, but that’s a fantasy.

Goodby: I’d like to think I’d be pitching against Pedro Martinez, but there is no physical reason to believe I could do it.