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Diversifying the Portfolio

Jeff Goodby on minorities in advertising and weathering tough times

Jeff Goodby: "It’s been a roller coaster after leaving HP and losing Sprint."

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Jeff Goodby is seeking African-American applicants for the second annual Goodby Silverstein & Partners Digital Fellowship, which comes with a scholarship subsidy to Stockholm’s Hyper Island educational institute. While on a San Francisco Bay ferry, the GS&P co-founder spoke to Adweek about why the industry needs more minorities, what happened behind the scenes during some difficult months at GS&P and how he has handled online criticism.

Adweek: Why has advertising always been largely a white industry?
Goodby: There’s a lot of African-American artists who don’t think of advertising as something appropriate for them. Maybe it’s self-perpetuating. When you look at commercials and see a white world, you think, “That’s not my world.” But the way you can influence popular culture through advertising is so powerful that it’s a shame we don’t have a more diverse workforce.

GS&P has gone through a tough time recently. How was it for you?
It’s been a roller coaster after leaving HP and losing Sprint. The company had to change a lot. We felt we were already changing things and then Sprint left, which came as a total surprise. So we had to do soul searching, especially in terms of our staff and how to configure things. We were also moving as much of the Chevrolet work as possible to Detroit and that changed [San Francisco] too. We took away jobs and put them into Detroit, and some people didn’t want to move. When things like this happen, it comes down to how management handles it.

How do you feel about comments about GS&P on industry blogs?
I can’t get too worked up. People who leave anonymous comments often have political axes to grind or feel they were unjustly laid off. Many times you take an account from another agency, and they lodge nasty anonymous comments. You just have to attribute that stuff to people who wouldn’t say it to your face. It’s part of the freedom of the Internet—a small price to pay for what we can do with it.

Given the recent ups and downs, would you do anything differently?
If you are tight with clients, you see things coming. With Sprint, there must have been signs, but we haven’t found one yet. In a larger sense, there’s a lot of pressure on CEOs and CMOs to perform these days, and everyone is dealing with new CMOs all the time. Everyone has to develop skills to deal with that, and I’m not sure we had the skills. We’re developing them.

Were you surprised by the skeptical reaction to Commonwealth, the new GS&P, McCann Erickson global Chevy joint venture?
Not really. The two objections were it was just about money, and you can’t do a global campaign. When it comes to making a global campaign, that’s a legitimate question. It’s a hard thing to do. Few people have done it well or for very long, especially for a complicated brand like this one. Everyone on this team is doing our best to do that. One thing in our favor is the fluidity of media.

You’re 60 and your partner Rich Silverstein is 62. Do you two discuss the future much?
Isn’t that awful? To the business, it must seem like, “Wow, time to get us out of here.” Rich makes fun of me all the time because every year is like my last year. But I’m not sure when that will be.