"Advertising is a safe haven for career misfits," says Barrett, who "didn't have the first clue" what to do with his English degree from Princeton. He worked as a towel boy at a squash club until a friend sparked an interest in the ad business. Though Barrett, 42, got off to a poor start on the account side at Fallon, he eventually won a copywriter job there, then moved on to Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Ore., for eight years. After a stint at Fallon in New York, he joined Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in 2002 as a partner and cd, steering Saturn's "People first" work and the "Do it eBay" campaign. Q. How did you move from the account side at Fallon to the creative department?
A. I think I resigned as an account person about four minutes before they fired me— "Before you give me that slip that's of the pink color, let me tell you ..." And I said, "I'm gonna try to become a writer." [Pat Fallon] patted me on the back and said, "That's nice." I had put together a spec book, and I put it on Tom McElligott's chair. I was too intimidated to show him. Twenty minutes later, I got a call—"Pat Fallon would like to see you right now." I figured he was going to say, "You've got to get out of here. It's incredibly presumptuous to put work on Tom McElligott's chair." All four partners were there. Pat said, "Burn your suits, you're a writer." That was Friday. On Monday, I started 16-page fractional ads; those are like 2-inch ads in newspapers. He neglected to say, "You're an incredibly junior writer working on incredibly horrible assignments."
How is Goodby different from the other shops you've worked for?
Goodby is an incredibly hungry agency. Every day, Jeff and Rich and the others start from scratch. There's a feeling that whatever we did last year or five years ago or 15 years ago is somewhat meaningless. These guys make me and the others feel like what we're doing has meaning and it's worth striving to do it better than anybody else.
What's the best thing about working there?
It's a healthy agency. I am constantly amazed how 300-plus people get along so well and work so productively together.
And what's the worst?
I feel like when I joined Goodby, I was joining the Yankees. I am a competitive person, and I want to feel whatever agency I am at, I can take it to another level. With Goodby, they have already been to the top of the mountain. The challenge is to reinvent the place and make it even more successful. That's good and bad, I think.
Why did you change the tagline for Saturn in the latest spots?
We refocused it to be very specifically about putting people first. People were not sure how to interpret the words "It's different in a Saturn." We wanted on no uncertain terms to define it as "People first."
What's the best way to reach a younger audience with Saturn?
How do your musical tastes influence your work?
With What did you learn from working with Dan Wieden?
My first five years in the business, before I went to Wieden, I wrote using my brain. But at Wieden, I learned to write from the heart. It's not like anybody sits you down and puts you through a "write from the heart" clinic; it's more just going there every day, getting a lot of crappy puns and shallow thoughts out of your system. Observing other great people doing other great things. My greatest influence is Jerry Cronin, who created things out of instinct—he did not create with other advertising in mind. Things go awfully quickly at an agency like Wieden and Fallon and Goodby, and there aren't a lot of people who break stride and reach out. Jerry took the time to give me good feedback. To this day, I e-mail him stuff 3,000 miles away.
What's the last ad that made you think, "I wish I'd done that?"
The Sega [ESPN NFL Football] "Beta-7" integrated campaign. I admired what a massive undertaking it was, how comprehensive. Also, the "Real Men of Genius" radio campaign. It is consistently great.
Do you have a motto?
I want to get to the end of my career and feel like I left no human carnage in my wake. I want to be good to people.