Fast Chat: Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein

Why opening in New York makes sense now

San Francisco’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners took a considered approach about when to open in New York, one of the toughest U.S. agency markets. It is just now taking the plunge, naming S.F. exec Nancy Reyes associate partner and managing director of the new Manhattan office and West Coast colleague Christian Haas partner and executive creative director. The New York upstart is a kind of homecoming for co-founder Rich Silverstein, who grew up outside the city in Yorktown Heights, and remembers throwing pumpkins off the nearby Croton dam. It’s also the second expansion initiative for GS&P, which opened in Detroit in 2010 to work for General Motors’ Chevrolet account. But the move into New York isn’t so much client driven as it is about retaining and attracting talent.

Adweek: You both have always been very deliberate and cautious about expanding into New York. Why open now?

Goodby: It’s only taken us 29 years.

Silverstein: We thought we could build a world-class agency out of San Francisco. We always thought clients wouldn’t mind it and we could always attract talent and it worked. But we’ve lost some really good talent because they just wanted to go back to New York City. It wasn’t even about a company or a client or a relationship, they just had to go back.

Can you be more specific?

Goodby: Over the years there have been any number of people, people like [Barton Graf 9000 founder] Gerry Graf, Dan Lucey who went to BBDO [as a creative director], people who have said to us "If you had an office in New York, I would love to work for you, but I have to move back there for one reason or another." So it's about losing people we would otherwise be able to keep in S.F. and it's also about being able to get people who wouldn’t move to S.F. in the first place. New York is the cultural center of America, if not the world, and we don’t have a presence in it. We need to take that culture in and be affected by it more directly. It’s great to be in S.F. and it’s been really good for us because it’s an alternative kind of place and we have an alternative take on life. The interesting thing is we migrated to S.F. from the East Coast (as individuals) and now we’re going back again for things that are important and that we’ve missed.

Silverstein: When you grow up in the New York area, like myself, it never leaves the bloodstream. You’re always connected forever. Christian and Nancy are smart and they’ve grown up in our family, our company. They get us and we get them and it’s seamless. Nancy is about as good an account person as we’ve ever worked with. She was going back to New York because of family and started looking for a job, which we didn’t know about. When we found out she was going to take a job it was like "You’re kidding me, you have to work for us." That’s when we said we have to open an office. That’s how much we think of her. Christian has always worked well with Nancy and when we asked him if he wanted to go, he said yes. This is all about people. It wasn’t about a client.

Is this another way to institutionalize the agency brand? You're both at a point in your lives when you think about … ?

Goodby: Things like when you die? There is a little bit of that in that we want to have people around us that are the best people in the world. One of the things we’ve noticed is that other agencies with more offices, like Dan Wieden’s agency [Wieden + Kennedy], are able to keep people around sometimes longer than we are with only one office in S.F. and one in Detroit. We can’t offer people the head account job in Tokyo or the head account job in Shanghai or Mumbai. We’ve never regretted that. What we’re doing now is for qualitative reasons but it’s going to have that side effect. We don’t want to have offices around the world just to have them. I stay up at night worrying about that shit.