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Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein Goes to Work on Its Growing Pains By Daniel S. Levin

SAN FRANCISCO – Not long ago, Rich Silverstein and Jeffrey Goodby, the two co-principals of Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein here, foun

The occasion was the shop’s 10th anniversary. The problem: As GBS had grown from a local – albeit hot – creative boutique to a $270 – million agency competing in the national arena, the fabric of the agency had changed. Those who joined for the opportunity to work on accounts that would surely win creative acclaim, more recently found themselves shackled by the very client demands they thought they were escaping. Those who sought the chance to work directly with Goodby and Silverstein, the co-creative directors, were now one of 120 staffers for whom that regular interaction had been lost.
In the place of such intimacy rose a grueling workload, a shortage of space and a roster of clients that could not be vowed simply with a great idea, but now brought a check list of elements the advertising must meet.
‘You used to imagine Goodby as a place where everything was killer, but they’ve shown they’re capable of doing big agency stuff where big budgets can override the idea,’ said one former employee. ‘It’s no fun doing crap, especially at a place like that.’
The agency’s 10th anniversary seemed as good a time as any to address those concerns. ‘We realized it would be a good time to acknowledge there are things that are wrong,’ said Goodby. (His reflections on the past 10 years appear on page 46.)
The agency bussed its employees off to a gathering in Tiburon, Calif., where the firm’s executives fielded employee questions ranging from whether big money accounts had come to matter more than the staff to how employees stand to benefit from the firm’s success.
Some of the problems faced by the firm seem easily solved. To ease the workload, the agency has been bolstering its staff with a wave of new hires that includes more senior people than had been recruited traditionally.
The problem of cramped quarters, another concern among staff, is also being remedied with the firm leasing space in the adjoining building. There are now health club memberships for all employees and a half day off on the first Friday of the month.
To provide staff members with a greater stake in the business and create an incentive for them to stay, GBS is also instituting a new bonus plan that will guarantee minimum payments based on term of service, rather than the system that had relied on subjective judgment of managers.
But the deeper issues that lay at the firm’s current struggle require finding ways to reestablish the agency’s culture in its new incarnation. GBS executives are trying to institutionalize the agency’s philosophies and value systems, but they admit, these problems won’t be solved as easily.
‘It was not a panacea or Band-Aid,’ said GBS’s Probert, ‘but it was an important first step.’
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)