Goodby Staffers Jump Ship

It began with cocktails in Los Angeles—and turned into a business decision that affected two of the largest agencies here.

Paul Venables, 35, and Greg Bell, 31, both senior-level creatives at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, were having drinks with a former SBC client, Beth Kachellek, now director of advertising and brand management at Microsoft’s Ultimate TV, about a month ago, when a casual conversation about working together again quickly turned into an intriguing business proposition: Would the copywriter/art director team open an agency to handle Ultimate TV’s $50 million ad business?

Within a couple of weeks, Ultimate TV had agreed to pull its business out of FCB, here, and San Francisco had a new startup—Venables/Bell & Partners. “They admired our body of work, and they were less than thrilled with what was going on agencywise,” said Venables, whose relationship with Kachellek and Ultimate TV’s vp of marketing, Bill Morgan, goes back to 1996, when Venables and Bell first pitched the Southwestern Bell account for the shop.

As a result, FCB, which was recently forced to cut 12 percent of its staff after the $400 million AT&T Wireless account went into review in March, has suffered another damaging blow to its client roster. And Goodby, which promoted Venables to associate partner and creative director last June, is again without a solid succession plan in place.

“We did this ourselves at one stage,” said Jeff Goodby, who left the former Hal Riney & Partners in 1983 to form his own agency with partner Rich Silverstein. “It’s a tough time to start an agency, and these guys have a lot of courage to do it. We’re going to remain connected with them, and it will benefit both sides.”

Goodby said his agency has not yet identified a replacement for Venables to manage daily creative duties along with creative director and partner Steve Simpson. Sources said that the agency has a number of associate creative directors who may be appropriate for the job, adding that Goodby and Silverstein “will look for the right person to shine.”

“It was a difficult decision to make because it’s the best job in the business, and to turn that down is a serious thing,” said Venables. “But this is a dream for me.”

The new agency, which will open June 1, has no other clients. The shop may lease space from Goodby in a separate building. The third partner is Bob Molineaux, an account director who most recently worked with Citron Haligman Bedecarré, now AKQA, who is also a former Goodby staffer.