Q&A with Goodby Silverstein & Partner’s co-founder Jeff Goodby


Jeff Goodby sat down with Miranda Ward on the sidelines of the Reset conference in Sydney this week to talk about whether Goodby Silverstein & Partners should have opened an office in Sydney when it won the Commonwealth Bank account in 2007, what he makes of the state of creativity locally and how if he were starting an agency today it would specialise in social media amplification.

Having worked in Australia for nearly five years with the Commonwealth Bank from 2007, what have you made of the state of creativity during your visit?

I think it’s gotten stirred up a lot since I worked on CommBank, in good ways. Obviously a big couple of Cannes winners that have happened since I worked for CommBank and agencies like The Monkeys have really prospered in a lot of good ways. The clients in banking, the ANZ campaign, things like that have prospered. There’s a lot of energy to do good things here and it’s a country that’s not so big and unweildy as in the US. You can still make a difference here with clients.

The appointment of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to the Commonwealth Bank account did cause a lot of controversy – do you think it can work when a foreign agency comes in to work on a local client?

As I’ve said to people here it’s just a sign that Australia is in the major leagues when it comes to advertising to have someone come from the outside and work here on a big local account. That happens in the US all the time and nobody goes ‘an American agency should be doing that, who the hell are they?’.

Having started your own agency, what are the challenges of starting an agency and ensuring it remains relevant?

To start an agency now is a real challenge. It’s harder to get championed by the press now. When we started everyone wanted us to succeed. It’s not a coincidence that Wieden + Kennedy started the same year we did. Everyone was hungry for something outside New York to happen. It’s harder to get that effect now. You don’t get any help with publicity now. The trades aren’t as closely read as they used to be, so you have to do something that makes people crazy, that’s the only way to make it work now.

In the first year of your work you have to make something really great.

What are the challenges creatives are faced with?

Doing something that people notice, it’s hard to do. The easier way to get things noticed in the past was to do something famous that was on TV and everyone saw it, but doing stuff on TV isn’t necessarily the way to success.

I always say make a difference in the world, not just at awards shows. It’s always great to do something that people notice.

You’ve been behind a number of successful campaigns, including the iconic ‘Got Milk?’ work. Is there a problem with agencies becoming too associated with one award-winning campaign and how can an agency move beyond that campaign’s reputation?

That’s harder then ever now. It’s a mixed bag, you succeed at something like ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ or ‘The Best Job in the World’ and then everyone’s like ‘now what?’ And does that mean you can’t do a certain other kind of a business? A bank or something. It’s bad to get associated with a style, or one piece of work or one account, it’s a bit of a limitation in a way. You almost have to try hard to find other things to do. It’s a great thing to win all these awards but immediately you have to try and do something.

Are clients and agencies becoming more concerned around risks of doing potentially controversial work?

I think so and that’s why I gave that talk. People are more timid then they were three or four years ago. They’re more timid about their jobs, about the process and maybe it’s for this exact reason that it’s hard to make something famous enough to save your life. People see it as a mistake.

That’s one of the reasons I tell CMOs to get a lot of research to back up what they do. So if you do something you think is smart start collecting research on it that proves that it works so if your boss comes up to you and says ‘Are you sure this is working?’ you can quote something quickly and keep it alive.

What is your view on the full-service debate?

If I were starting an agency now I would try and limit it, I would not try to be full-service. I would try and get famous for doing one kind of thing, I’m not even sure what that is.

I would probably try and do something where I promise that social media is going to become mass media. I’ve been screwing around with this tequila company that my brother and Andy Berlin and I are importing a tequila and I’ve gotten a lot of respect for being able to manipulate social media without any media. I’ve worked with people who are really good at it, and we’ve made some real strides in ways I didn’t realise you could do if you applied yourself.

Doing social media takes a lot of attention, you just have to monitor it. Starting to do this will make it do that. It’s really interesting to do.

When looking for new talent what are the skills you are after?

I must admit I want people that aren’t like the people in advertising in general, if you can get them. It’s easy to go let’s get a writer, he/she’s famous, they’re working on that, they’ve done that and you just keep recycling the same people through the system. It really is good to find people outside that system and it’s not like we don’t have those people, you have to have them, they know how to handle clients and meetings. It’s really good when you can get an infusion outside of that closed system.

You’ve come from a newspaper background – is there anything you learnt as a journalist that applies to advertising?

I’m fast. I can write really fast because I had to.

What is your favourite piece of work you have been involved with?

I’m very lucky to have worked on a lot of stuff, I can’t even answer that. One of the great things about our agencies is we don’t have one account we’re famous for, we’ve done a lot of different things and I’m really proud of that.

Someone was talking to me about a campaign we did in the ’80s for Chevys Mexican restaurants where we made commercials and threw them away the same day like they made the food. So it was like this commercial will be good by tomorrow just like the food at Chevys which we make fresh every day. But nobody would go ‘I remember that’.

If you had another local client would you open an office in Sydney?

I told CommBank I was going to open a physical office, and I probably would, it’s too far. We were very lucky that Mark Buckman and Barbara Chapman and the clients there really wanted an outside perspective, they wanted to break out of the community feeling and that was good. I don’t think there are a lot of clients like that, most clients would go it’s just too far for us.

So if you were appointed by another Australian client, would a Goodby Silverstein & Partners Sydney office happen?

Yeah I would, if it [the client] were big enough. I would now. The people of this country would appreciate that and we’d probably undergo a lot less of the flame-throwing that we got when we came here last year.


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