Campaign close-up: GS&P Co-Chairman and Partner Jeff Goodby

Did Jeff ever tell you about the time he won the BMW creative account by sneaking into a closed event under the guise of a journalist? How about his work on a small start-up he helped rename Electronic Arts?

Jeff Goodby had a powerful hankering to slide a car brand into the already-impressive roster at his agency.

So when the co-chairman and partner of Goodby Silverstein and Partners caught wind of BMW putting its media account into review a couple of years back, he asked his trusty PR director to keep him abreast of opportunities to ambush key people, knowing it was likely that a creative pitch would follow.

Meredith Vellines delivered. BMW was preparing to show off its new models at the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach in the coming week. But there was one problem: it was a private event open only to press.

Jeff recalled: "‘Can you get me a press pass?’ I said. ‘I write stuff for Forbes and The Journal.’ She did.

"The event was to take place near the 18th green. I got a room overlooking the whole affair, and at 9 that morning, I finished my coffee and walked into the middle of it. There were journalists I knew from working on Chevrolet, Porsche and Hyundai. ‘What are you doing here?’ they asked."

He strolled right up to Bernhard Kuhnt, the CEO of BMW North America, talked shop and told him to expect some examples of work in his inbox.  

"It was cordial, but I could tell I hadn’t made that big of an impression," said Jeff.

He called Meredith and asked what other heavy hitters might be at the event. She sent photos of the North American and global marketing directors.

Sure enough, one of them was standing just 10 feet away. He struck up a conversation in really bad German. She demanded he speak English.

He continued: "A couple of weeks later, she said they would be contacting us for a visit. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have been on that list without that trip.

"Never get too big for your britches, bitches."

GS&P has been BMW’s creative agency of record in the U.S. since early 2018.

Jeff crashing a closed event under the guise of a journalist doesn’t seem as cheeky when you consider his background.

He grew up near Providence, Rhode Island -- a place he likens to Farrelly brothers movie Outside Providence -- "a real sleeper, with Alec Baldwin as a wife-beater-wearing kind of dad."

As a kid, Jeff spent his time talking big and vandalizing the new construction in a crusade against progress.

He graduated from Harvard in English and took a job at the Beverly Times chain of newspapers north of Boston, reporting on fires and murders and drew esoteric illustrations for TIME and Mother Jones.

"I would probably -- at best -- be a pipe-smoking, sweater-wearing columnist or artist for the New York Times today if my wife hadn’t disliked living in Massachusetts," he explained. "She was from California, and the only part of that state I could stand was San Francisco. We moved there."

Jeff was immediately unemployed. Illustrating didn’t support life in the big city, and he couldn’t land a job at a respectable daily newspaper.  

He’d always enjoyed reading Communication Arts and Print magazines in college. Jeff said they featured a smart kind of advertising that talked the way you talk when you’re considering something inside your own head. He decided that advertising might be a possibility. Unfortunately, he knew nothing about it.

"After dozens of awkward interviews, the creative director of McCann in San Francisco, Charles Martell, pityingly told me to make a spec book," Jeff continued.

"He said to make believe I was working on three advertising accounts I liked and write more ads on those accounts; then pick three campaigns I hated and write new ones; then invent three new products for existing companies; then write a ‘half-page autobiography that shows you wouldn’t be a jerk to have around.’ That last thing was gold. I still have it."

Jeff did all this and got a job immediately at J. Walter Thompson in San Francisco. It was 1978. He was 27.

He said: "After a couple of years there, I got a call from Hal Riney, the hottest creative director in the world at the time. I had no idea who he was. ‘You have an interview with God,’ one JWT creative told me.

"God hired me on the basis of some animated dinosaur commercials I had written for Chevron. I was employee number 26. Two years after that, I started working on a freelance account with Rich Silverstein and Andy Berlin. It was a start-up called Amazin’ Software.

"We renamed it Electronic Arts. They’ve done OK. It gave us enough income to convince us that we could afford a room at $500 a month with one phone."

In many ways, it was the worst time to quit: Jeff and his partner had just welcomed their first child into the world and bought their first house. But stability has never been his ally.  

"Be stupid if possible," he said.

The rest is history.

After years of serving up sexy creative for legendary brands including Doritos, Adobe and Liberty Mutual (and, more recently, this piece of AI gold with The Dalí Museum) under the GS&P flag, the shop is embracing adland’s dramatic transformation.

"The current state is everything but advertising," he stresses of the industry’s current climate. "Think in new ways, and make things people welcome into their lives. Make them seek you out.

"We no longer advertise at them. We advertise for them. Never forget that."

And as for the next generation of industry leaders, Jeff has this message: "Quit and start your own place before you’re making so much money you can’t afford to."

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free