Margaret Johnson: Chief Creative Officer, Goodby Silverstein & Partners

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My Native Admission Statement: As a working mom, I try to combine my work in advertising and my personal life as much as possible. I aim to use the position I’m in as chief creative officer of Goodby Silverstein & Partners to make the world better for humanity. I’m proud to have been a founding member of the 3% Conference, which aims to increase female leadership in advertising, and to lead a partner group at GS&P, which is 50 percent women.

How did you get into the industry?

I won my first ad award in elementary school. It was for a school-wide contest to create an ad for an airline. I remember drawing happy people boarding a 747 with colorful markers on a giant banner. The tagline was something like “Why Walk When You Can Fly?!” Coincidentally, the first real advertising award I won (in Communication Arts) was for Continental Airlines. 

My first job was as a junior art director at David Lubars’s shop in Providence, Rhode Island. It was called Leonard Monahan Lubars & Kelly, and a creative director named Jeremy Postaer gave me a shot. In a telephone call that I had with him before the hire, he said, “I like your book.” It looked just like his, by the way. I had studied his work in the award annuals and, um, “patterned” my portfolio after his. He asked me, “But how do I know if you’re any good?”

I told him, “I don’t know. If you like my ads, you’ll like me.”

Not long after I got to Providence, Jeremy ended up leaving LML&K and going to Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco. My next job was in Dallas. I worked for Grant Richards and Todd Tilford in a cool, carved-out R&D agency within an agency at the Richards Group. After working there for a year or so, Grant left and headed to GS&P as well.

Shortly after, Grant and Jeremy told me that I ought to consider joining them at GS&P. And I did.

The rest is history. Some of my early work included Yahoo!’s interactive “Bus Stop Derby,” campaigns for Nike Women and Logitech’s “Ivan Cobenk” spot, starring Kevin Bacon as a guy who is in love with…Kevin Bacon. One of the campaigns I’m proudest of is the Häagen-Dazs “HD Loves HB” campaign, which prompted Congress to conduct hearings on colony collapse disorder. 

Any emerging industry trends?

Social good is table stakes, with brands needing to have a pulse and a personality more than ever before. That includes leaning into movements that their consumers care about.

The implication for us as advertisers is that we need to know not only how to weave our work into pop culture but also what connects to our target audience’s hearts and the causes they support. We recently saw the positive effects for Nike in supporting Colin Kaepernick, with its climbing stock price and sales since the launch of the campaign.

For Frito-Lay, GS&P created a line of “Party Safe” bags that detected alcohol to prevent drunk driving. We encouraged Millennials to register to vote in 2016 with our cardboard “No Choice” Doritos and supported the women’s movement by creating bags for Stacy’s Pita Chips—inspired by historical-march signs—with Snapchat codes that connected consumers to their local congressional representative.

Doing good is not a new thing for GS&P. It’s always been in our DNA. Examples include the Häagen-Dazs campaign exposing the honeybee crisis and our Doritos Rainbows campaign, which celebrated gay pride.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Brand Camp is an offering we created based on the fact that, as a San Francisco agency, we are in the heart of Silicon Valley, with tons of exciting start-ups that can’t necessarily afford a full-service ad agency. 

Brand Camp is an accelerated workshop where we can solve problems quickly and efficiently. It is a four-to-six-week process designed to land a brand’s unique position and point-of-view in the world while engaging the right people for alignment.

The output is what we call an “organizing idea,” a sharp and singular strategic proposition that aligns and activates everyone who touches a brand—from leadership to employees to partners and vendors—and preps you for the next phase of asset building to bring that position to life.

We quickly realized, however, that the tools and approaches we developed for Brand Camp are just as relevant for large, established companies as they are for scrappy start-ups. Companies of all sizes and complexities are looking for ways to sharpen their brand story, disrupt themselves and get ideas to market more quickly. This works well for clients today who are increasingly looking for project work and as a way to get those clients in the door with a taste of what it’s like to work with us.

Not only is it great for providing GS&P with the opportunity to work with more businesses; but creative talent want to be in a place that offers them an array of challenges to solve across a variety of categories. 

What's next for the Business in the near future?

Clients are increasingly looking to be the first to market when it comes to technology, so we created GS&P Labs, an in-house innovation lab that allows for experimentation and speed to market. Recent projects have included virtual-reality and deep-fake applications for the Dalí Museum; an AI app called Cheetos Vision that turns your world into Cheetos snacks; the first emoji for a social cause, the antibullying “I Am a Witness” emoji; and an AR app called Lessons in Herstory that brings forward important stories about women who have been omitted from the history books.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

I sincerely believe that a more diverse set of perspectives always makes the work better, and I think the industry’s survival depends on increasing the level of creativity by increasing the level of diversity. I’m passionate about improving diversity at the top of GS&P. It’s particularly important to me as a leader and as a mother to pave the way for the next generation of women.