Patrick Godfrey: Managing Partner & President of Godfrey Q

My NativeAdVice:


Patrick founded Godfrey Q alongside Dennis and Q, and eleven years later is still here. He began his advertising career at Ogilvy & Mather, working on Microsoft. He has worked at agencies in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, including Anderson & Lembke, McCann Erickson, Lowe & Partners, and Goldberg Moser O’Neill. His brand experience includes Coca-Cola, IBM, Cisco, Dolby, the NHL, and Intel, to name but a few. Godfrey Q is the longest Patrick has ever worked in one place, or ever will. He runs the strategy function at the agency, but occasionally dabbles in everything else — until politely asked to stop. He’s developed a reputation among his peers and clients as a clear-headed thinker who will say just about anything.

Patrick still goes to see indie bands play, despite generally being the oldest person there. He will argue with anyone, about anything, at any time. Especially if the subject matter is strategy, creative, baseball, music, wine, coffee, food, cars, or vinyl. Patrick has called San Francisco home for 19 years. He and his wife Lauren dote on Petunia, their hyper-affectionate rescue mutt, at their home in Buena Vista Park.

How did you get into the Advertising industry?

I was about 16 when it became clear I wasn’t good enough at math to be an architect. I don’t know how I became fixated on advertising, but I did. It was my major in college, and I’ve never considered anything else.

Tell us about Godfrey Q. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the agency?

I came to San Francisco in 1995 for a job at Anderson & Lembke. It was a transformative experience. At that time, it seemed every shop in the city wanted to be Goodby, Silverstein. And for good reason. But A&L was different. They took huge pride in doing great work, but their client portfolio was tech and/or B2B. They didn’t look down at that work, treating it with the same care and craft that makes for great consumer work. They even published a bound edition of their portfolio every year, calling it “The Work”. The people I worked with at A&L and the principles I picked up changed how I see our industry.

And that’s the vision for Godfrey Q: Do great work for clients who happen to work in B2B and/or tech. It’s about specializing and not condescending to work that some view as uncool.

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Godfrey Q's success?

Expanding into Asia was a huge moment for us. North America and Europe are saturated with specialist agencies, and it’s far more effective and efficient for us to partner with them than to hang out our shingle.

But our clients all wanted a better understanding of what was happening across Asia, and we couldn't find a great partner focused on tech or B2B. While agency growth has been significant in-region for some time, most of that growth has been in consumer and luxury goods. So we opened up shop, first in Beijing and two years later, in Singapore.

Of course, once we got there we began our journey of understanding what it means to work across Asia. It never ceases to fascinate.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

I’m surprised at how little has actually changed. We’ve all been trained to say that we’re change agents and storytellers, and that’s crazy talk. Our job is to provide perspective that the clients either cannot or will not, and come up with creative solutions to business problems. The tactics have always been in flux.

Of course, any organization that sticks around needs to adapt, and we have. When Godfrey Q launched 12 years ago, our ratio was 90:10 analog to digital. Now it’s 90% digital. And we’ve got people here with digital job titles and skillsets that I scarcely understand. I expect this to accelerate, and I don’t expect to understand them any more than I understand Snapchat. I’m OK with that.

Life Motto?

“Anxiety is my co-pilot.”

Godfrey Q's Motto?

“Stop Making Sense.” It’s not only the greatest concert film ever made, but a constant reminder that people make all of their decisions emotionally.

Your greatest success as MD/President of Godfrey Q? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

The greatest success, and most difficult moment, are actually the same thing, from 2013.

Q, my long-time creative and business partner, retired very suddenly after 15 years of working together. From the day he told me in a client’s parking lot to the day he was gone was less than a month. I was one of the few people that knew he had ordained as a Buddhist monk after decades of practice. I knew the break was coming, and it still came as a shock. After a long and productive partnership, it was clear that neither of us was into it anymore, and he was the one with the resolve to walk away. I was left to notify clients, restructure the company and reassure staff.

This was happening against the backdrop of the most turbulent time ever in our client relationships. Two of our largest accounts had just reorganized, pushing out the CMOs. Client contracts were expiring. We needed to sign a new lease in San Francisco (terrifying even when things are great). And in the middle of all this, my family was struck by a tragedy. My strong temptation was to take a long sabbatical, having had a job since I was 15 years old. The truth is that I was scared shitless, and couldn’t figure out where to hide.

So I decided to act utterly without fear. Say exactly what I was thinking. Never indulge in the politically expedient solution. It was like smelling salts.

Work became fun again. We scored some huge wins, with clients old and new. The work got better. We found a great new ECD and partner in Paul Hicks. We found a new and more inclusive space to call home. And we starting winning awards and growing again.

Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Don’t take outside money until — and unless — you have to. We were offered $1 million by WPP after quitting our jobs to start the shop. It was a scary time, in the middle of the dot com bust. And a million dollars seemed like all the money in the world. But Dennis O’Rourke, our partner and CFO, helped us understand the implications. We would have lost controlling interest very early on. And then we’d have the same problems we’d left behind.

I spent most of my formative years at holding company shops, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. But I don’t buy it for a second when I hear my peers say the holding company “doesn’t meddle with our finances” or “gives us the best of both worlds.” That’s pure fiction. You get scope and scale with a holding company, but the handcuffs are tight. Once you’re owned by the holding company, you’re OWNED by the holding company.

How do you motivate your employees?

By giving them ownership. Literally. Not just ownership of assignments, but of the agency itself. We’ve always been committed to cash bonuses and profit sharing, so we took it to the next level and made our key staff equity partners. That’s something that never could have happened if we were owned by someone else.

In terms of the non-partners, we motivate by not saying “no”. By listening to them. By recognizing great work and rewarding it before they have to ask (or quit).

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

The spaghetti at Delfina in San Francisco with whatever Nebbiolo the bartender recommends.

What literature is on your bed stand?

Actually, it’s nonfiction. “Capital in the 21st Century” by Thomas Piketty. When there’s no longer a middle class here in the U.S., I hope Bentley and Hermés are spending a lot on advertising.

Role model - business and personal?

Max Fischer from “Rushmore”.

Current passion?

Live music. Nothing comes close. And with the near-collapse of the music industry, it’s how you directly support the artists you appreciate.

Favorite travel destination?

Japan. The people, the design, the food, the drink, the commotion, the craft. It’s like a portal into another universe. You can never belong culturally, but so incredibly warm and accommodating.

What's next for Godfrey Q?

Continuing to explore adjacent markets where emotionally resonant work will make a real difference for clients: clean energy, professional services, industrial, to name a few. Continuing to have our partners and employees gain equity in the agency. And continuing to take the quality of the work personally in categories where that’s usually not the case.