On legends: Susan Credle and Jeff Goodby at the 3% Conference
Watching advertising industry legends on stage together can be overwhelming — where sometimes an overblown sense of self can take the best of intentions into a sea of disappointment. The polar opposite of that would be Susan Credle, global chief creative officer at FCB Global and Jeff Goodby, co-chairman and partner at Goodby Silverstein & Partners — who both spent time together on stage at the 3% Conference discussing legends like Mary Wells, Diane Rothschild, Hal Riney and Phil Dusenberry. The tone was respectful and filled with anecdotes that, like Credle and Goodby, were honest and real.
Credle, who talked about coming up in the business after being a “coat check” girl, made it a point to share her experiences with Dusenberry, the legendary ad man, and how he was supportive from the very beginning, asking her what she wanted to do at BBDO and taking a genuine interest.
“You don’t realize that in leadership positions, just saying hello and knowing who someone is gives people real confidence,” said Credle.
Additionally, praise from contemporaries can create a spirited tailwind and Credle noted how the likes of Ty Montague went out of their way to praise her work. Conversely, Credle experienced the dark side of industry, as well-known male leaders made her feel invisible, not even acknowledging her after coming off of a stage.
It’s a case of building people up or tearing them down.
Goodby’s path was also in the halo of a legend, Hal Riney. Noting that Riney was “not full of praise,” Goodby recognized that strong leaders, especially in advertising, are more like coaches. If current form is any indication, Goodby could plausibly be painted as a latter day Bill Walsh — the legendary coach of the San Francisco 49ers — continually elevating people to their fullest potential. The result is a veritable all-star team with the likes of Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ Margaret Johnson (partner and ECD), Bonnie Wan (partner and head of strategy) and Christine Chen (partner, director of comms strategy) coming under his, and Rich Silverstein's tutelage.
Negative vs. positive energy
Speaking to The Drum after their entertaining panel, both agreed that there are still both negative and positive forces at play.
“You come to these events and see how many women know each other and care about each other and want them to succeed,” said Credle.
Ten years ago, according to Credle, she knew no women outside of her agency and events like the 3% Conference prove how valuable they are.
“That’s an important difference,” said Goodby. “I think it took people like Susan, who are self-motivated and strong, to overcome that. It’s a little easier now to look up and see that there are role models [like Credle].”
Another potentially poisonous trap is the thinking that the conversation about women in the industry is over.
“I think there's a tendency to believe that the problem is fixed — and I don't want to burn up the Kevin Roberts thing again — but I think that there is a feeling especially on the West Coast that we're all cool, we’re all okay with each other, we all honor each other’s individuality and a lot that happens,” noted Goodby.
But despite the good vibes that the Pacific Coast can afford, it comes down to individuals and their actions, whether they are aware of them or not.
“Susan and I were talking about this. There's a lot that happens unconsciously,
said Goodby. “There are a lot of little signals you give people about whether you respect them or not — whether you value them or not — that you have to really be careful about, because no one can totally understand what they are giving off in that kind of situation. You can never know exactly, and it's happened to me many times, where somebody said, ‘Well I thought you were mad at me,’ or, ‘I thought you really hated that thing,’ or, ‘I thought I was doing a bad job,’ and I never said it explicitly but they just intuited it.”
According to Credle, good leaders make the conscious choice to ensure to dole out praise, especially when the daily grind continues at a fever pitch. In one instance, Dave Lubars, BBDO chairman, made it a point to write a hand-written note to not only tell Credle that she was doing a great job, but what his intentions were for her growth as a creative leader.
“It said, ‘I realized I never explained why I'm being so hard on you. Because I think you are one of the best, and if I didn't think you were good I wouldn't push you like I push you. But I forgot to tell you that and I am worried you might think I don't think you are very good,” recalled Credle. “I still have that note, and it changed all that energy that he was giving me. What I though was negative suddenly became positive.”
On legends past, present and future
When it comes to conversation about legends, the simple question is “do we need more of them?”
I think you do,” said Goodby. “I think you need people to look to and have as role models to go forward. I think we are making them now. We're not making, we are helping them happen.”
It’s an important distinction. The historical giants of the industry had a much larger than life air about them. The legends of today and tomorrow will likely look a little different, but one time-tested discipline will reign supreme.
“I still think that when I look at the legends, good or bad, even looking at Hal Riney and Phil Dusenberry, [they were] different men but I think they knew their brand and they knew that they had a point of view in the world,” said Credle. “I think that we will continue to see that the ones that rise above will have a point of view in the world about what they do, why they do it, what they want to do — and they'll continue swinging at it. Really, it will be about their brand, as much as the brands that they touch. Some people get that early and some people just blend in.”
“I think it's a connection to popular culture that is becoming more and more imperative — that you really understand what is going on around you and be connected to it, and nobody is too old to do that,” added Goodby. “It's not going to be just an age appropriate kind of thing. It is going to be everybody.”
Legends in their own rights, both Credle and Goodby understand that, for the next generation of legends to emerge, it is incumbent upon people like them to honor what made legends in the first place.
“In [the book] ’Built to Last' they say the first job of a company is to reproduce the best things about itself,” said Goodby. :” think that's the first job of the person that's running a company too — to try to reproduce what you do well and welcome other things in at the same time.”