Goodby Expats in Startup Club

San Francisco agency execs Barrett and Kelly are the latest ad men to open a shop of their own

Two numbers spurred Jamie Barrett, a former partner and executive creative director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, to open his own agency in San Francisco: 10 and 50.

“[Last year] I hit my 10-year mark [at Goodby], and I turned 50 years old,” said Barrett, a veteran creative leader known for his work on Nike, Comcast and the NBA. “Those two things made me go, ‘I’ve got another big chapter in me, and what’s that going to be?’”

This month, Barrett, who’s now 51, and another Goodby expat, Patrick Kelly, 35, launch barrettSF with two accounts (Pac-12 Networks and California Redwood Association), a handful of projects and the deceptively simple goal of creating great ads and having fun. Barrett, who in his 27-year career also worked at Fallon and Wieden + Kennedy, is creative director, and Kelly, who was director of brand publicity at Goodby, is managing director.

With barrettSF, Barrett joins a string of accomplished creative leaders who have left established shops in the past two years to strike out on their own, including Ty Montague, Gerry Graf and Alex Bogusky. Each was in his 40s or early 50s and drew on decades of experience to start anew.

“It’s a challenge for agencies, but a great time for clients because small, new startup agencies have a tremendous amount of top-level talent that is underutilized,” said Ken Robinson of Ark Advisors. “It’s a terrific opportunity to get people who are going to work even harder to prove themselves and give you tremendous access and great insight.”

Barrett said his move didn’t stem from any disaffection with his previous agency. Rather, he sought a new challenge in a market that he knows well. Also, he had considered starting a shop as far back as 1998, when he left Wieden’s Portland, Ore., office to become the creative chief at the New York office of Fallon.

“I’m really looking to assemble a group of people where collectively we’re able to do anything and everything well,” said Barrett. “That’s the nature of advertising now. You have to look at it holistically. You can’t be good at one thing but blind in another area.”

Classically, barrettSF’s initial accounts came via past relationships. A friend introduced Barrett to executives at the Redwood Association, which seeks to promote the virtues of using redwood for, say, building a deck. The group hasn’t advertised before. Likewise, Pac-12, which launched in August, is just getting into marketing. The network’s president, Gary Stevenson, is a former marketing leader at the NBA, which Barrett and Kelly worked on at Goodby.

Like most startups, barrettSF is self-financed. “I was just naive enough, I suppose, just emotionally ready to do this, that I didn’t have [investors] lined up when I made this decision,” Barrett said.

Barrett is all about creating a more casual and quirky office environment by going shoeless and displaying a baby redwood tree as a plant.

Soon, he’ll also hang a photo of oddly profound graffiti that someone spray-painted last week on the glass door to barrettSF’s storefront office: “Don’t Let Your Dreams Be Dreams.”

“If you’re going to write graffiti, it’s better than, ‘Screw you, new ad agency,’” Barrett joked.