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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  How’d You Get In: Margaret Johnson


How’d You Get In: Margaret Johnson

Posted on January 20, 2012 and read 3,514 times

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With the constant chatter about the gender balance and women in advertising, we thought it a propos to feature one of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners’ finest ad women, Margaret Johnson, as our first How’d You Get In? of 2012. During her fourteen-year tenure at GS&P, Margaret has worked on nearly every account in the agency, from Budweiser to Haagen-Dazs, HP, Logitech, Nike, Nintendo, Specialized and Yahoo. She is also a filmmaker, having completed her first film, Dunkumentary (part of the Short Film Corner at Cannes), in 2008. She may be Executive Creative Director and Associate Partner now, but how did Margaret get her start?

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margaret johnson Howd You Get In: Margaret Johnson

Margaret Johnson,

Executive Creative Director and Associate Partner

Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

I’ve always been an ad geek. In the fourth grade, our art class was asked to create a poster advertising an airline. My poster was eight feet long—a billboard, really. Smiling people with large suitcases lined up to board a plane. I won the contest.

During the summer between my junior and senior year of college at UNC, I decided I wanted to go to summer school at Parsons School of Design. What could be better than an unchaperoned summer in New York City?

My mom didn’t want me to go, but my dad decided that it was a worthwhile experiment. Or maybe it was that my dad wanted an excuse to take my 87-year-old grandfather on a road trip. Either way, my dad picked me up in our family’s wood-paneled station wagon, and we hit I-95 with my grandfather riding shotgun.

I remember that the first thing I saw as we got to the city was a guy jimmying the coin slot of a pay telephone with a knife.

Student housing was on 3rd and 11th in the NYC dorms. I had two Japanese suitemates who (I quickly learned) had been forbidden by their parents to answer the door.

The first girl I met in class was from the Dominican Republic. She was chic and beautiful and very tall. We hit it off and spent the summer together exploring New York’s art scene.

The class assignment: Name a business and create a brand look. Mine was for a balloon company. Not sure why. I think it was because I knew how to draw balloons and animals. So I spent my summer doing that.

When the session was over, it was time for my dad to come pick me up. As I was waiting out on 11th Street, it dawned on me that I was going back to Chapel Hill and that I was going to have to make a decision about the future. What was I going to do after college? I knew I needed to get a portfolio together, but I didn’t know where to do it. Was Parsons the school for someone like me? I had also heard of an ad school in Atlanta called the Portfolio Center.

I walked over to the same kind of phone booth that I saw the guy jimmying when I arrived in NYC and opened the phone book (remember those?). I tore out the pages listing all the ad agencies and put them in my suitcase.

When I got home, I cold-called two dozen advertising agencies in New York City to ask for help solving my dilemma. This is roughly how these calls went down:

Receptionist: “Hello, J. Walter Thompson.”
Me: Can you connect me with someone in the creative department?
Receptionist: Who, specifically?
Me: Anyone.
Receptionist: (perturbed) Anyone?
Me:  Yes, please.

And then, I would be dropped into someone’s desk phone. When they answered, I would ask, “If you were going to hire a junior art director for your agency, would you most likely hire someone from Parsons or The Portfolio Center in Atlanta”? Nine out of ten said Portfolio Center. So I went to Atlanta to create my portfolio.

My first job was at David Lubars’ 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. “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.”

Shortly 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 about a year or so, Grant left and headed to GSP as well.

Shortly after, Grant and Jeremy told me I ought to consider joining them at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. And I did.





  • Temi Adeyemo

    Thanks, I hope ten years from now, I have a successful career in advertising like yours to write about. 

  • MQ Murphy

    Margaret Johnson uses her eyes and her brain, both quite sharp. Kudos!


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