It's just too bad the digital agency world doesn't have a mayor. It has a terrific candidate. Mike Geiger, the first chief digital officer at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, has an immense passion for the work, plus an ability to foster collaboration and - maybe best of all - to stick to the point.
"He's economical with his words," says Derek Robson, managing partner at Goodby. "He doesn't talk too much. He says what he needs to say. It's clear and it's simple. And people, I think, respect that, particularly since we're in a business where people tend to talk a lot."
Talented people are drawn to Geiger - he can be a celebrity at conferences - giving the 43-year-old what is perhaps an unmatched web of connections. If he doesn't know immediately whom you need, there aren't many degrees of separation. And with that network comes a font of information about the talent and trends shaping the business.
"Leadership in today's creative world is about knowing what's out there," says agency co-chairman Jeff Goodby. "No one is more in touch with every aspect of digital life than Mike is. He knows the good stuff. He knows where it is. And he knows who did it."
At Goodby, Silverstein - which mastered the 30-second spot and memorable tagline as well as anyone - Geiger's role in helping the agency excel in the new normal can't be understated. When he came aboard in 2003 to launch the interactive production department, digital accounted for about 12% of the agency's work. Now, it's close to 55%.
Last year, Goodby built around 48 Web sites and 62 landing pages, along with some 1,500 banner ads for the likes of Sprint and hp, not to mention 180 online games, videos and apps.
Goodby recently won the td Ameritrade account, where a multiplatform campaign is in the works. "I can't really talk about it, but it's something really cool," Geiger says.
And there's the 2010 "Yahoo Bus Stop Derby" that still has people buzzing. With Yahoo looking to reclaim some leadership, Goodby installed touchscreens at bus stops throughout San Francisco. People in neighborhoods played live games against one another. After ten weeks, the winning area (North Beach) won hosting rights to a block party for the city.
It was the kind of breakthrough stuff Geiger would have embraced in his frequent role as a judge in industry competitions such as the One Shoe Interactive and the Clios. "I see a lot of great work, and that's what really inspires you," he says.
Geiger may be somewhat reserved in conversation, but he doesn't hold back when encouraging collaboration - whether by tweeting, launching an innovations blog or bringing a multilayered training program to Goodby. His nearly 4,000 followers on Twitter are treated to a stream of links - from a Google+ guide to a comparison of html5 video players - that could serve as a syllabus for a do-my-job-better course.
The feed under a "tastytruth" handle gives him an outlet to tout some less publicized, nuts-and-bolts accomplishments, in fields from analytics to search to e-commerce. "People only write about the cool stuff," he laments.
Two years ago, Geiger spearheaded the launch of another industry source, the gspdigital.com blog. Lest one thinks the "gsp" stands for Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, it's actually an acronym for "Geese, Squirrels & Piranhas" or "Gravity Sinks Potatoes" or "Gradually Seeking Perfection" or any number of other rotating monikers.
Geiger's eagerness to educate others - often from a traditional media bent - prompted him to found a digital training program at Goodby. There's a curriculum and roster of speakers in subjects such as mobile, social media applications, emerging technologies and seo. Goodby invites clients and develops specific courses based on their interests. "We have to stay relevant," Geiger says. "If you don't know what's out there, and what you can do, you [can fall] behind."
Geiger is a charter board member of the emerging Boulder Digital Works education program at the University of Colorado. Last year, he hired one of its founders, Allison Kent-Smith, to head up Goodby Education program, where she now oversees a staff of three. Earlier this year, Goodby added coursework in management, for which participants recently read and discussed Good Boss, Bad Boss. (Geiger says he's "more of a hands-off" manager. He does not enforce a dress code and wears jeans and T-shirts, maybe deigning to put on a collar shirt for a client meeting.)
Geiger left his native Munich to attend the University of San Diego on a tennis scholarship and, in 1995, earned an mba from the University of San Francisco. He took on marketing positions at Wells Fargo and Visa but got bored. Transitioning to design and production, Geiger worked at a series of studios including Method, Spyplane and Thunk Design. One project involved Goodby, which led him to the agency he said needed to bolster its "digital chops." Now, Robson says, "he's one of the most influential people inside the company." It doesn't stop there.