Souder Re-Evaluates, And Decides To Leaves Riney

After spending the past 20 years of his life in advertising, telling people what to think, Kirk Souder wants to spend the next 20 listening to what others have to say.

The 42-year-old art director, who joined Publicis & Hal Riney in San Francisco less than two years ago as president and executive creative director, told his staff last week that he is leaving at the end of the year to move his family back to Los Angeles, where he will pursue a master’s degree in counseling psychology at the University of Santa Monica.

“I’ve become hyper-aware of how limited our time here is,” he said. A cancer survivor, Souder worked with cancer patients as executive director of The Sarcoma Alliance in Mill Valley, Calif., but, while running an agency, found little time to work with the non-profit. “If there was ever a time to try something else, this is it.”

The move comes a month after the arrival of new CEO Karen Francis, who was recruited by Souder. “We tried to develop a plan that would be best for the agency, allow me some time to get established here,” said Francis. Formerly CEO of Ford Motor Co.’s Consumer Connect division, Francis filled a position vacated by Scott Marshall, who retired at the end of 2003. “In a fast-paced, very competitive industry, [Souder] has brought a humanity to the agency that is so recognized and so valued, I believe that will have a lasting effect,” Francis said.

Group cds Jae Goodman and Jon Soto will become co-ecds. Goodman, 34, joined last year from Leagas Delaney; Soto, 43, joined in May from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. “They’ve already taken responsibility for rallying the troops and leading the creative culture here,” said Souder.

“He brought in some good talent and made the place attractive again,” said Soto. “We’re sad to see him go.”

Souder joined Riney in April 2003 with the mission of restoring the agency to the creative heights it once enjoyed under legendary founder Hal Riney, who retired two years ago. The shop has been struggling since it lost its cornerstone Saturn account in early 2002.

Under Souder, it participated in several high-profile reviews, including Charles Schwab, Kia and BMW of North America, but failed to covert them. Sprint did consolidate its consumer and business-to-business advertising at the agency, and 24 Hour Fitness, Beringer wines and Jamba Juice joined the roster. But Souder admits one of his biggest regrets is leaving without having added a major piece of business to the shop’s largest accounts, Sprint and Hewlett-Packard. “I wanted to bring in another $200 million-plus account,” he says. “I feel we’re at the brink of it. I only wish it could have happened before I made this lifestyle decision.”

Souder won’t be leaving advertising entirely. He has formed a freelance business called Granite Path with Greg Beauchamp, former director of design at Ground Zero, the Los Angeles-based agency Souder co-founded in 1994.