In 1969, Riney and lifelong friend Dick Snider wrote and directed Somebody's Waiting, a documentary about patients at a Sonoma County mental hospital. The film, shot in their spare time, was nominated for an Academy Award that year.
After a stint as creative director of the Botsford Ketchum agency, Riney opened the San Francisco office of Ogilvy & Mather in 1976.
Following a successful celebratory campaign for Gallo Wines, Riney worked directly for Ernest Gallo in the creation of Bartles & Jaymes Wine Coolers. He named the brand and, with art director Jerry Andelin, designed the packaging and shot innovative TV commercials with two fictitious entrepreneurs who had allegedly invented the product.
The campaign was an evocation of Riney's lifelong distrust of business school culture. ("The best thing to do with an MBA," he once said, "is to take it out and get it drunk.") The two main characters said they'd learned how to start a business with the help of a mail-order course from Harvard, and spoofed market research in wry dialogue: "Ed has engaged in a scientific program to determine which foods go well with wine coolers," said Bartles. "So far Ed has only found two foods which don't: kohlrabi, which is a vegetable sort of like a turnip, and candy corn."
In l984, Riney joined Reagan's so-called Tuesday Team, a gathering of campaign professionals put together to re-elect the president. He created a TV campaign that depicted a happy, contented, safe America, and asked why we'd ever want to return to the days before Reagan's tenure.
The following year, Riney purchased the O&M office and renamed it Hal Riney & Partners. Shortly thereafter, the agency worked on the introduction of General Motors' Saturn brand. It was the most successful new model launch in GM history.
The agency went on to create campaigns for John Deere, Alamo, Blue Cross and Dreyer's Ice Cream. In 2003, the shop was sold to Publicis Groupe and renamed Publicis & Hal Riney. Its founder stepped down, taking the title of chairman emeritus.
An avid outdoorsman, Riney traveled to far-flung parts of Norway, Alaska, the Western states and Honduras. "Why I prefer fly-fishing, and being alone on a river to almost any other recreation," he said, "is because it's so much the opposite of what I have to do, day in and day out."
On a trip to Honduras in 1982, Riney's Sahsa Air Lines flight was hijacked on the runway in Tegucigalpa. Honduran rebels with semi-automatic pistols and bombs rigged with dynamite held the plane for a full day until, sensing a moment of inattention, Riney opened a plane door and leaped to safety with several other passengers.
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