Creative Partner Souder to Leave Ground Zero

Having helped guide Ground Zero since day one, creative partner Kirk Souder is abandoning agency life.

Souder, 39, founded the agency in 1993 with Jim Smith and Court Crandall. His abrupt departure ends a nine-year creative partnership with Crandall that began at the former Stein Robaire Helm. The two are widely praised as among the top West Coast creatives, and most recently shared the Los Angeles Advertising Agencies Association’s Creative Leader of the Year award.

Souder said his decision stems from a desire to spend more time with his wife and son, who is nearly 2 years old. “We basically had this crazy idea for the three of us to cash in our chips, travel and try to soak in as much as we can before he goes off to school,” said Souder, who owns slightly less than one-third of the $100 million agency.

The Marina del Rey, Calif., shop has felt the sting of the economic downturn, laying off staff and cutting senior-management salaries. Still, it has scored several wins in recent months, including the Waterpik Technologies and United California Bank accounts, both estimated at $10-15 million.

Souder said his decision was not related to the company’s performance. He has stepped back from the agency’s day-to-day affairs over the last six months, and with things on an upswing, decided it was a good time to move on.

“I deliberately waited so everyone would know my reasons really are all about my son,” he said.

Souder expects to remain with Ground Zero until mid-August. He said he would likely have a “clean break” from the ad business, but said a consulting gig at Ground Zero is not out of the question.

Asked if he would ever return to Ground Zero, he said: “I’m keeping everything open. I honestly haven’t thought for one minute about what happens at the end.”

Smith, the agency’s chairman, said he and Crandall are “terribly sad to be losing the best partner either one of us could have had.”

Crandall said the shop will try to replace Souder, but is unlikely to take on a new partner. “The initial inclination is to hire some strong creative people,” he said.

“I call this the great Ground Zero experiment,” Smith added. “Another dawn and the experiment goes on.”