Goodby Sees Saturn Windfall

SAN FRANCISCO — Goodby, Silverstein & Partners’ win last week of the $300 million Saturn account gives the shop a huge windfall at a crucial time. But it is also something of a bittersweet occasion for Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, who take the business at the expense of their mentor, Hal Riney.

In a San Francisco ad landscape that did nothing but shed jobs in 2001, the win-one of the largest here in recent memory-may lead to some 60 new hires at Goodby, executives said.

The shop beat incumbent Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, and three other finalists with what Goodby partners called “one very strong idea” for the Ion coupe. They would not discuss specifics, but said the idea moves away from Riney’s concept of showing Saturn workers on the job. To lure younger consumers, it instead highlights the vehicle.

“We tried to focus less on the company … to make Saturn interesting to younger people,” agency president Colin Probert said. “The campaign presented wholesale changes, but not a sharp right turn.”

Sources said the brief told finalists that Saturn had not convincingly demonstrated its difference in recent advertising.

Goodby won the $30-50 million Ion business Thursday. Immediately it inherited the entire $300 million domestic account, as expected.

The other finalists in the Ion pitch were D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York; McCann-Erickson, New York; and Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Sources described the mood at Riney last week as grim. Saturn accounted for a huge chunk of its $870 million in billings. Sources said 110-140 employees will be laid off during the 90-day transition to Goodby. Agency president Scott Marshall and founder Hal Riney did not return calls.

Riney has handled Saturn since the company was founded in the early 1990s. For years it has used shots of Saturn workers and car plants to convey a down-to-earth atmosphere. Riney himself authored the long-standing tagline, “A different kind of company. A different kind of car.”

Riney, 68, emerged from semi-retirement for the pitch and sources said he viewed it as his swan song.

Silverstein said the tough part is taking the business from Riney. Silverstein and Goodby both worked for Riney, who even helped finance them when they struck out on their own. “We learned to develop our style from watching him, so it’s bittersweet, actually,” said Silverstein.