Goodby Wins Saturn

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 longtime 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 whole- sale 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.

“It just became clear to us that we could not separate the Ion from the brand Saturn, and it would be very difficult to have two agencies responsible for different things,” said Lisa Hutchinson, director of marketing and one of six Saturn executives who chose Goodby.

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

Sources described the mood as grim last week at Riney. 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. Other staffers said they were instructed not to talk about the loss.

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 longstanding tagline, “A different kind of company. A different kind of car.”

Riney, 68, emerged from semi-retirement for the pitch. Sources said he saw it as his swan song and worked daily for months. He was said to be optimistic; one source said staffers “thought it was one of the best presentations ever.”

It could not be learned if the shop presented an entirely new idea for the Ion or continued its former approach.

Silverstein said the tough part is taking the work 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.

Still, Goodby said he is happy to keep the account in San Francisco and to get the shop close to its pre-2001 staffing level of roughly 300.

Bringing over many creatives from Riney is unlikely. “You don’t just want a wholesale group of people coming over because you don’t want to make the mistakes you had in the first place,” Goodby said.

Media planning is handled by Bcom3’s GM Planworks. Buying is done by IPG’s GM Mediaworks.