Riney Returns to Shore Up Saturn

Publicis & Hal Riney is relying on its founder to stabilize the agency’s relationship with Saturn.

The car maker is searching for an agency to handle the $30-50 million launch of its Ion model. However, it is widely anticipated that the winner would ultimately land the entire $300 million account.

Although Riney maintains an office at the shop’s headquarters here, he has significantly reduced his role in recent years, typically working a couple of days a week, sources said.

One source said Riney has spent almost every day at the office since the review was launched be cause the agency “is in panic mode.” But sources said Riney’s intervention has been welcome because of his long history with the brand.

Riney, 68, first worked on Saturn in the early 1990s, when the brand was in its infancy. He wrote Saturn’s tagline, “A different kind of company. A different kind of car,” and created the homespun, folksy image of Saturn and its drivers.

“They’ve dusted him off because they’re trying to bring back the fourth-quarter magic,” one source said. “There’s nobody better to do it, because he’s the one who invented the brand.”

“There must be a lot of pressure,” said another source. “The fact that Hal’s there all the time is an anomaly.”

Riney could not be reached for comment. Agency president Scott Marshall also could not be reached.

But sources said that Riney will head up a team of 6-8 creatives working on the Ion pitch.

Meanwhile, the pitch is moving at a breakneck pace. After meeting with 8-12 agencies earlier last week, Saturn executives have whittled down the field, settling on a handful of contenders, sources said.

They are: General Motors roster shops D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles in Detroit and New York, and McCann-Erickson in Detroit and New York; Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Ore., which does not currently have a car account; and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco. Goodby handles Isuzu, which is partly owned by GM.

Riney’s last hands-on role at the agency was for the First Union campaign, which broke in 1999. The effort, which included visuals by George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, received mixed reviews.

Saturn representatives declined comment.