Hal Riney & Partners, the San Francisco ad agency that created wine cooler pitchmen Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes, on Tuesday drove away with the highly coveted job of creating more than $100 million in advertising for a new line of General Motors cars.
It was a sweet and crucial victory for agency Chairman Hal Riney, who was counting on the GM campaign to make up for the $78-million E & J Gallo Winery account that the agency gave up last December following a number of disputes. The Gallo account, including Bartles & Jaymes, had been half of Riney's business.
"I'm thrilled that they decided in our favor," said Riney in a telephone interview from his agency's New York office. "This gives us a bit more solidity and bit more in the way of credentials."
Riney will be charged with producing a campaign for General Motor's highly touted Saturn division--the first new car division at GM since 1918. Saturn hopes to introduce new technology and new methods of labor relations when it begins producing the compact cars at a plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., in the summer of 1990. GM is investing an initial $3.5 billion in the project.
Neither Riney nor Saturn officials would provide any details on marketing or advertising strategies.
Saturn officials notified Riney last week about their decision. "They told me personally late Thursday, and I went home to have a drink with my wife. I didn't tell anybody else."
In a highly competitive and much-watched contest, Riney beat out finalists New York advertising giant N W Ayer and Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos of Boston. Riney, with annual billings of less than $200 million, is the smallest of the three.
The announcement came eight months after GM launched what many in the ad industry considered a rather unusual search for an agency to work for its highly touted Saturn division.
The initial pool of approximately 50 competitors--narrowed to three by late March--were never asked to create a specific ad campaign for Saturn. Instead, the contestants were judged on what strategy they recommended for Saturn as well as the compatibility of the ad firm and its executives with Saturn's corporate officials and goals. The eight-member panel that selected Riney included representatives from GM's dealers and unions.
Despite its size, the Saturn account will not overwhelm the agency or keep it from pursuing other large clients, Riney said. "There is no immediate screaming need to hire people," said Riney, who estimated that it will be two years before any advertising appears. "It's a perfect situation. We have a lot of time to think about it. That's why we are on cloud nine."
"The key to handling a big piece of business is not to think you have to change," said Jay Chiat, chairman of Chiat/Day, the Los Angeles agency that last year won the $150-million Nissan advertising account. The Riney firm "should continue to be who they are and not change."
Riney's reputation for creativity and its location in California--the nation's largest auto market with a large appetite for imports--worked in its favor, say analysts. "There has been an occasional attempt to be adventurous in auto advertising," said Ronald A. Glantz, an automotive industry analyst at Montgomery Securities. "But by and large it looks like it all comes all from the same vat."
In this case, Glantz said, "A conscious decision was made to try to come up with a different type of advertising."
"What General Motors is trying to do is to create a car dealership organization and marketing similar to that of the imports," he said. "So having a California-based agency would be in line with what General Motors is trying to do."
Riney has developed campaigns for Security Pacific Bank, Perrier and Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream. Riney has also created a low-key campaign for Sterling, a British automotive import, that it will most likely have to give up to work on Saturn.
Perhaps Riney's most well-known work has been that for Gallo. The folksy duo who promote the winery's Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler line have become familiar faces with television audiences as have their closing line: "Thank you for your support."
But last December, Riney gave up half his firm's business when he decided to end a seven-year relationship with Gallo, a notoriously difficult client that has fired more than a dozen agencies within the past 30 years.
The experience in working with Gallo might be valuable in the challenge of promoting Saturn, says Geoffrey Precourt, vice president of corporate development at rival ad agency Hill Holliday. "Riney is good with difficult situations," Precourt said "Riney been able to work with Gallo and prosper."