In the latest evolution since the retirement two years ago of iconoclastic founder Hal Riney, Karen C. Francis, former package-goods and automotive executive, succeeded Scott Marshall, who left last year. Kirk Souder, who had handled the bulk of Mr. Marshall's duties in the interim, continues as president and executive creative director.
Ms. Francis-a 42-year-old Harvard MBA who worked at Procter & Gamble Co., General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.-said she will bring the marketer's perspective to an agency that once was a leader of advertising's creative revolution.
Instead of coveting awards, Ms. Francis said she will lead agency creatives to value "work that speaks to the business challenge and that speaks to the consumer challenge." As a client, she said, she learned that agencies "spend your money producing fabulous spots that cost an arm and a leg and don't contribute to your business."
The agency is "moving from an old-school boys club to a progressive, next-generation agency," said Mr. Souder.
Mr. Souder hopes Ms. Francis, who left the post of VP at Ford and CEO of its Consumer Connect division two years ago, will help on the new business front. Ms. Francis singled out the search for a car account after Riney came up short in recent pitches for Hyundai Motor America, Subaru of America and most recently Kia Motors America.
Ms. Francis has her work cut out for her, said rivals. They note Publicis & Hal Riney was once a creative powerhouse that spawned nearly two dozen creative agencies, including Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. But its stature in the creative community has waned since Mr. Riney's retirement. "If other agencies hear that Riney is in a new business pitch, it doesn't strike fear in their hearts the way it used to," said one veteran San Francisco ad executive.
Rich Silverstein, co-chairman of Goodby, Silverstein and once an employee of Mr. Riney, said it's difficult for any agency that loses its founder. The shop is evolving into another corporate outpost, he said: "It's not Riney anymore."
The agency, which currently bills an estimated $750 million, picked up a big piece of business earlier this year when Sprint Corp. consolidated its advertising account. Mr. Souder said the shop has been invited to more pitches in the last nine months than in the previous two years, but most of its wins are small accounts, including Foster's Group's Beringer Blass Wine Estates, Jamba Juice and 24-Hour Fitness. It is also a finalist in the $95 million Charles Schwab Co. account.
Although "Hal had some pretty big shoes," the agency is still "a lot more powerful than people think," said Russel Wohlwerth, principal at consultancy Select Resources International. His partner, Catherine Bension, said the hire of Ms. Francis, in fact, may bring the "yin and yang and a balance to the creative."
contributing: jean halliday
Identity crisis: Hal Riney & Partners
Billings: $750 million
Clients: Hewlett-Packard, Sprint Corp., Jamba Juice, 24-Hour Fitness.
Challenge: To define who they are.
Strategy: To become not an ad agency but a business partner providing business solutions.
How to turn around the agency: "Hire me," said new Chairman-CEO Karen Francis.