The Player: 'Idea' man Souder breathes new life into Riney legacy

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Kirk Souder, the former partner and founder of Los Angeles shop Ground Zero, wants to make one thing perfectly clear: He is not the new Hal Riney.

"There is no replacement for Hal Riney," one of a handful of admen who have changed the business, said Mr. Souder, 41. He was recently named president-executive creative director of Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, a post vacant for two years. Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Souder steps into the job at a time when Mr. Riney, now chairman emeritus, clearly has given up the agency's reins and is publicly hinting about opening another shop when his Publicis contract runs out.

Mr. Souder, however, said his creative approach is "a perfect fit" with Mr. Riney's, which, for clients like General Motors Corp.'s Saturn Corp. account, centered on solving a client's business problem. Mr. Souder's reel is filled with campaigns that have "an idea in [them]-it's not about an execution or a technique," said Scott Marshall, Publicis & Hal Riney chairman-CEO, who said he and Mr. Riney decided on Mr. Souder after 18 months. Mr. Riney did not return calls.

Mr. Souder sees his job as building on the foundation of creative talent Mr. Riney has assembled at the shop and letting the world know about its work, which produces "category-changing" brands. "My primary challenge is to get this brand back in touch with exactly what makes it great," he said. "I hope to fulfill that legacy in a new and exciting way," Mr. Souder said. "Sometimes it helps to have someone from the outside tell you what you look like."

Born in Levittown, Pa., Mr. Souder had the splashiest house in the neighborhood, one with an ever-changing array of bright turquoise and other startling colors, the work of his father, a research chemist who developed paints. After moving around Europe with his family for much of his youth, Mr. Souder began studying physics at the University of Delaware. Seeing Apple Computer's 1984 Super Bowl spot, a "big life moment" he said, led him to give up the lab for commercial art direction. After early stints at Deutsch and Ammirati & Puris, New York, Mr. Souder joined a small Los Angeles shop, Stein Robaire Helm, where he partnered with Court Crandall. The two, along with Jim Smith, formed Ground Zero in 1994.

ON A MISSION

Mr. Souder left the shop two years ago to spend time with his wife and young son, traveling to Asia. He's now planning to resettle in San Francisco's Mission District in one of the city's only Quonset huts, a building currently used as a yoga studio. The choice of an unusual home is somewhat in the tradition of Mr. Riney, who lived in a converted firehouse.

Catherine Bension, president-CEO, Select Resources International, West Hollywood, Calif., said Mr. Souder inherits a shop "with the benefit of a legacy and tradition and commitment to creativity." However, she noted, the future depends on clients. "Agencies are often defined by the clients they keep," she said.

Fast Facts

Name: Kirk Souder

Age: 41

Now: President- executive creative director, Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco

Challenge: Building on the legacy of one of the West Coast's, and advertising's, leading shops.

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