Mr. King inherited a shop that's taken a number of hits, losing the consumer portion of its cornerstone Sprint account to TBWA/Chiat/ Day, New York. What remained of its Hewlett-Packard account was shifted to sibling shop Publicis in the West, Seattle, after a creative shoot-out with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.
"What made this place great," said Mr. King, was Mr. Riney's genius that went beyond his renowned TV creative. "Hal was doing integration before it became a buzzword," Mr. King said, recalling the agency's inclusion of designers and attention to details. Like Mr. Riney, "we find the soul of a brand and turn it into a reason to buy," Mr. King said.
With the broader palette of media available today, the "method in which we do it is different than in the days when Hal did it," Mr. King said. He's begun to expand the agency's offerings with additions in the interactive department and the hiring of an "entrepreneur in residence," Dave Whetstone, formerly chief marketing officer of MobiTV. Mr. Whetstone is building the agency's mobile marketing practice. Mr. King also hired added creative talent in the areas of design and other disciplines to supplement the agency's traditional talent.
The overall strategy, Mr. King said, is for Publicis & Hal Riney to continue as a stand-alone shop focusing on accounts west of the Mississippi. He expects growth to come from new disciplines and from existing clients. In addition to the business-to-business portion of the Sprint account, the agency's clients include AAA of Northern California, Nevada & Utah; Foster's Group's Beringer wines; as well as an account Mr. King helped land, WellPoint Health Networks, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
"He walks the talk," said WellPoint CMO Susan Cotton, who shares Midwestern roots and a Chicago Cubs loyalty with Mr. King. His holistic vision has helped the insurer stay focused as its brand evolves from the inside out, starting with its internal communications and call center training, she said.
Together with the agency, WellPoint "will become the company that makes people feel good about health care again," Ms. Cotton said.
Mr. King, 35, the son of a manufacturer's representative, played lacrosse and football in high school and football in college. "I had some talent, but it made me work hard," said the father of two. "It made me a competitor."
After Denison University in Ohio, a feeder school of sorts for Leo Burnett Co., Mr. King was recruited to the account management career path. For almost a dozen years at Burnett, he worked on brands ranging from Kraft to Pillsbury. In 2003, he shifted to LB Works as chief operating officer partnered with Steffan Postaer, now CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide, Chicago.
"We behaved well under crazy, crazy pressure," Mr. Postaer said, recalling the agency's tenacity following the dot-com bust.
Riney CEO Karen Francis said one of Mr. King's key strengths is his ability to "not always say yes, then underdeliver or disappoint."
She also said his sense of humor has a way of carrying a meeting. In a recent talk to the agency about the need to get creative briefs right, he projected a picture of a sumo wrestler.
Publicis & Hal Riney
Any tips on how to become romantically involved with an agency co-worker? I pursued my wife, Katerina, under the auspices of "Let's be friends" and took her to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field when a client canceled.
What's life like, West vs. Midwest? I miss the summers in Chicago, but I don't miss the winters.
What can't you live without? My iPod and weekends with the kids.