Riney's reasoning

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The copywriter, in his own words.

On being chairman emeritus: "People seem to believe that I've been retired for years. ... Since `chairman emeritus' translates into something like `useless old fart,' the clear implication is that I'm outta here. I'm not."

"The good thing about being chairman emeritus is that I will have no responsibilities whatsoever. I don't have to listen to anybody, nor do they have to listen to me. The other good thing is that with too many divorces behind me, and two wonderful children yet to go to college, I will still get paid."

On his agency's evolution: "I've always felt that if the agency is to continue to evolve, it must eventually distance itself from the perceived persona of Hal Riney. We've had some success at this, but unfortunately the agency is still burdened with my name. And even though my contributions had lessened even before Scott [Marshall, president-Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco] joined us, there still exists at least some perception that I'm responsible for everything we do, and that no one else in the agency is of any importance....That, of course, has never been true ."

On his ad style: "My former associates, as well as other critics in the industry, like to suggest that my only approach to advertising is two old people on a porch....I resent this. I looked at my reel the other day, and I saw something quite different: two old people on a porch, and a truck."

On retirement: "The fact is that until health or something forces me to do otherwise, I will never retire."

On the "creative mind": "The unfortunate thing about the creative mind-whether its owner is retired, semi-retired, or not even retired at all-is that, like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps on working and working. I was flying over Nevada the other day, looking for landmarks. There weren't any. I thought, `I'd rather be any place than Nevada.' Then it occurred to me that with proper advertising, this state's arid and faceless quality could be turned into a positive. I thought of a theme line: `Nothing Is Better than Nevada.' I've called Nevada's governor to set up a time for a presentation. He hasn't yet called back."

On the secret to success: "The first answer is, `I don't know.' That's the truth, but in looking back, there may be some clues. My first advice to someone seeking success would be to have his parents divorce during a depression. That'll provide a good dose of insecurity that can last a lifetime. My response to this event was to go to work. In the second grade, in the summer, I'd jump on a truck with some other penniless kinds and find myself in a field picking strawberries or beans, 10 cents a box for strawberries, 25 cents an hour for picking beans. ... That was, thankfully, before the government decided that it was harmful for children to work. "

On his talent: "Despite what the press and some advertising juries might have said, I've never considered myself to be especially talented. I know dozens of people who are brighter and more imaginative than I. But I've worked hard. And that can do a lot to compensate for only modest abilities."

On agencies: "We need to remind the creative people...that their purpose is not their reel, but their role in helping our client companies achieve their goals. There is no justification for, or any lasting satisfaction in, simply creating cute and clever commercials, even if they win awards."

On what he learned doing voice-overs: "There are ways to make money that are a whole lot easier than the advertising business." (At one point, he said, about 45% of his income came from voice-overs.)

On San Francisco's future as an ad mecca: "As far as San Francisco is concerned, I'm afraid the doldrums are going to be with us longer than we might like. Not only has the loss of the `Sillycon' income punished a lot of agencies for coming here in the first place, but the infusion of business we need from distant cities-the lifeblood of San Francisco agencies-will, I think, be slower in coming. But there's room for hope."

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