Although his work was becoming famous, the big coup came when Riney stunned the Detroit ad world by snagging the Saturn account. Riney won the pitch with a beautifully produced spot about spring in Spring Hill, a reference to the Tennessee town where the new Saturn plant would be built, and developed the brand's tagline: "Different kind of company. Different kind of car."
Beyond the ad's creativity, the campaign developed the standard for integrated campaigns. His work for Saturn included letters sent to car buyers, all written in the same folksy tone that permeated the TV spots. That campaign won him Advertising Age's Agency of the Year award in 1993.
Riney worked exclusively in San Francisco, and his work and agency brought the city to the national stage. More than two dozen agencies trace their roots to Riney, including Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and digital shop AKQA. David Verklin, now Carat America CEO, worked as a media director for Riney.
"Although admitting his own difficulty in managing people, he recognized that he could create an environment that would foster the best possible work by being constantly vigilant about the work and not the process," Jim Magill, a former Riney executive now with Sapient, said in documents backing Riney's nomination to the American Advertising Federation Advertising Hall of Fame.
"Many account people in the '80s would say he was the first American account planner because he intuitively sought out not only the answers to all the dynamics of each advertising issue from both the consumer's point of view and the company's perspective, but distilled complex issues down to simplistic statements," Magill said.
Over the years, Riney's ad style, what became known as a Rineyesque spot, proved to be both a blessing and a curse for the agency. After going through several general managers, Riney partnered with Scott Marshall, who succeeded in selling the shop to Publicis Groupe. In May 2002, Riney stepped down from his active role at Publicis & Hal Riney Advertising and became chairman emeritus.