JON RUHAAK vp, advertising
Client: United Airlines
Agency: Leo Burnett & Co.
’93 Estimated Billings: $80 million
Increase over ’92: approximately the same
Client Since: 1965
Major Achievements: despite the fare wars, decided to be out front with new image campaign; just came off second straight profitable quarter.
Twenty-eight years with an agency isn’t just a simple test of time in the client/agency world, it’s a millennium. In the case of Leo Burnett Co. and United Airlines, John Ruhaak, United’s vp/advertising, has been on one side or the other every step of the way. ‘There are two things that make it work,’ says Ruhaak, who spent a decade at Burnett before joining United in 1974. ‘A mutual trust between the client and agency, and maybe more importantly, a working relationship. There has been a working together to build the product. It is allowing the client in at the early creative stage, things like that.’
And Burnett, where decades-long relationships with clients are the norm rather than the exception, agrees. ‘He really respects the creative product,’ says Steve Crawford, Burnett’s senior vp/account director on the business. ‘There aren’t that many things that airlines can say about themselves – it’s not just airline advertising, but new and different ways to present airline issues.’ This year, in the middle of probably the worst airline downturn in history, Ruhaak and United had to decide whether to continue running the fare-ware game or break from the pack and turn to image. Ruhaak turned to image, letting the agency have at it. The result: a stunning new local campaign created to reinforce United’s hometown position in Chicago, along with the continuation of its national big-budget destination spots. One of the new spots, ‘Kaleidoscope,’ broke earlier this fall to the Rhapsody in Blue music that has become synonymous with the airline. ‘There was a need to get out message out locally. The agency came through in a major way,’ says Ruhaak. The strategy seems to be working. United just reported its second straight profitable quarter, a near-miracle in the airline industry.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)
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