RPA Gets Acura at Last

Keeping their feet on the ground this time, Rubin Postaer and Associates staffers last Tuesday cracked open beers instead of pouring the traditional champagne upon learning they had won the consolidated $550 million account of American Honda Motor Co., including the luxury Acura brand.
The response contrasted sharply with the scene three years ago, when executives at the Santa Monica, Calif., agency celebrated what they thought was their win of the $125 million Acura business by popping the corks–only to learn they had in fact lost the race to dark horse Suissa Miller.
The humiliating defeat taught RPA an important lesson: not to take its 20-year-plus relationship with the Japanese automaker for granted. In the years since then, Gerry Rubin, Larry Postaer and their “associates” have focused on servicing the flagship business and other existing clients, targeting only select new business.
“We are very much stylistically patterned after Honda,” said Rubin, the agency’s president and chief executive officer, who has been waiting more than a decade to call Acura his own. “They are a low-profile company, and so are we. We’ve toiled in the Honda vineyards for nearly 25 years, and we’re delighted and pleased with this opportunity to work … on Acura.”
Executives with the Torrance, Calif., automaker said the consolidation was financially driven, part of a companywide effort to cut costs, and did not mean they are dissatisfied with Suissa Miller’s work, tagged, “The true definition of luxury. Yours.”
Media buying duties, previously handled by Western Initiative Media Worldwide, Los Angeles, also go to RPA as part of the consolidation.
“We don’t get cocky when we win, and we don’t crumble when we lose,” said Bruce Miller, president of Suissa Miller, Los Angeles. “It hurts … but we respect [Honda’s] right to try to save money.”
Sales of the luxury Acura brand increased during Suissa Miller’s tenure, but the brand still lags competitors such as Lexus and Mercedes-Benz in market share. “Acura continues to lack the cachet of other luxury imports,” said one industry insider. “What Honda is saying to RPA, which has done an outstanding job for the Honda brand with its ‘Simple’ theme, is, ‘See if you can figure this out.'”
Rubin said the agency will hire an additional 100 staffers to its current group of 350, and that a separate unit will be established within the agency to service the Acura brand.
Although delivered a severe blow, Suissa Miller has continued to diversify its client list over the past three years, adding Packard Bell, Global PC and new Quaker Oats work this year alone. With $160 million in billings remaining through 12 clients, the shop is not expected to go the way of Ketchum Advertising’s Los Angeles office, which closed its doors after losing Acura in 1996.
Miller said the agency will try to move some of its 75 Acura staffers to other accounts, but said there will be layoffs.
Since Suissa Miller has begun shooting spots for Acura’s 2000 model year vehicles, and Western has made the upfront media buys for the September launch, RPA is initially expected to focus on regional marketing. The transition of the business to RPA is expected to be complete by October.
RPA executive vice president Bill Hagelstein will head both Honda and Acura factory business; Denny Remsing, executive vice president and general manager of RPA’s alpha group, will head regional dealer business on both. Veteran creative directors Mark Erwin and Wendi Knox, who have created award-winning brand campaigns for Honda, will head up Acura creative.