RPA Mounts Defense in Honda Review

Acura brand also in play in creative, media contest

One of the longest-running agency-car relationships hangs in the balance of American Honda Motor Co.'s review of its U.S. creative and media business.

National and regional responsibilities on both the Honda and luxury Acura brands are in play. The incumbent, RPA in Santa Monica, Calif., is essentially synonymous with the business, having worked for Honda since 1986.

Honda also is RPA's largest account. As such, the independent agency is expected to pull out all stops to keep the business.

Collectively, Honda and Acura spent more than $839 million last year, down from nearly $867 million in 2010, according to Nielsen. In the first nine months of 2012, the collective total was $784 million. Those figures don't include online spending.

The search comes 16 months after Honda named Michael Accavitti to replace Steve Center as marketing chief for the two brands. Before Honda, Accavitti spent 25 years at Chrysler, starting as an industrial engineer and rising to president of Dodge and a top marketing role at Chrysler Group. He left Chrysler in 2009.

For the review, Honda has split the creative and media assignments into separate but parallel pitches. Each pitch, however, will comprise both Honda and Acura. Roth Associates in New York is managing the process.

Honda has reached out to potential agencies via a request for information that's due back in about two weeks. The automaker expects to complete its search by the end of March.

Roth referred calls to Honda, which in the U.S. is based in Torrance, Calif. In a statement, the company confirmed the review, noting that it doesn't include multi-cultural marketing, which is currently split between Muse Communications and Orci.

The goal of the review, Accavitti added, in another statement, is to develop a "strong, long-term strategic plan for our brands" amid a "changing media landscape and a hyper-competitive marketplace."