RPA & Honda Take the Long Road Together: An interview with Bill Hagelstein, CEO, RPA Advertising
By Jeff Finkle.
AdForum loves bringing agencies and brands together, which is why we are excited to spotlight those special client-agency relationships that have stood the test of time in a series of interviews and thought pieces. We want to thank Bill Hagelstein, CEO at RPA Advertising, for taking the time to talk about the long relationship between Honda and RPA.
AdForum: Back in in 1986, when Gerry Rubin and Larry Postaer formed Rubin, Postaer and Associates, out of Needham LA, what was the biggest challenge for the new agency, in those first few years, in continuing to grow the Honda brand and begin to cement the relationship they had started with Honda at Needham LA?
Bill: Our biggest challenge was one that Mr. K. Amemiya, the President of AHM at the time, shared. As we became RPA, he was not concerned with the name on our door, but rather the people behind the door. He had only one question: “Will the people remain the same?” Fortunately, nearly all of our Associates enthusiastically elected to remain at RPA. We’re everything because of our people. It was true the day we were founded, and it’s true today.
AdForum: What has enabled RPA to develop a long-standing trust with Honda and other clients that has allowed your team to push the envelope creatively in producing engaging work?
Bill: We always first ask ourselves what is in the best interest of the client. Our Executive Management endeavors to become a consigliore to our client CEO’s and CMO’s. As long as we keep that clarity, it’s easy to defend our recommendations and maintain the trust of our clients. Any ideas that would benefit the agency, and not our clients, aren’t worth jeopardizing the trust we work so hard to build. We believe in innovative and creative work, because we know it works better and is worthy of a brand like Honda. Their products create a high bar, and our work needs to match it.
AdForum: How important was it to RPA’s leadership to maintain that independent culture and “people first” mentality that RPA is known for that enables you to maintain such a long and creatively fruitful relationship with a client like Honda?
Bill: Our independence is a competitive advantage, and we’ve always been committed to maintaining it. Our clients know we are fully committed to helping them grow their own business, and are not focused on creating our own shareholder value. Our independence empowers us to make decisions in the best interests of our clients and our people. This helps us attract and keep the best talent, and ensures the best talent is able to focus on our clients, rather than on holding company politics. I don’t think we could legitimately claim to be a People First agency if we weren’t independent. It gives us the freedom to do the right thing and make the right choices.
AdForum: What was it about the idea to have diverse celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel, Magic Johnson and Stan Lee pop out of a high school yearbook to offer advice on chasing their dreams, that got your team and Honda excited to see it executed as a Super Bowl spot?
Bill: These days, we don’t believe in making Super Bowl “spots” — we make Super Bowl Campaigns. We have to engage people before and after the big game, as well. When you participate in the Super Bowl, the bar is set high to make a statement about your brand, connect with a broad range of potential customers and do it in a clever and innovative way. Our “Yearbooks” idea had all the key ingredients to hit those objectives, and the support of a great Client that helped bring it all to life. This idea was also based on a relatable human truth: nobody is successful until they are. Every single success story ever began as just a dream. There isn’t a person out there who can’t relate to that at some level. When we saw that combination of human truth and connection to Honda’s brand purpose, wrapped up in a concept that felt worthy of the Super Bowl platform, we knew we had a winner.
AdForum: If you could pop out of a yearbook, like in the ad, to offer a pearl of wisdom to a young, brand new agency, starting out with their first client, what advice would that advice be?
Bill: Find a client that is fully committed to investing in advertising on a long-term basis in order to build their brand. And have the creative talent to deliver toward that end.