John Ruhaak is flying high at United Airlines, where during a turbulent year he managed to keep the carrier in the advertising forefront. Even a $4.9 billion employee buyout that sent United's ad spending into a tailspin didn't stop the airline's VP-advertising and promotion from pushing through a campaign that seemed more omnipresent than the competition's advertising.
United had begun a cost-cutting program in 1993 that slashed its budget to $48 million from $84 million a year earlier. But under Mr. Ruhaak, the carrier pushed spending aloft in 1994-even as the company struggled through an employee buyout in July-turning the turmoil to United's advantage.
At his urging, longtime agency Leo Burnett USA used the employee ownership theme in a print, TV and outdoor campaign rushed out the same day the buyout was approved by shareholders. United's ad message hit the same time as the press releases.
Ad spending hasn't yet returned to 1992 levels-according to Competitive Media Reporting, United spent $63 million in 1994, less than competitors such as Continental Airlines' $73 million-but United's fast climb after such a major cut was nothing short of remarkable.
Three short months after the buyout, Mr. Ruhaak, 65, also airlifted the carrier's new short-haul, no-frills Shuttle by United service with a $10 million campaign in seven West Coast markets.
Mr. Ruhaak "wields the kind of power by being the kind of guy people want to do great work for," says Jim Thompson, exec VP-director of client services at Burnett. But he says his client's true strength lies in his ability to grasp powerful ideas.
"He has great taste, he knows art, and he has a great ear for copy," he notes.
A similar regard for advertising is held by Michael Batt, the relatively new VP-sales and marketing at Alamo-Rent-A-Car, the nation's No. 4 yet trend-setting rental car company.
Based on his track record at British Airways, where the 41-year-old executive served as director of marketing for two years before moving to the U.S. this year, market watchers expect major initiatives from Mr. Batt.
At BA, where he controlled a $95 million budget, Mr. Batt implemented the industry's first brand management system, and produced through then-agency Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising a campaign widely regarded as one of the few examples of truly global advertising.
The first visible result of Mr. Batt's changes is "Just ask Alamo," a new call-to-action tagline for a multimedia advertising campaign from agency Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, that broke earlier this month.
Under Mr. Batt's auspices, Alamo-the industry's second-largest advertiser, shelling out $31.1 million in 1994 measured media, just behind category- and spending-leader Hertz Corp.'s $47 million-might be expected to raise the ante once again.
Before Mr. Batt's arrival, Alamo had lead the industry with its historic move to free, unlimited mileage, forcing the former big guns in the category to follow along.
Ad budget: $31 million
Agency roster: Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, TV; Tower Advertising (in-house) print. Currently in review for first direct-marketing agency.
Career: After 10 years in various marketing positions with Mars Confectionery in London, Mr. Batt joined British Airways in 1987 as head of brands management. He left in 1990 for a brief three-day stint as joint managing director of Virgin Airlines, returning to BA as head of centralized marketing. He began a three-year tour of duty in New York as senior VP-sales and marketing before returning to London as director of marketing. He left for Alamo in March 1995.
Ad budget: $63.1 million
Agency: Leo Burnett USA
Career: Joined United in 1974 as director of advertising and promotion from account supervisor at Burnett. Prior to that, he was an account exec at Fuller & Smith & Ross, Chicago. A graduate of Bradley University, he served in the Strategic Air Command of the U.S. Air Force from 1952-54.