Richards Group

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2002 Rating: 2.5 stars

2001 Rating: Not rated

Last year was Richards' best for new business in its 26-year history, boosting billings by an astounding 68%, including creative and strategy on a long-coveted car account: Hyundai Motor America and its dealer associations.

The accounts are estimated at a combined $360 million, allowing the Dallas-based agency to expand with service offices in Orange County, Calif.; Atlanta; Chicago; and New York. The work has been well-regarded by the auto and ad industries. In one cheeky spot, a Tiburon sports coupe driver trails two dogs through a neighborhood. The car finally corners the dogs. The smaller dog hops into the car and the owner says, "I told you she had a boyfriend." The tagline: "When you can be counted on, you win."

Other new work included funny spots for Fruit of the Loom and its first ads for Robert Mondavi Winery, an estimated $15 million TV, print and Internet campaign for Woodbridge.

Principal and founder Stan Richards says 2003 will be devoted to integrating its new offices into the agency's philosophy and continuing to improve the work.

A private agency in a sea of well-funded public competitors, Richards had minor layoffs in 2002 but appears to be weathering the economy better than many public shops.

LOOKING AHEAD

Richards, which added about 30 staffers to deal with the added business, wants to attract airline and pharmaceutical clients. Though the agency has said it's confident in its work for Home Depot, a new marketing chief at the home improvement giant could have the agency on tenterhooks. Mr. Richards is so committed to remaining private that he has willed all of his agency's stock to a local charity that will be unable to sell out.

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