Richards Group

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2004 Rating: 3 stars

The essence: The Dallas independent rebounded from a rough 2003 with a strong new-business showing, adding more than $150 million in new billings. A client list thinned out with big losses two years ago was beefed up with brands like Red Lobster, Greyhound Lines and the regional convenience-store chain Wawa. It also picked up some work for Comcast Cable. In the immediate future, Richards will get to show off its work for Hyundai Motor America, which is set to release seven new vehicles over the next two years in its quest to move upscale.

Net growth: A long list of new accounts was tempered slightly by the loss of a single major client, Nokia, which took its $40 million account to Grey Global Group's tech unit, DarkGrey.

management: Though he has appointed his eventual successors, septuagenarian founder Stan Richards still plays a central role in his agency, which is still one of the largest of the remaining independents. In order to reduce office politics and encourage cooperation, Richards eliminated job titles within the agency, except for the principals.

Creative quality and effectiveness: Ongoing campaigns for Chick-fil-A and Fruit of the Loom remain funny concepts, but Richards' creative portfolio is too limited to TV spots. Richards helped improve Fruit of the Loom's share in the ladies intimate apparel category by double digits. A big Olympics sponsorship helped Home Depot increase awareness. The retailer saw its same-store sales and profits increase over the past year.