The shop took on the Honda brand business when it opened its
doors in 1986; in 1999 Honda consolidated its Acura media and
creative business there as well. Founders Gerry Rubin and Larry
Postaer launched the firm out of what was Honda's agency group
within Needham, Los Angeles, after Needham Harper & Steers
merged with Omnicom.
Since its inception, the firm has added a handful of accounts,
including Farmer's Insurance and La-Z-Boy. Now, its flagship
client's chief marketing officer, Michael Accavitti, is reviewing
both brands' marketing and creative accounts. Mr. Accavitti joined
Honda last year; from 1984 to 2009 he held various roles at
Chrysler, the last of which was president-CEO of Dodge and lead
marketing executive for Chrysler Group.
The move shocked many, especially since Mr. Accavitti, when he
joined Honda last year, told Automotive News there was no need to
put RPA's business up for review, saying "RPA is an extension of
the Honda family." Wrote Mr. Postaer in his recent memoir: "There
is such a thing as a happy and enduring [agency-client]
relationship. For us, of course, the partner has been Honda."
Honda's review comes as the automaker posted its best November
U.S. sales, according to Auto News. The Honda and Acura brands
should combine to finish the year selling around 1.4 million units
in the U.S. But Honda has grander volume aspirations: to increase
North American sales to 2 million in the near term. Whether RPA
guides it there remains to be seen. It's rare that an incumbent
retains a client's business in a review of this sort. A number of
industry executives said that the loss of all or any big piece of
the Honda account could sink the shop, likening it to the folding
of Omnicom's KPR and Griffin-Bacal. RPA declined to comment for
Griffin-Bacal folded soon after it was acquired by Omnicom and
Hasbro pulled the plug on its business. And KPR lost all of its
business after a massive J&J consolidation review in 2008.
"It's not healthy for the top three clients to represent more
than 50% [of the business]," said agency-search consultant Joanne
Davis. Ms. Davis recalled a time when a client was torn about an
agency that had just lost a big piece of business. "Midlevel people
really liked the agency, but their bosses said, 'Maybe we shouldn't
do this. If they go under it'll make [the team] look bad in front
of our board.'"