E-Z Pass to Advertising Heaven

Casablanca-train-rain-smallAdvertising Age is reporting that Honda has placed its massive $700 million campaign up for review. That may not mean much to you, but it's a veritable tsunami for incumbent agency, RPA, of Santa Monica, which has had the account since 1986!

Putting RPA's justifiable sense of betrayal aside, Honda represents far and away the largest percentage of the agency's $122 million in revenues, says Ad Age. That's not good.

In fact, industry experts say RPA's chances of successfully defending the account are slimmer than New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's ever appearing on the cover of GQ.

Some pundits are already likening RPA to such now moribund shops as KPR and Griffin-Bacal, which went belly-up when their largest clients pulled the plug.

I feel RPA's pain. Peppercomm came precariously close to a Honda-like scenario on several occasions in our storybook, 17-year-long saga. At one point in our very early years, a professional services firm accounted for more than 40 percent of our billings! At another point, a Fortune 10 behemoth represented nearly half of our top line numbers. Yikes!

We survived the loss of each by rapidly building our client portfolio at the first signs of approaching storm clouds. Today, we're amazingly diverse from a client portfolio standpoint, with no single client representing more than 15-20 percent of our overall billings.

Owning one's own agency is a blast, but it's also a slippery slope that provides the highest highs and lowest lows. Winning a Honda is a rush that, unless you're an entrepreneur, you simply cannot appreciate. Simultaneously, watching the car company shift into overdrive and permanently peel out of the agency parking lot is indescribably devastating (picture Humphrey Bogart standing at that Paris train station in the pouring rain and crumbling up Ingrid Bergman's 'Dear Rick' letter).

I couldn't sleep if I were either Gerry Rubin or Larry Postaer (RPA's founders). I don't care how big the billings, or how prestigious the brand, putting too many eggs in one basket is like buying an E-Z Pass to advertising heaven.

Epilogue: As PR insiders know, we have our own version of RPA. This particular firm has relied on one behemoth client to drive its growth for three decades. The owners have grown deservedly rich and famous in the process. But, at what cost? To borrow a time-worn phrase, were I in their shoes, I'd worry that, every time the mega client sneezed, my agency would be diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. And, that's no way to live.

One thought on “E-Z Pass to Advertising Heaven

  1. This story reminds me of Sterling Cooper, who relied on Lucky Strike for 70 percent of their billings. Never a good thing to put all your eggs in one basket. Way too risky and causes too many sleepless nights.