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Agrimarketing : May 2008
AGENCY UPDATE AG AGENCY PIONEER TURNS 30 by Lynn Henderson, Editorial Director R hea + Kaiser Marketing Communications (R+K) cele- brated its 30th anniversary May 1, 2008. Co-founders Steve Rhea , President, and Van Kaiser, Executive Vice President/Creative Director, manage their Naperville, IL-based integrated agency along with an experienced management team. When they started their business, the larger agricultural clients were predominantly being serviced by equally large consumer-oriented ad agencies that had formed ag divi- sions to handle their specialized needs. Giants of the business included such names as J. Walter Thompson , Foote Cone & Belding, Marstellar , Bozell & Jacobs, and many others. So, when the partners opened their doors, claiming they special- ized in the ag business, they not only were taking on the “big boys,” but they unknowingly started a trend that continues today: smaller to mid- sized, owner-operated communica- tions agencies specializing in one or two industries. The concept has stood the test of time, so on their historic anniversary, AgriMarketing felt it appropriate to interview them about R+K and how they are gearing up for the future. ROCKY START Talking about the inspiration to form the agency, Rhea says, “Van and I saw the opportunity to create and manage an independent agency spe- cializing in agriculture. “We had no idea where this busi- ness might take us. We barely had the capital to start R+K and we were taking a big financial risk by pledg- ing our homes as capital assets. We convinced Marc Wyse, President of Wyse Advertising , Cleveland, OH, to sell us Wyse’s interest in its Oak Brook, IL, office that we managed.” Rhea continues, “When Van and I presented our largest client, White Farm Equipment Co. (a legacy company of today’s AGCO), with our business plan, they believed in us and agreed to the transition. At the time, we were a six-person office.” Slightly more than two years later, White Farm, still R+K’s largest client, filed for Chapter 11 bank- ruptcy protection. “That was defi- nitely a learning experience,” Rhea says, “but we managed to hold our business together. I’m confident this event early in our business career made us a better agency today.” So, why did they start the busi- ness focused on agriculture? “Ag was what we knew best, where we were best known, and where we saw our greatest opportunity,” Rhea explains. That initial vision has held up quite well. After its White experience, the partners knew they had to diversify and find other opportunities. Rhea had worked with International Harvester (IH) before joining Wyse and Kaiser had been with Deere & Company . So, they made contact with Rhea’s former associates at IH in 1981 to obtain project work and gained busi- ness that carried the agency through to the Case merger in 1984. “We grew the business with project work and became the Case IH agency of record in 1993,” Rhea reports. “We lost the Case IH business in 1996 but we got right back into the equipment busi- ness in October 1996 working with Caterpillar.” SETTING SAIL Early on, the partners knew they needed to broaden their horizons beyond the machinery business. “We had to win a crop protection account,” Rhea says. “While with Wyse, Van and I pitched Elanco’s crop protection divi- sion, but lost. When we became R+K, we earned some early project assign- ments with Monsanto in 1984 working on Roundup and then assignments with Ciba-Geigy working on Dual herbicide. “But our big opportunity came in September 1985 when we pitched Rhône-Poulenc , a French ag chemi- cal company that was a newcomer and unknown to the crop protection market. We were a 15-person agency at the time and were the first Mid- western agency to take a crop protec- tion company from the East Coast to 36 AgriMarketing ¦ May 2008 Rhea + Kaiser Marketing Communications management team includes: (Front) Patsy Comella, VP, Media Dir. Middle (l to r) Jim Myers, VP, Creative Dir; Deron Johnson, VP, PR Dir; Diane Martin, VP, Acc’t Mgmt Supvr; Jeff Hammond, VP, Dialogue Mktg Dir, and Kim Cooke, VP, Account Mgmt Supvr. Back (l to r) Jim Haist, Sr. VP, Group Acc’t Mgr; Eric Painter, VP, Creative Dir; Van Kaiser, Exec VP, Creative Dir; Steve Rhea, Pres/CEO; Pete Pohl, Creative Dir, and Todd Treleven, Creative Dir.
May 2008 Supplement
Canadian Agribusiness Employer Guide 08