GRAND RAPIDS — One of the most vocal proponents against West Michigan’s national brands looking outside of the region for high-profile campaigns, Hanon McKendry/The Brand Consultants took a step toward proving the region’s potential last week.
Following an agency review, Rubbermaid Home Products has selected Hanon McKendry to handle all of its national advertising and branding efforts.
The largest division of $6.6 billion Newell Rubbermaid, the Fairlawn, Ohio-based company is the world’s leading designer and manufacturer of household organization and utility products. Rubbermaid represents roughly 40 percent of the parent company’s revenue.
While the financial implication for Hanon McKendry has yet to be determined, Rubbermaid was a $20 million account for McCann Erickson, the New York agency recently named “U.S. Agency of the Year” and “Global Agency of the Year” for the third time.
“From a financial standpoint, I can say it’s really, really significant,” said Hanon McKendry co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Bill McKendry. “From an opportunity standpoint, this may be one of the most significant clients we’ve ever landed.”
Like several of the region’s firms, Hanon McKendry is no stranger to national accounts. It counts Alticor, Target Stores, and Hush Puppies Shoes among its clients along with a slew of the nation’s most recognizable nonprofit agencies.
It is the exclusive agency of Denver-based Furniture Row, the nation’s fifth-largest furniture retailer. That account will likely remain the firm’s largest, McKendry admitted, although it has far less brand awareness.
Elsewhere in Grand Rapids, Cull Group is the sole representative of Old Orchard, Jager Group does work for Zondervan, Fairly Painless for Herman Miller Inc. and Dow has contracted both Alexander Marketing and Structure Interactive for various assignments.
But in recent memory, no local advertising agency has been tapped to exclusively represent a high-profile consumer brand not headquartered in West Michigan.
In fact, the elite brands often look elsewhere. Meijer Inc. looked to New York advertising agency DeVito/Verdi for its latest campaign.
The closest was J.W. Messner Inc.’s $80 million account with General Motors’ Chevrolet division. Messner represented 11 of Chevy’s 26 regional dealer associations, creating regional advertising for more than 50 percent of the Chevy dealers in the United States.
In 1998, that 20-year-relationship ended as Chevy consolidated its regional advertising groups into the national agency.
“Here’s a brand with 99-percent brand awareness that has virtually touched every household in America,” McKendry said. “You could say you have Baker (Furniture), or that you have Steelcase, but they’re here
“This raises the profile (of Grand Rapids),” he said. “(Rubbermaid) had the opportunity to go to the New York shops. They could have chosen Los Angeles, Chicago, or London, but they chose a Grand Rapids agency. That shows something about the talent in Grand Rapids.”
“It’s a validation of what Bill and others of us have been saying for a long time,” said Buzz Baker, Alexander Marketing senior consultant. “And that’s (that) creativity has no limits. Rubbermaid could certainly have gone anywhere in the country; the fact that they chose West Michigan says a lot about what professionals here have to offer.”
McKendry believes the Rubbermaid work could lead to an emergence of the region’s creative industry as a whole, comparing it to the rise of Minneapolis a decade ago.
“As the shops there began to attract clients that could choose anybody, its stature began to rise from regional to a national hotbed of advertising talent,” he said. “Hopefully this helps us on a corporate level to move out of that (regional stature).”
Rubbermaid is launching a series of new product lines for home organization, including the FastTrack garage system and Configurations closet organizer designed as part of a company-wide transition toward higher-end products and markets not previously associated with the 70-year-old brand.
To manage that transition, Rubbermaid launched an agency review, eventually dropping its billion-dollar agency in search of fresh ideas.
Hanon McKendry barely squeaked into the review, McKendry said. Rubbermaid had already chosen finalists for the account by the time the local firm learned of the competition from a former client contact now working at Rubbermaid.
When the initial presentations of the selected agencies fell through, the contact, formerly of Owens Corning, convinced management to give McKendry an opportunity.
“They gave us three weeks to pull together a pitch that the other agencies had six months to prepare for,” McKendry said. “It was a significant risk for us. We spent a month’s worth of energy pitching that account. We got all our other work done by 5, and then we had to work all night on the pitches.”
According to Lorrie Crum, Rubbermaid’s head of brand development, Hanon McKendry was selected because of that strategic and creative presentation.
“Hanon McKendry captured the essence of our brand and our vision to extend Rubbermaid’s lasting relationship with consumers,” she said. “From what they presented to us, we’re confident Hanon McKendry can provide the creativity, energy, responsiveness and passion needed to effectively communicate the Rubbermaid message to all of our audiences.”