How RPA's People First Marketing Drives Culture and Campaign Adaptability

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We chatted with Tim Leake, Chief Marketing Officer at RPA, about RPA's People First perspective and how they use this to create emotionally intelligent creative platforms.

Can you give us a brief overview of your structure and some of the clients with whom you work?

RPA is a holistic independent agency, and one of the largest independents in the country. We handle Creative, Media, Strategy, Digital, Social — or various combinations of the above — for brands like Honda, Farmers Insurance,, La-Z-Boy Furniture, ARCO gasoline, Carl’s Jr. & Hardee’s, Red Lobster, Cedars-Sinai, Southern California Edison and more.

Your elevator pitch please! How do you position your agency to a brand? Why should they work with you – what do you bring to the table?

We specialize in driving business growth, for complex organizations, through People First Marketing.

Helping grow our clients’ business is the reason we exist. And the results of our many long-lasting client relationships are proof we’re good at it.

We’re especially well-built to work with larger, complex organizations — for instance, those with franchisee structures, regulated industries, national brands with local needs, or organizations with multiple important stakeholder groups internally. Most independent agencies aren’t well-suited to manage those kinds of things — whereas holding companies are but tend to focus on global opportunities. We’re that “Goldilocks” fit for our clients.

And finally, we take a lot of pride in our People First perspective — which drives both our culture and our approach to our work. Our strategic process is based on connecting brands with people in a way that benefits each. We develop “emotionally intelligent” creative platforms. And we build media strategies and investments that reduce the cost of selling for our clients.

Can you talk us through a campaign and how you solved a problem for the client or made a difference to a brand?

One of our most-loved campaigns is for Farmers Insurance, which has been running for almost 12 years now and continues to grow more effective over time. Before we started working with them, the brand was invisible to the point that people gave State Farm more credit for every ad that Farmers ran. The brand is massively outspent in their category, rely heavily on their network of agents (in an era when most people prefer to use an app than talk to a person) and don’t play the “we’re the cheapest” game.

Our campaign identified an audience that cared more about being smart about their insurance than about being the cheapest — and took inspiration from their real, award-winning “University of Farmers” agent training program to build a creative platform featuring J.K. Simmons as “Professor Burke.” The results have been incredible for the brand, helping elevate them among the biggest players in the category, despite spending a fraction of what many of them do on media. It started out strong, and as we’ve evolved and iterated the campaign over time, it’s gotten even stronger. It’s a great example of what we mean by “emotionally intelligent” creative platforms that grow our clients’ business. And Farmers is a great example of a complex organization, because we have to make sure we’re listening to and impressing their huge network of agents — in addition to our marketing clients.

Without giving away your secret sauce of course, what does your roadmap for growth look like? Is it, for example, geographic expansion (if location is still a thing), or joining one of the growing indie agency networks? Developing more project work for other clients?

Over the last several decades, we’ve quietly grown into one of the largest independent agencies in the country by making sure that we’re helping grow our clients’ business — and making our client partners look brilliant along the way. And that continues to be our roadmap for growth. When we do right by our clients, they often reward us with additional opportunities — and most importantly, they stick around. Many of our clients have been with us for a long time. We haven’t lost any retainer clients in the last four years, and we’ve gained quite a few. Over 99% of our revenue comes from retainer-based clients, so we don’t do much project work.