Bill Hagelstein: President & CEO of RPA

My NativeAdVice:


Bill began his career here at the “old” RPA – Needham Harper Worldwide/Los Angeles – rising to Senior Vice President, Group Account Director, with responsibility for running the Honda business. In 1998, Bill was recruited to lead the Orange County office Foote, Cone & Belding. In 1996, after an 8-year absence, Bill returned to RPA where today he is President and CEO. As if managing an agency weren’t enough, Bill is an active member of the World Presidents’ Organization (WPO-YPO), and is on the Board of Directors of the Ad Council and the American Advertising Federation, where he also serves on the Executive Committee. Recognizing the agency business is all about the people, Bill religiously practices a servant leadership style with RPA's Associates.

How did you get into the Advertising industry?

Upon graduating from college, a former agency president who became CMO of the Ford Motor Company asked me about my passions. I informed him that I really loved marketing and management. He said I should do what he did – start my career with an ad agency. He then proceeded to write all three of Ford’s agency presidents telling them what a fine young man I was. One of the agency leaders told me he did not even need to interview me. He said “If Ford’s CMO says you’re a fine young man, than you’re a fine young man.” I got hired. And 44 years later, I’m still pleased to be working in the advertising agency business.

Tell us about RPA.  What inspired the idea and what is your vision of the company?

RPA was born out of necessity. When Omnicom was created in 1986 due to many client conflicts, the West Coast operation of DDB and Needham could not be merged.  When Gerry Rubin informed Honda and proposed the idea of starting RPA, Honda executives had just one question: “Will the people remain the same?”  The answer was a resounding yes, and RPA was born.  This year we celebrated our 41st anniversary of working with American Honda. We love that our independence continues to enable us to focus solely on our clients’ needs, rather than worrying about building shareholder value.

Today, we work for over twenty large corporate brands on a national and regional basis. Our agency mission is to unlevel the playing field for our clients. It’s not good enough today to simply create ads. We aspire to create competitive advantages.

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to RPA’s success:

Back in 1994, the agency was one of the first to establish a dedicated digital operation. We’ve always strived to be consistently ahead of the curve when it comes to the evolution of marketing. Today, it’s more important than ever to be constantly adapting to change. As a full-service independent agency, we’re in a unique position to be able to develop best-of-breed capabilities in-house, including social media, analytics, content strategy and production, digital marketing, experiential and more.   We have long-term relationships with a number of outside partners that help enable us to be experts in any given discipline.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

There is a trend today of clients electing to partner with several agencies rather than just one.  However, there’s also a counter-trend. Many clients are not staffed to, or are not interested in, managing so many different agency relationships and attempting to get them to collaborate effectively. We are known for establishing collaborative relationships with others, helping clients effectively manage their overall marketing communication practice and related agency portfolio. This makes us great partners, whether the client is looking for a single lead agency, or an agency known for playing well with others.

Life’s motto?

My personal mission is to achieve the optimum balance between family (wife/children/grandchildren), work, fitness, nutrition, and leisure.

RPA’s motto?

Our managers are encouraged to practice Servant Leadership: We work for those who work for us.

Your greatest success as CEO of RPA? Most difficult moment – how did you overcome and what did you learn?

By far it was the path to retaining the Honda business during an agency review. We recognized the need to reach out to a few consultants to help stimulate and craft our presentation. All our Associates must remember what Gerry Rubin always said: You can never take any client (no matter how long your history) for granted.  You must treat every day as the first day you are working for them by constantly providing new ideas.

Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

A stellar new-business concept is wonderful. Having good outside financing is great.  But building a solid marketing plan from the get-go is equally important.

Describe the ideal experience using RPA.

We are growth consultants, establishing successful multiple-year business-building partnerships by unleveling the playing field and providing our clients a competitive advantage.

How do you motivate your employees?

Our Associates say RPA is like a family made up of nice, talented people. We treat all our employees with ultimate care, respect, and a willingness to go above and beyond, especially in times of need.

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

A bone-in Filet Mignon and a glass of stellar Cabernet Sauvignon.

What literature is on your bed stand?

Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D.

Role Model – business and personal?

Business – David Bell. He was active throughout the Mad Men era, and is equally relevant in today’s digital age.

Personal – My wife. Due to her own accomplishments, I’m proud to be able to refer to myself as a three-time Mr. Madam President.

Current passion?

Snow skiing.

Favorite destination?

New Zealand.

What’s next for RPA?

Continuing to build the most positive working environment as an independent firm, having all disciplines located and collaborating under one roof, in order to create meaningful content for our clients that customers are willing to engage in.

RPA, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., is a leading independent full-service advertising agency, whose mission is to unlevel the playing field for their clients. RPA has a proven track record of building brands while building businesses into positions of category leadership, and has been rewarded with many long-term client relationships because of it. RPA’s client list includes American Honda, ampm,, ARCO, CoStar Group, Delano Las Vegas, DIRECTV, Los Angeles Clippers, Farmers Insurance Group, Intuit Small Business, La-Z-Boy, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Tempur+Sealy and pivot TV.