PERSON TO PERSON

Ex-actor Rubin lands a starring role in ad world

Gerry Rubin: His big break came in 1986 when he won Honda’s advertising account.
Gerry Rubin wanted to be an actor. He studied acting at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago but decided he couldn't cut it while competing against the likes of Ann-Margret and Brent Musburger — classmates who gained fame as an actress and a sportscaster.

After graduating, Rubin was hired by the Leo Burnett ad agency, then went on to become president of Needham Harper. Winning the Honda account in 1986 was a coup for Rubin and his partner, Larry Postaer. And it was the start of a new agency: Rubin Postaer and Associates.Name: Gerry Rubin

Title: CEO, Rubin Postaer and Associates

Age: 58

Personal life: Married, two children

Lives: Santa Barbara, Calif.

Works: Santa Monica, Calif.

Education: Bachelor's degree in radio, TV and film, Northwestern University

Big Break: In 1986, former employer Needham Harper, agency of record for Honda Division, decided to sell to the Omnicom Group. Omnicom had both the VW and Dodge accounts at the time, so it had to give up Honda. Rubin and Larry Postaer, another Needham employee, bid for the Honda work and won.

Says Rubin: "It was Needham's decision to sell that gave us the opportunity for the big break. We went to Honda and asked for their hand in marriage. We had no name, no line of credit, no office space. It was the trust factor that allowed this to happen. If Honda had said no, we couldn't have done it."

You wanted to be an actor.

In Los Angeles, that means waiter or waitress. I was preparing myself to be in front of audiences. I was in a pretty high-level competitive set. I was just struggling to get out alive. But it taught me poise, posture and to be comfortable with people and to invoke trust.

You talk about trust a lot.

Trust is critical to any partnership. If there is no trust, it's just a relationship. If there is trust, it's a partnership. Partnership is enduring.

What is good advertising?

The customer has a heart and a mind. You have to appeal to both levels. Walt Disney is a good example. We go to Disneyland because we want to be entertained, but we also get educated. That's what we must do as advertisers — educate about the product but also be entertaining.

Is there any particular ad campaign that you like outside of Honda's?

ESPN, because I enjoy the use of personalities in a positive way to enhance the brand.

A former chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi said e-mail is hurting the way people communicate.

I agree. With e-mail, there is an emerging tendency to hide behind the screen vs. getting in front. When I'm behind the screen, my personality is clipped. Person to person, you're more animated. I can look you in the eye. This is how you build trust, not through typed words on a screen.

I'm very concerned about our young people's ability to communicate. God gave us expression, a voice, animation. That's being removed with the Internet.

What ticks you off?

Laziness.

What do you still want to accomplish?

I'm trying to be a better grandparent than I was a parent. I missed out on the early development of my two children. I'm like the Kennedy compound. Only it's the Rubin compound. My daughter, her husband and two children moved from Boston to be near us. We now all live across the street from one another in Santa Barbara.

That's a pretty long commute to your office in Santa Monica.

It takes one hour, 40 minutes, but I've made the commitment to be with my grandkids. The drive is almost all ocean. When I get home, it's like being in a resort city. That gets me out of the turmoil. But I also love people and my work.

You're pictured with a lot of celebrities. Tell me a good celebrity story.

Dr. Ruth was a dinner guest at a Honda dealer show in New Orleans. During dinner, she conned (former American Honda executive) Tom Elliott and (American Honda sales chief) Dick Colliver out of a brand-new Accord. That's a true story.

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