LOS ANGELES - After a 15-year relationship, American Honda Motor Co. Inc. has fired its public relations agency for what it calls an 'unbecoming, underhanded' act.
The agency, St. Louis-based Fleishman Hillard, was dumped after it bid for the account of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, the Big 3's Washington-based trade and advocacy group.
Since Honda and the AAMA typically are on opposite sides of U.S.-Japan trade spats - and considering that Honda's U.S. manufacturing arm was once part of AAMA but was thrown out for not being American enough - Honda officials felt Fleishman's pitch bordered on treason.
'We're talking about a matter of professional ethics and agency common courtesy and conduct,' said Kurt Antonius, American Honda senior manager of corporate public relations.
'Public relations agencies have worked hard to gain the trust of top management. But to have an agency do this ... was underhanded and clandestine, unbecoming of the PR profession.'
Honda Motor's Japanese and Asian units also ended their relationships with Fleishman.
Said John Graham, Fleishman Hillard chairman: 'We elected to compete for this account knowing Honda might object and see this as a conflict. We weren't surprised by their response.'
Graham added that the relationship between Honda and Fleishman had been stable until then.
Graham said Fleishman 'made a conscientious decision to go after this account, not on the basis of increased fees but in looking after the long-term interests of our business and employees.'
Fleishman won the AAMA account, which brings in lesser billings than the Honda account. Honda is still looking for a new public relations agency.