Rhea + Kaiser: Naperville agency rebels with balance

Video for Bayer CropScience's DiFlexx Duo by R+K

Video for Bayer CropScience’s DiFlexx Duo by R+K

On Diehl Road in Naperville, IL, Rhea + Kaiser (R+K) and its 55 workers are taking a different approach to the marketing/ad agency with their emphasis on omnicommunications, longevity, and work/life balance.

Diane Martin reflects, “I came to Rhea + Kaiser fresh out of college with the plan of coming to this little shop. I was employee number 21, and I was going to get a couple years under my belt and go downtown to the big show.”

Fast-forward 31 years at R+K, and Martin is now approaching her eighth year as the company’s President and CEO.

Diane Martin
Diane Martin

Martin recalls that from the beginning, co-founders Steve Rhea and the late Van Kaiser were already comfortable with “being a little rebellious… they were willing to be contrary to traditional agency models.”

In 1978, Rhea and Kaiser founded R+K in Oak Brook, IL. Ten years later, they moved it to its current location in Naperville.

R+K is an all-in-one shop that focuses on building relationships, strategy, and omnichannel marketing/communications. Some of its long-term clients include Growmark FS and Bayer CropScience.



The R+K team includes experts like Emmy-winning Patrick Barkley, the Video Production Specialist who runs the in-house studio.

However, Director of Public Relations, Digital Services, and New Business Rob Merritt emphasizes that almost everyone on staff, regardless of position, are “omnicommunicators.”

“We’re not tied down to one approach, one marketing approach, or a single service,” he explains.

Rob Merritt
Rob Merritt

That staff is made up of a noticeable mix between those who have been with R+K for decades and those with recent experience at some of Chicago’s biggest agencies.

For example, Executive Director of Account Management / Planning Jeff Walter has been with R+K for 17 years. According to Walter, “this was my first agency gig, and I was given tremendous amounts of opportunity…lots of opportunity to take on new tasks and grow.”

Walter believes that R+K’s willingness to allow its own members to take on challenges and internally advance their careers plays a large factor in employee retention.

Since starting at R+K as an Account Coordinator, Walter has been promoted nearly ten times.

On the other end of the spectrum, Exec. Creative Director Martha Porter Fiszer joined R+K only nine months ago. Prior to her current role, Fiszer has held numerous positions in the industry, including VP Creative Director of Leo Burnett for more than six years.

Fiszer remarks, “Culturally, (R+K) is a different kind of environment than a lot of agencies I have experienced in the past – a lot of transparency and not a lot of egos.”

Recently, R+K has promoted a handful of its employees and brought on talented creatives, thus creating some well-deserved buzz.

Also Read: R+K welcomes six new staffers and promotes one

Jeff Walter

When bringing on new staff, Rob Merritt states that they are “looking for people who don’t want to be single-channel marketers and single-channel communicators.”

Among the recent hires and promotions is a wealth of experience from large agencies, such as BBH New York, Energy BBDO, Filament Marketing, MillerCoors, Lavidge, Mindgruve, Davis Elen Advertising, imre, and FCB.

Regarding the recent promotions of Erin Skly and Steve Knapp, Diane Martin attributes the moves to the original founders’ firm belief “in the value of growing your own talent.”

One of the ways R+K does this is to not follow the traditional model of waiting to promote based solely off of vacancies. Instead, R+K promotes employees through newly created positions. This method lets staff know they are valued, and it provides them with the greater responsibility they desire.

Martha Porter Fiszer
Martha Porter Fiszer

Martin proudly remarks that the youngest members of R+K make it easy to disregard stereotypes about supposedly lazy Millennials.

“They are motivated, driven, (and) hungry,” she says. “There is nothing more rewarding than to have a 20-something come to you saying ‘do you have a minute, can I get involved in new business.’” Martin adds that she “cannot say ‘yes’ fast enough!”

As for the hires, Jeff Walter notes that R+K has a habit of “bringing some people out (of the city) that are tired of that rat race downtown and (are) looking to still work for a fully integrated agency.”

Walter further emphasizes that a common theme among new hires is that they “wanted to bring more balance to their life.”

Between Rhea + Kaiser’s omni approach to brand/business strategy and its commitment to ideal working conditions, this balanced Naperville agency is bound to continue enticing clients and creatives alike.

To learn more about Rhea + Kaiser, click here.

Contact Joey Filer at Joey@reelchicago.com or follow him on Twitter @FilerJoey.