"They just blew us away-with creative and insight into the marketplace. They had a really innovative approach to media buying and planning," said Liz Bardetti, Gatorade equity director at Quaker.
Dieste has built the largest independent Hispanic agency-and third-largest overall-on a blue-chip client roster. With an 87% success rate on new-business pitches and four to seven new big-name accounts each year, Dieste has become "the de facto choice of Hispanic agencies," said one admiring rival.
Thriving Latino shops like Dieste are drawing on the growing number of marketers who are hiring their first Hispanic AORs, creating more Latino-centric ads, and rolling out products designed to appeal to the increasingly high-profile Latino market. Last year, the agency's gross income closed in on $14 million-up 28%-on billings of $116 million. Dieste has company in tapping new Hispanic ad dollars: For example, Zubi Advertising Services and Vidal Group, independent Latin shops based in Miami and New York respectively, each saw gross income soar by 41% last year.
Tony Dieste and Warren Harmel, a South African native and former colleague at Dallas' Tracy Locke agency, started Dieste in 1995. At the time, most Spanish-language ads left them cold. They sought to incorporate Hispanic sentiment without the kitsch-no novelas, grandmothers or mandatory handshakes.
"We don't live our lives like that," said Mr. Dieste, the agency's president. "I love mariachi music, eating Mexican food, but you don't want that thrown in your face every 20 minutes."
But they know when a Latin touch is needed, such as rejecting Radio Shack Corp.'s general market campaign in favor of the mythical town of San Carlos and a more high-tech, yet comfortable, method of calling parishioners to Mass after the bell ringer's rope breaks.
New clients include Anheuser-Busch Cos., Tricon Global Restaurants' Taco Bell Corp., the U.S. Air Force and BP Amoco. Hershey Foods Corp. named Dieste its first Hispanic AOR at the end of last year.
"If we are going to go into the Hispanic market, we needed an agency that understands the Hispanic culture very well. If you have a brain tumor, you go to a brain surgeon, you don't go to a general practitioner," said Rob Shelton, Hershey's director of marketing.
Dieste's Hispanic insights can work in the general market, too. The agency got big laughs at Anheuser-Busch's annual wholesalers meeting in March with a spot in which a husband accidentally spills a Bud Light on his men's magazine-and is caught by his mother-in-law as he dries the sexy journal on his shirt and licks the excess liquid off the good-looking Latina centerfold. The spot has run on general market shows like CBS's "Survivor" finale as well as on Spanish-language TV.
"There is a huge burden on the Latin male to impress his mother-in-law, much more than in the general market," Mr. Dieste said.
Dieste brought insights like these to PepsiCo's Frito-Lay, the country's No. 1 salty snack-food company, whose Doritos' sales among U.S. Hispanics had been unimpressive in the mid-'90s. At the new agency's urging, Frito-Lay tweaked packaging to add a familiar Mexican happy-face icon and pictures of chili and onion ingredients, and it launched Salsa Verde Doritos. The company's first Hispanic marketing initiative added more than $100 million in sales-double expectations.
With Dieste on board, clients are upping their budgets. Hyundai Motor America has nearly tripled its Hispanic ad dollars since hiring Dieste as its first Hispanic AOR in 1999. With insights into how Latinos shop for cars, Dieste "put us on the map with the Hispanic market," said Dave Weber, VP-marketing at the South Korean automaker.
A few clients like Anheuser-Busch's Tequiza and Interstate Batteries Corp. use Dieste for mainstream campaigns, although Mr. Dieste doesn't plan to expand into the general market.
Nestled between downtown Dallas and a Latino neighborhood, Dieste's headquarters has an edgy urban feel, with wavy corrugated metal sheets hanging from the ceiling and garage doors as portals. The agency stays close to its heritage-Latin art adorns alcoves, and walls are painted Hispanic hues of purple and blue, coral and yellows. The Web site (dieste.com) is based on a bingo-like Hispanic card game called Loteria. Dieste turns down frequent overtures from agency networks eager to buy a Hispanic agency. "We've only just begun," said Mr. Harmel, the managing partner.
While general market agencies are printing pink slips, Dieste wants to hire 15 people by year's end. Turnover is just 5%, perhaps because creatives wear shorts in summer and ride scooters around the office. Fridays are for salsa dancing and beer.
"[Our client] Southwest [Airlines] taught us that happy people do great work," Mr. Dieste said.