Omnicom Group execs knew there were problems at their biggest U.S. Hispanic agency even before Dieste lost 14 pitches in a row in 2007.
"I lost count," said Aldo Quevedo, Dieste's president. "We were pitching everything that was moving. We needed to win something. We were victims of our own vicious circle. In recent years, we lost focus -- and the DNA."
|Illustration: Robin Eley|
Dieste president Aldo Quevedo and CEO Melisa Quiñoy stopped new-biz losing streak with massive Nissan win.
This is something that's occurred at several other big Hispanic agencies, according to Mr. Quevedo.
"Something happens in the Hispanic market," he said. "You get successful, and start growing, and the clients you just won and new business start being the priority. You don't realize it till you go through the cycle."
And 2008 didn't start any better, as major client Clorox moved, along with Dieste's San Francisco office, into DDB as part of a realignment within Omnicom. To top things off, retailer JCPenney left.
Then it all turned around. Dieste's remarkable comeback after a bad couple of years earned the Dallas-based shop the title of Multicultural Agency of the Year for 2008.
Looking to Europe
The turnaround started when Carmen Baez, who oversees Omnicom's U.S. multicultural agencies as part of her job as president of DAS Latin America, took swift action early last year. Instead of tapping the usual small talent pool of U.S. Hispanic agency executives -- another issue that plagues the Hispanic market -- she went way outside that comfort zone.
In just a few months Ms. Baez assembled a new team by reaching out to an MTV Europe executive in London, a strategic planner in Spain and a Brazilian from an Omnicom shop in São Paulo. The only top-level person who stayed was Mr. Quevedo, one of the U.S. Hispanic market's most gifted creatives.
"This industry is very incestuous and there's very little new blood coming in; if you want an agent of change and to get away from business as usual, you have to go outside," said Melisa Quiñoy, who joined as CEO in April.
She had moved to Dallas from London, where she was exec VP of a Viacom brand-solutions division, working on sales and marketing for MTV and Nickelodeon in Europe. Ms. Quiñoy, who is Puerto Rican, started her career at a U.S. Hispanic agency more than 20 years ago before moving around the world for agency jobs and then moving to MTV in Latin America and later Europe.
Clients have noticed the difference.
"They have some new leadership and what I see today is that they've purposely turned everything upside down," said Laura Hernandez, executive director of diversity marketing at AT&T, a Dieste client since 2002. "I don't feel like we get a one-off idea. It's about how it permeates your whole business and how to make it work across different platforms and give it arms and legs."
The Lopez family
Ms. Hernandez was particularly impressed by what Dieste did with the Olympic Games and AT&T's sponsorship of the Lopez family, a trio of siblings who made up three of the four members of the U.S. Olympic taekwondo team.
"It's always a challenge when a client says, 'Here are the properties I have, now go make something out of it,'" Ms. Hernandez said.
What Dieste made out of it was an engaging campaign featuring the whole Lopez family, including the siblings' parents, leaping from side-to-side in taekwondo warm-up moves as they simultaneously used AT&T products, including the cellphone, online chats and getting together as a family to watch a movie on AT&T's entertainment service. The campaign featuring the Lopezes, a family of Nicaraguan immigrants, performed at 50% above the previous year's AT&T direct-response campaign.
"The spots were fun to watch, but also fun because of the results we got," Ms. Hernandez said. "We got great numbers from the DRTV spot."
Revenue at Dieste was up about 11% in 2008. about one-third of that growth came from existing accounts, mainly Nationwide, Hershey, Pizza Hut and Pepsi. for one assignment, Dieste beat all Pepsi's agencies in a pitch for a multicultural campaign for Sierra Mist. The rest of Dieste's growth came from new business, almost half from winning Nissan, one of the biggest multicultural reviews of the year, at an estimated $30 million.
It was also one of the most controversial pitches. Nissan wanted ethnic agencies to team up and pitch as a single multicultural entity rather than as individual Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American agencies. And the carmaker stressed that the winner should be minority-owned, raising the hopes of independent ethnic agencies who competed fiercely for the business.
In the end, Omnicom swept the business with a Dieste-led pitch, even though Dieste is owned by the holding company. Now Omnicom is setting up Ignition, a marketing consultancy for Nissan that will be majority-owned by an executive from Footsteps, an African-American agency that pitched with Dieste and in which Omnicom has a minority stake. The bulk of Nissan's multicultural spending is Hispanic, and the account's executive creative director and production will be housed at Dieste.
"Part of the restructuring was to force that way of thinking," Ms. Quiñoy said.
That's already leading to new business. Dieste will partner with a TBWA health-care agency on the launch of a diabetes drug that will include multicultural marketing from the beginning. And when Heineken USA put its promotions and retail-marketing business in review, Dieste pitched jointly with Omnicom promotions agency Alcone Marketing Group. Alcone lost, but Heineken hired Dieste to do Hispanic, working with the winning agency, G2.
As part of Dieste's 2008 relaunch, the agency trimmed its name from Dieste Harmel & Partners (founder and president Warren Harmel left at the end of 2007) and reinvented its website. The new version has a scroll-down feature that lists the majority of the agency's 160 staffers (there have been no layoffs). Each person's name links to their Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn page, and to an image, fashioned from Play- Doh, that is meaningful to them. Ms. Quiñoy's image is a little white dog on a red pillow, reminiscent of the Bichon Frisé she owns. Mr. Quevedo, a fan of the movie "Jaws," appears to have been eaten by a shark in his Play-Doh creation.
The site also hosts a Dieste Twitter feed, where a typical tweet warns, "Never initiate a fist bump"; as well as a Diestepedia, a wiki of Hispanic phrases and culture that is working its way through the alphabet. In late December, Diestepedia was defining the word "chulo," whose meaning ranges from "cute" in Mexico to "tacky" in Chile to nothing at all in Argentina.
"We're presenting some Twitter applications to HP, and others are coming up for Nationwide, so this has to be something we understand and use," Mr. Quevedo said.
"Everything Dieste comes to us with is grounded in strategic thought, and that's refreshing," said Kim Goldsmith-N'Diaye, VP-segment market lead at Nationwide. "It helped me align senior management with Hispanic."
Dieste is also partnering with the Miami Ad School to address the perennial shortage of Spanish-speaking talent. Starting in January, six students from Miami, Spain and Argentina will spend a semester at the agency working on special projects.
Several of Dieste's 2008 wins represent new money flowing into the Hispanic market. Procter & Gamble assigned Gillette to Dieste in August 2008 as part of a realignment with Omnicom's BBDO.
"Gillette did very little Hispanic, just some media and adaptation of global work," Ms. Quinoy said. "This time they're looking for original work. The big difference isn't that Hispanic men shave differently, but that they have less experience with costly shaving systems, so it's more about education."
Another client, GE Appliances, is new to the Hispanic market and still in the research phase. Ms. Quiñoy said retailers such as Walmart, one of the top advertisers to Hispanics, are pressuring companies whose products they sell to develop a Hispanic strategy.
And in a promising sign for growth in 2009, longtime client Frito-Lay is planning a major launch of one of its Mexican product ranges into the U.S. Hispanic market.
With new business flowing again, the agency is more careful now to stay focused.
Carla Eboli, who handles marketing and business development at Dieste, is in charge of bringing in new opportunities. Sometimes, she says, Mr. Quevedo just tells her to go away.
"Now we're very careful," Mr. Quevedo said. "We don't participate in every pitch. We think about what we can offer the brand."