Multicultural made mainstream

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When Dana Wade interviewed for a job at Spike DDB, she didn't sit and wait for her interviewers to explain the position of president, she did it for them. Her vision was to take the Omnicom Group-owned operation from multicultural shop to mainstream ad agency.

While the African-American consumer always will be at the heart of Spike DDB's work, Ms. Wade is eager to expand the New York agency's expertise beyond that. Current clients include McDonald's New York Metro Co-op, Foxwoods Resort Casino, Pepsi-Cola Co. and the NBA's New York Knicks.

Ms. Wade has helped make Spike DDB profitable and has increased staff to 35 people. One particular coup this year was winning Pepsi's African-American account. ( Dieste Harmel & Partners, Dallas, won the Hispanic business.) That Spike DDB assignment led to a "Carmen" opera-inspired commercial, featuring singer Beyonce Knowles that debuted during the Academy Awards. "We love working with them, and having Pepsi helps us attract other clients," says Ms. Wade.

New-business pitches have increased by 95% since her arrival in 2000. Ms. Wade admits she's always on the phone looking for tips about potential new clients. She's even been known to research her clients' regular hangouts in order to engineer introductions.

Ms. Wade joined Spike DDB from WPP Group's Young & Rubicam, where she was a senior VP-account director, leading strategic development on Y&R's Citibank Corp. business. MetLife was also a client. She was part of a pitch team that held the U.S. Army business and won the 2000 Census assignment.

While filmmaker and agency founder Spike Lee is clearly the creative boss at Spike DDB, Ms. Wade is the business brains. "Spike and I have a great working relationship; he's always on the phone and e-mailing me," she says. So what has she learned since taking on the top job? "You have to stay true to your instincts," she says. "If something feels wrong, it's wrong. You can't always give people the benefit of the doubt."

And the secret of her success? "You have to be scrappy, too."

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