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Building the Home of the Brave

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LOS ANGELES One day, the story goes, two young David&Goliath employees, dressed in identical agency-branded hooded sweatshirts, were minding their own business in the office elevator. That is, until a fellow building tenant razzed them about apparently having to "wear uniforms." One of the dng employees stared the man down. "We wear them because we want to," she told him.

That esprit de corps earned the employee a literal "bravery badge" from founder and CCO David Angelo. (Reminiscent of college football helmet stickers for outstanding plays, the badges are worn on the hoodies.) They're just one sign that Angelo still wants dng to be seen as a "brave" challenger brand, interested only in courageous clients willing to back bold campaigns.

This positioning was reflected in last year's move from expensive Brentwood, Calif., to 33,000 square feet of bleak, relatively cheap El Segundo, Calif., office space. The atmosphere is pointedly collegial, with office parties attended by Hollywood and music-biz types, and frat-style new-employee initiations such as mandatory potato-peeling contests in front of the shop's 100-plus personnel. (Total manpower has risen from around 75 since managing partner Russell Wager, who joined from independent shop Doner in February 2007, came aboard.)

Angelo contended the agency is "smarter" for its challenger mind-set as well as stronger in that it's broken free of the cult-like following of a single creative leader found at many smaller shops. Dng has become a fully integrated agency with expanded direct marketing, promotions and Hispanic marketing departments as well as a sizeable digital wing and a burgeoning in-house production facility.

The growth in those new areas is buttressing more than mainstay client Kia Motors America, says Wager.

According to Angelo, with the addition of two Bacardi brands, more Universal business, New York New York Hotel & Casino, Discovery Network's Travel Channel, Zoo York and Anchor Blue, the undisclosed fees from Kia (on a $285 million 2007 spend, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus) now represents just 55 percent of agency revenue, down from 80 percent in 2004.

The "brave" positioning, he adds, will alter the agency's approach to new-business pursuits and creative development.

"Internally, every creative brief asks the question, 'Is this an act of bravery?'" Angelo said. "And in our last four pitches we've asked the clients to tell us who their 'Goliaths' are. Then we come back to them with a solution or plan of attack to overcome them."

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