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When Tony Dieste and his team walked out of the glass-walled conference room in Chicago's Quaker Tower last April, they felt like they'd nailed their pitch for Quaker Oats Co.'s $15-20 million Hispanic account. "Sometimes ... you know you've answered spot-on from strategy, and the creative brings that strategy to life," Dieste says. "When that happens, the presentation takes care of itself."

The pitch had been an especially challenging one: Four brand teams—from Gatorade, Aunt Jemima, Quaker Instant Oatmeal and Cap'n Crunch—had to arrive at a consensus on the winning agency. In the end, the 6-year-old agency bested San Antonio shops Bromley Com munications and Monte mayor y Aso ci ados for one of the biggest Hispanic-market accounts in play last year. The Quaker business propels the shop into the breakfast-food category and ranks as one of Dieste's top three accounts.

Quaker's selection committee, led by Deb Gross, business director of the Aunt Jemima Group, was impressed with the shop's strategy, energy and spirit. "Dieste gave an amazing presentation in terms of strategic capabilities with the Latino consumer," says Gross. "There was also chemistry. You felt these were people you would enjoy working with and have a good time with as we work to build the business. Dieste has an incredibly collaborative culture, very similar to ours."

In 2001, Dieste Harmel & Partners channeled that energy into two other notable wins—Tequiza beer's general-market account and Mervyn's Hispanic account—and top-notch creative output. Adweek's Southwest Agency of the Year also boosted revenue by 20 percent to $17 million.

"[Dieste] has been hot for several years," says Horacio Gomes, president of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies. "Their recognition, not just nationally but internationally, underscores the coming of age of Hispanic agencies in the U.S."

Since founders Tony Dieste and War ren Harmel opened the agency's doors in 1995 with VF Corp.'s Wrangler Western Wear account, they have steadily built a solid agency roster filled with blue-chip clients, including PepsiCo, Frito-Lay, Visa, Hershey Foods and Anheuser-Busch. The shop, which now has 75 staffers, also counts 7-Eleven, Southwest Airlines, Tabasco maker McIlhenny Co. and Mott's among its clients.

"This was intended from the beginning to be a top agency, like the DDBs or the BBDOs," says agency president Dieste, 36. "We don't want to do an ad for Joe's Garage. We set out to target category leaders."

Dieste and Harmel, 51, who heads the research department and new-business efforts, met at Omnicom Group's Tracy- Locke Partnership in Dallas 14 years ago. Both moved to crosstown Hispanic agency Ornelas & Associates before striking out on their own with backing from Omnicom. The strategic alliance gives Dieste access to the New York-based holding company's services in return for a portion of its profits.

A key figure responsible for the shop's shining creative work is executive creative director Aldo Quevedo, a former Ornelas employee recruited from Ogilvy & Mather's Mexico City office shortly after Dieste was launched.

Dieste's well-received "Speak your mind. Drink your beer" campaign for the $3 million Tequiza account features irreverent print and outdoor ads carrying one-liners that people may typically think but not say aloud. "I only laughed because you're my boss," says one.

The Bud Light "Centerfold" campaign for Anheuser-Bush made it onto network television in the second quarter of last year following an enthusiastic reception at a distributors meeting. It subsequently ran on Spanish-language TV. A Bud Light enthusiast is perennially caught in seemingly lewd situations with his beer—in one execution, his mother-in-law sees him licking spilled Bud Light from a magazine shot of a scantily clad woman. That spot was shortlisted in the beer category at Cannes last year.

Quevedo, 34, says the agency doesn't specifically try to create work that will cross over into the general market. "Human emotions are universal," he says. "We base our work on very relevant insights based on research. I think we're marketers and advertisers first and Latinos second."

"We are big-time enemies of the ordinary," notes Mexican-born Dieste. He says he tries to foster a laid-back, egoless environment in which even the newest creatives can feel free to call his ideas "shit" when he drops in on brainstorming sessions. "Not that any of my ideas are ever shit," he adds with a laugh.

For two other established clients, Pepsi and Frito-Lay, Dieste launched a major marketing initiative that grouped the soft drink with Doritos for the first time. Tagged "The power of one," the work attempts to show how well the brands go together by pairing Puerto Rican soap star Chayanne with Mexican actress and singer Lucero against a street-fiesta background. Sales for both brands increased by more than 25 percent across 10 Hispanic markets after the campaign ran, according to the clients.

First work for Quaker and Mervyn's will break later this quarter.

Quevedo attributes the shop's success to the chemistry between its founders. "One [Dieste] is all passion, and one [Harmel] is all analysis and rational," he says. "What makes them explosive is the actual combination. They're yin and yang, Laurel and Hardy."

STATISTICS

BILLINGS
Up 20 percent to $146 million (est.)

Revenue
Up 20 percent to $17 million (est.)

Win/Loss Pitch Ratio
3 out of 5

Accounts Won/Media Budget*
Quaker Oats Co. brands/$15-20 million
Tequiza beer/$3-5 million
Mervyn's/$3 million

Accounts Lost
None

Highlights
Created major cross-marketing program for Pepsi and Frito-Lay; humorous Bud Light spot was finalist at Cannes; advanced into general market with Tequiza campaign.

*Only largest accounts included.
Sources: Adweek, agency reports and CMR