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Growing DGWB moves into larger space in Santa Ana

They gave Ugly Duckling Car Sales the line “Life Sucks Without a Car.” They created an animated hot dog for Wienerschnitzel. And they coined the motto “Bureaucracy beware” for home mortgage lender LoanWorks in Irvine.

Now DGWB Advertising partners Mike Weisman, Mandi Dossin and Jon Gothold are heading OC’s largest independently owned advertising agency, with sales approaching $100 million this year, built on a roster of clients that run the gamut from fast food to high tech.

The fast-growing agency moved into new offices in Santa Ana last month to accommodate its growing staff and tap into the trendy scene nearby at the Santa Ana Arts Village, Alternative Repertory Theatre, the area’s art galleries and coffeehouses.

The move signals a new era for the 12-year-old agency that has doubled its employees to 107 in the past year and nearly doubled its billings from $55 million in 1998. It now ranks No. 7 on the Business Journal list of OC’s largest advertising agencies, behind only the offices of some of the biggest names in the industry, including Young & Rubicam, FCB Southern California, Doner and Bates USA West.

“Y & R; Advertising has helped legitimize OC as a vibrant real player in advertising,” Gothold said.

Mandi Dossin, a native of South Africa who handles account service and new business, adds that these agencies with automobile accounts like Lincoln Mercury, Mazda and Hyundai have definitely raised the bar in OC. However, DGWB’s strength has been in attracting people, she said. The agency is no longer considered just a training ground for young advertising executives, but a destination for top executives, she said.

“We are most proud of the people and the organization we have built,” Dossin said. “We work with people who you would like to sit next to on a long airplane trip.”

The agency’s growth comes from a client roster that has expanded in the past year or so with such additions as Toshiba, LA Gear, Avery (the personal creations division and interactive), LoanWorks and South Coast Plaza.

But the agency has also seen billings growth from existing clients such as Ocean Pacific Apparel Corp., KFC’s West Coast regional marketing, Wienerschnitzel and Lactaid Milk for Pacific Coast Brands. Additionally, the agency expanded its reach two years ago with the creation of its in-house design team headed by Jonathan Brown, formerly of Suissa Miller. A year ago, DGWB formed a three-person Hispanic division called Adelante headed by Sonia Carstenson, whose experience includes working on the McDonald’s account for AdAmericas. The Hispanic division is expected to bill $8.5 million this year from clients KFC, LA Gear and Ugly Duckling among others.

“The Hispanic division is fed by accounts of the agency,” said Weisman who adds that the KFC account is a national one.

About eight months ago, DGWB launched an interactive group called eMarketing, headed by Kathy Orr, and with Zander Vera overseeing Web development.

Among the agency’s longtime clients is Wienerschnitzel in Newport Beach.

Wienerschnitzel President Dennis Tase said his hot-dog chain worked with several agencies including TBWA/Chiat/Day prior to hiring DGWB as its agency of record. DGWB created the chain’s hot dog icon and its Wiener Nationals dachshund races. Its efforts have helped the company report 51 consecutive months of same-store sales increases and an 8% increase in overall sales year-to-date, Tase said.

“They are great team players and they’ve been a very strong influence in why we have had five years of continual growth,” he said.

But the company’s biggest challenge as it moves ahead is growing “without losing our soul and still attracting the right kind of clients and people and staying current,” Dossin said. “The last thing you want as an agency is to be yesterday’s news.”

DGWB Advertising was co-founded by Jim deYong, Dan Ginsberg, Mike Weisman and Cheryl Bailey in 1988. Over the years, the agency has had bad times as well as good. In early 1993, the agency had roughly 45 employees, but the sluggish economy and the loss of the El Pollo Loco account that year forced layoffs of five staffers. It landed its first really big national account when Qualcomm went with DGWB in 1995, but it lost that account two years later to a larger agency.

Bailey left the agency in 1991 to become an author; deYong left the agency in January 1994 to become an advertising consultant; and co-founder Dan Ginsberg left in 1995 to become vice president of marketing for fast-food chain Hardee’s. Mike Weisman, who heads up the agency’s financial arm, invited Dossin, then the agency’s director of client services, and then-associate creative director Gothold to move up to partner status in 1996. The agency has since seen its fastest growth.

But even as it has added some high-profile accounts in the past year, DGWB has lost the accounts of footwear maker AVIA, Irvine-based ASG Inc., car-stereo firm Clarion Sales Corp., Costa Mesa-based FileNET Corp., Golden Choice Foods, pet food maker Nature’s Recipe Inc., and Prudential Real Estate.

The Qualcomm account, though short-lived, served a purpose for the firm, Dossin said.

“We kind of grew up with that account and it helped put the infrastructure in place so when the next client came along we were ready,” she said.

Roughly two years after losing the Qualcomm business, DGWB won a shootout to replace incumbent Bozell Worldwide on the $30 million national account of Irvine-based Toshiba America Information Systems Inc.’s Computer Systems division. The agency added another $10 million in billings when it picked up the Toshiba Electronic Imaging division account in September.

DGWB has had its struggles over the past decade, including a buyout of previous partners and the loss of some big accounts, but the good agencies always seem to bounce back, said OC Ad Club co-president Bruce Mayo, a partner in Lawrence, Mayo & Ponder, Newport Beach.

“They have done consistent work and the bigger the work, the harder it is to do consistent work as you go further up the food chain with bigger clients,” Mayo said. “It’s harder to maintain the work that you know gets results because it gets watered down in committees and middle management. To DGWB’s credit, they do their homework. It’s tough to sell some of the bigger clients without compromising too much.” n

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