Fresh out of college and working for a local advertising firm in Wichita Falls, Pete Lerma often found himself wondering what it would take to land a gig at a big-city agency like those featured in Ad Age and Adweek. In 1998, he decided to find out. He moved to Dallas and set his sights on a job at The Richards Group. He mocked up a cover of Ad Age, placing a photo of himself front and center, with the agency’s office building in the background. The headline read something to the effect of: “Pete Lerma Joins The Richards Group, Has Competition Scrambling.” It made an impression.
Dallas was a world away from his hometown of Dumas, north of Amarillo. Born to Mexican immigrants, Lerma and his brother vacuumed the classrooms of their Catholic school. Their stepmother believed in the value of education, but private school wasn’t something the family could afford. So, in exchange for a tuition discount, the boys cleaned on the weekends. “We hated it,” Lerma says. “But now it’s something I look back on and see as a valuable part of my upbringing.”
He worked for a local radio station while attending Midwestern State University. His offbeat resume—and the mock magazine cover—helped him get his foot in the door at The Richards Group. He started in its digital division, Click Here Labs. Within five years, he was named to head it. After about a decade with the firm, he and founder Stan Richards sat down to discuss launching a Hispanic-focused agency.
Richards/Lerma was born in 2009. Its first client was Advance Auto Parts. By March 2010, it had added MetroPCS (now Metro by T-Mobile), Ram Trucks, and The Home Depot. “In a very short period of time, we were in the car business and working with a wireless carrier and one of the largest retailers in the country,” Lerma says. “That was a huge responsibility, and we had to build up the agency quickly to meet the needs of the clients.”
Lerma describes Richards/Lerma as a next-generation agency. Technology and the country’s increasingly multicultural population are going to play a huge role in the future, and Lerma’s understanding of both makes him ideally suited for what lies ahead. Ad Age recently listed Richards/Lerma as the 11th largest Hispanic advertising agency in the country. The company has grown to 63 employees, with notable clients like Keurig Dr Pepper, Southwest Airlines, and Avocados from Mexico.
The group will soon celebrate its 10-year anniversary with a rebrand, and Lerma says he’s optimistic about what’s to come. “Having grown up in digital, it trained me to embrace evolution and to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” he says. “No matter how it plays out, I want us to be at the forefront of it.”