Located 550 miles from Mexico City, Saltillo is a quiet town surrounded by a semi-desert landscape. Except for a few billboards next to the main road, advertising is almost nonexistent and it's the last place you'd imagine that some of the most famous advertising agencies in the world would turn to get their most-talked about work produced.
Yet over its 10 years of existence, Saltillo-based Grupo W has become a favored partner of north-of-the-border legends such as Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and Wieden & Kennedy.
To North American eyes, Grupo W is one of the best low-cost options when it comes to digital production. But that's just one side of the story. The truth is Grupo W also stands out creatively, as shown by the work it has done directly with marketers like Unilever with no big agencies intervening. A while ago, people from all over the world were stunned by its work for Rexona, which went on to pick up awards in local and regional festivals, including a silver Lion at Cannes in 2008. Other highlights included The Stuntman and a game called Action City.
"We feel very strongly that the production vendors we choose to work with have the ability to deliver on our creative concepts and be able to add a great deal to the concept as well. Grupo W can deliver on both", says Derek Richmond, executive producer from Goodby Silverstein, San Francisco. He added: "We have worked together on several projects and in every case they have exceeded our expectations both in production and creatively."
One of the latest projects with Goodby, a NASCAR widget for Sprint, launched a couple of months ago. Mr. Richmond pointed out animation and 3D skill, smart ideas, sensibility and excellent execution involved in its production. Stella Wong, Goodby's senior producer, commented on the team attitude: "They are flexible and have an 'anything is possible' mindset.'"
Founding partners Miguel Calderón and Ulises Valencia have given the same answer to all the international networks that have come to them with an offer to buy the agency: "No, thanks." "The networks' spirit is different: They are cold and numbers is all they can think about. Not that numbers aren't important, but there's more to business than that," said Mr. Calderón.
To be sure, a clear, work-focused atmosphere strikes you as soon as you walk in the agency, as if you were entering a factory in which each of the jobs is art-craft polished. Maybe it's because they were raised in this quiet city that both Mr. Valencia and Mr. Calderón still handle things with that transparency and straightforwardness so highly valued among their colleagues. Also, Grupo W has opened its own professional school of crafts, illustration, web design and programming.
Employees joke around, saying that there's only one decent bar to drink at the end of the day -- and even that bar isn't so great. Maybe that's why the owners of Grupo W built out a nicely designed space where people actually want to work. There's a pool in the middle of the house, a garden and even a grill for barbecues, to ease up long working nights.
"From the start, we have been an agency that proposes ideas," says Mr. Calderón. "Even in the production house role we play for other international agencies, we always come up with things that enhance the idea they brought us in the first place. Since the beginning, production has been considered essential in Grupo W, but we also have a very solid team in our strategy and creative departments."
The creative and programming teams couldn't get more international. There are experts from Spain, Russia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and, of course, Mexico. Spaniard Daniel Granatta is one of the most recognized professionals in the programming area of the Hispanic community, and Mexican Pedro Germán, a No. 1 creative and strategist.
A few months ago they launched Detective Stripes for Rexona Invisible, working on both creative and digital production. The campaign centered on a funky detective who had embarrassing white stains under his armpits. After the first three months, it showed spectacular results: more than 500,000 visits with an average of seven minutes of stay. The brand is positioned as the best of its segment with 22% of market share.
Guido van den Meersche, from Wieden's Amsterdam office, says: "They work their asses off and always come up with something that complements our concept creatively." With Wieden, they did "Choose Your Weapon" for Nike, a global campaign that came out in ten languages.
Grupo W, which last month opened a Mexico City office to work directly for clients like Danone, Coke and Unilever, is working for another international client, The One Show, redesigning the festival's website. "I got to know Grupo W's work when they entered a piece for deodorant Rexona in the Interactive Awards Show," said Kevin Swanepoel, president of the festival. "I thought it was fantastic, so two years ago I approached them to do the invitation for the interactive event. My expectation was very high but what they delivered was of much higher quality than I ever dreamed of."
He continued: "Now when the moment of redesigning the website came, the first thing I thought of was their attention to detail and the craft that they had shown in the work that they did for me previously. I was looking for a real artist, so when people come to our website they can feel it is a place of craft."