Raul Cardos took a calculated risk—and a leap of faith—when he resigned a major client last year. After the owner and CEO of Mexico City-based Anonimo learned that his tequila client Casa Cuervo was shifting most of its budget to other brands, Anonimo dropped the business and was then invited into one of Mexico's biggest 2015 pitches, for Diageo. The agency won, and the bigger Johnnie Walker & J&B accounts helped get Anonimo's growth back on track; revenue dipped to $2 million in 2015 from $2.2 million the year before but is expected to hit $2.5 million in 2016.
Separately, Mr. Cardos is trying to reform the pitch process in Mexico. "We won't pitch for free if more than three agencies are involved and creative work is required," he said.
Since adopting that policy, Anonimo has opted out of 12 reviews this year but won 5 accounts without pitching, including Scott's Miracle-Gro, wireless brand Telcel, and petcare chain +Kota, he said. Now he's working with Mexico's agency association to develop guidelines to improve the pitch process that he hopes other agencies will join Anonimo in following.
Two years ago he started an ad school, Academia Mexicana de Creatividad, to help build talent and train agencies and clients in the creative process; more than 300 people have taken classes so far. "Being independent, you don't have as many resources to train your people," he said.
When Mr. Cardos opened Anonimo in 2009, after years as one of Mexico's leading creative directors at Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather and DDB Mexico, where he also took the top job of president, it was still early days for Mexico's now-thriving independent agency sector. In fact, his former agency warned him he would fail, he said. In a major change over the last few years, independent local shops in Mexico City now pitch against global networks for business—and often win. In the three-month Diageo review, Anonimo was pitted against incumbent FCB, Publicis, Ogilvy and Saatchi & Saatchi.
For another client, Coca-Cola Co., Anonimo took the soft drink marketer's "Share a Coke" effort to an overlooked community by inscribing names on Coke cans in Braille for blind students.
The agency also cracked the problem of how to promote Sprite during the holiday season filled with messages of goodwill that don't really fit Sprite's tone or target. The solution: focus on bad gifts. Anonimo created an irreverent exchange platform for Sprite where people could upload pictures of unwanted presents to Noloquiero.mx ("I don't want it") that others could claim for free, and promoted the most hideous offerings on social media. Getting into the spirit, Anonimo claimed for itself a guitar-playing mariachi toad that featured in one of the videos and now resides in Mr. Cardos'office.
Another campaign, for language school Interlingua, capitalized on Mexico's 4.2 million smartphone users to offer simple English lessons on Instagram.
"About 30% of our income is from digital," Mr. Cardos said. To boost those capabilities, he is negotiating to buy a majority stake in a local digital shop. "We'd be the only independent agency with that power."
Fast growth also means Anomaly is looking for a new home. The 57 staffers are currently squeezed into a beautiful old house with stained glass windows and such scenic outdoor space that a client asked to borrow the deck to get married.
Anonimo's biggest move may still be ahead. Mr. Cardos is eyeing the U.S. market, where he says he'd like to open a U.S. Hispanic shop soon.