Monday, March 16, 2009
Q: Introduce us to yourself and your company.
My name is Daniel Granatta, i'm from Spain and i work as Technological Creativity Director at Grupo W, an interactive agency located in Saltillo, a small place located in northern Mexico, an hour from Monterrey and the Texan US border. We mostly do interactive campaigns for local and international clients doing both creativity and production and also we work as a production company when required, most often for Goodby, Silverstein and Partners and Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, which is kind of cool because we learn a lot about new technologies (that in Mexican interactive industry cannot be proposed yet because of technological infrastructure) and methodologies taken in larger companies and adapt it into our own schemes.
We're pretty small (32 people and 6 more coming in the next couple of weeks) and we're trying to remain as that, with people enough to take two or three big projects at a time without wondering if we'll be able to do so. Our main characteristic is that we are insane about detail in each and every one of our projects, so we want to live to that and take care of every work we release, instead of growing so much that we are more worried about money than about quality.
Q: Interactive Producers come from all walks of life, they are a hybrid of talents, tell us about your background and how you got interested in digital production?
I always had a computer at home. I remember an old Vic20 and a Commodore64, which are now more of a legend than a reality, but they're for real! So when i finished high school i studied Computing Engineering, although it wasn't exaclty what i expected. Then one day i discovered Flash 3 and started doing my things. It was 1998 or so and when Flash 4 was released I started to apply some of the coding knowledge that i had learn at college (i'm still missing three subjects so i didn't finish it)
The thing is that back in those days using Flash was like being challenged all the time because of the limitations it had so i had lots of fun finding out things and tricks to overcome that limitations, and one day i decided to ran my own Flash-design shop. I was more into it because of interactive capabilities instead of animating so I ran it with two friends for 6 years and we did pretty well, we had our clients, our big clients and also we collaborated with some offline agencies that asked us to develop the interactive part of their off campaigns; we even got showcased by Taschen in a couple of books called "90 best agencies" and another one showcasing their own selection of best Flash sites and spoke at a few conferences and seminars, like Adobe's, OFFF and Mad in Spain. So, as we were just three people, we got all involved in the whole production process, from coding and animating to quality check and controlling versions, kind of creepy today thinking about how much stuff we worked out a day. Even in those days i started to write Flash and ActionScript books for spanish market, so i became well known in the Latin community of developers.
Then one day i felt frustrated and started to think that i was doing the same thing as two years before, then i thought that in two years i'd be doing the same thing as that day, so i decided to quit myself and start from scratch. A few months before my good fellas at Grupo W had offered me to join them, they were 11 people then and they were about to be bought by a large company (thanks to God that it didn't happen), so although at first i said no, in the end i moved to Saltillo as interactive director, doing some Flash programming and taking care of the interactive creativity and techniques applied for every project. I remember my first full project there was our beloved Stuntman (http://www.thestuntman.la) in which i coded the stunt guy, being dragged and all of that kinetic stuff. It was fun and we didn't know yet how successful was that project about to be.
Last October, i quit programming, at least from production projects, and what i do now is about creativity for our campaigns and also studying and learning digital insights, how people surf the net or uses social media apps, so our team can develop creative strategies a kind of R+D process for our present and future projects, involving Flash prototypes, developing FB apps and many other things... in the end 24 hours a day are not enough, but i do really have fun doing that, in fact it's like i always have fun when i change things and start from scratch about what i do.
But as i still love rock'n'roll i'm in charge of every project involving banners when they're needed. Looks like everybody hates banners but i love them, little pieces conceived and developed in a short period of time, so it's more like a rush for me, as the opposite side of doing my R+D stuff.
Q: How do you stay on top of emerging technologies and keep your team informed and motivated?
Grupo W is an amazing story of constancy, hard work and a bit of good luck. We learn a lot using trial and mistake method, so that's kind of dangerous but also rewarding, when you accomplish things just by pushing your own limits, then discovering that you have new limits to push. It was like that for many years (the company was founded in 1999) but now we have grown and now we have a R+D and strategic departments in which we are all the time looking for what's been done and what's happening, reading RSS feeds, tweet's and trying then to filter all of that information to our mexican context. This is interesting because Mexico has now 30 million of broadband connections, which is a lot in absolut terms, but really small in %, as the country has over 100 million people.
It means that our industry is like two-three years behind US, UK or Sweden, for instance, but then we can use what we learn from studying and working for larger agencies into our local/regional market, what makes us kind of state-of-the-art here in Mexico and Latin America.
We travel a lot too, to every major festival everytime we can, both creative (i.e. Clio) and technical (i.e. Flash in the Can) so in the end each part of the team is updated with the latest news in their respective fields.
Q: What does your ideal client/project look like?
Our favorite client is the one that teaches us what his brand looks like and tries to push the boundaries of it, being humble as to learn from our digital knowledge. It's an exchange in which each part gives the best of it to the other one. The more it happens in equal terms, the more succesful the project is going to be, because then the relationship is non about client-agency, it's about a common goal set by the two parts. In the end, if you join us for a meeting with some of our favorite clients you couldn't say which one in the room is from the agency or from the client.
Q: How do you educate your clients and set realistic expectations for a project?
The closest the relationship between us and the client is, the easier to work with. One thing that worked out pretty well for us was taking our clients to festivals such as One Show, Clio or Cannes, for them to know what is been doing in the interactive field these days and then expanding their horizons and getting them ready for our proposals. We do not have a manual on how to deal with clients but trust me that nurturing personal relationships is one big giant step.
Another goal to achieve is making them understand that success/failure is relative for a project if we're talking about brand building, because in the end that is such a long road and each failure is a learning to apply in future projects. Also success is relative because it sets high expectations for the next piece or work and this one will be measured not for itself but compared to the older one, even when they are maybe, i don't know, a viral-intended video and a game, which are not comparable under the same terms.
Then, having that bond, things are much more under control, taking each step together and taking the goods and the bads of each project. Then the expectations for the next one are collective, and not just from one side.
On the other hand, when you're not able to build that bond, it's kind of uncertain, as you'll never knew what is really expecting your client even if it's written in a brief document. Then the process becomes more much aseptyc and hard to measure, as the parameters of success or failure are so many that i don't think that everybody remains happy after the whole thing has ended.
Q: What was the best project you have ever worked on?
I have so many memories but the one i liked the most is one in which i didn't take any part on the production thing, but on the strategy one. The project is "Detective Stripes" (http://www.detectivestripes.com), our last release for our client Unilever-Rexona (although i think it's called Degree in the US and Sure in UK)
2008 was a weird year for us because we won so many things because of our Who's Fermin campaign (http://www.grupowprojects.com/rexonapower) but inside we had many turbulences, as we grew up from 14 people to 25 and that adaptation was really difficult both for the new and for the ones already working there. In fact i think that for a short period of time we lost our identity not knowing who we really were, the ones receiving awards or the ones struggling time after time at home. Then fall came and Unilever-Rexona called us to run their new global campaign (our first one!) and we got very excited about that, all the pre-production phase, storyboards, dummies for filming, etc. After the shooting we all checked the stuff we had and then everything and everyone clicked in the same channel, so although there were many sleepless nights, in the end everybody made their best effort to make the project happen and transforming the bad vibe into good vibe, testing the project all the time and suggesting things like what about this, you could take out that, and so on. I believe that it's pretty obvious the collective effort when visiting the released work.
As i said before, i have many memories about Stuntman or another projects less known as Semillero (http://www.semillero.net), a school for creatives in Mexico City, but not as intense as the Stripes' process.
Q: How many projects are you comfortable producing at one given time?
Due that i'm not a producer in the orthodox way i don't think i can answer the question properly... I enjoy a lot being involved in as many projects as i can, from the creative or the technological side, whatever stage the project is in. When it's banners time then i feel it like if they were different projects even when the campaign is the same, as the specs for each portal is different and technologies such as Eyeblaster are just beginning their operations here in Mexico, so optimizing banners is such a challenge... and even more funny because we're not just in contact with the client, but also with the media agency that buys the spaces in which the banners are placed in.
Then you can count like 4 or 5 projects at a time, being responsible or not about the timings. Fortunately we have various people (Rodrigo, Pit, Alexandra) that are capable of registering the whole production process in their minds so it's very easy for them to identify if we're going fine or if we're going under a red alert. I admire and respect so much what they do.
Q: What does your dream production team look like?
More than particular profiles, i feel comfortable working with people that understands that we all have to learn and walk together in this media, because nobody knows shit. That means that everybody should be committed to get the best out of them and don't be scared about proposing new things or complain and let the producer know if they feel that something is not going in the right direction. Transparent people, i think, i'm really lucky to have met a lot of cool people here at Grupo W, all of us kind of weird in a sense, but transparent them all.
Q: How do you ensure that your client's best interests are met?
Indeed we are so hard between us before releasing anything just to try to meet client's best interests, even from the idea and many times also after the execution, sometimes we've been polishing a project during two or three weeks after the release of it.
When being a producer it's like being a digital Mata-Hari sometimes (working for two bands) and it's hard because you're being shot from both sides, haha, so in the end and in front of the client i prefer giving credit to the team when things go well and take the blame if they're not so well, as it's easier then for the client to channelize their worries and i can modulate them into the different areas of the production.
Q: What is your vision of what the next phase of our industry is going to look like?
It's amazing the way that social media has reached our lives. A couple of days ago i was writing at Adverblog.com that in my opinion, the microsite format, as we all know about it nowadays is coming to an end because it reminds me of an expensive interactive version of the old TV spot format. Formerly, people watched TV ads and then they went to the related site, now this kind of site is not enough. Not the information has changed, it's just that there's a lot much more of information flowing, and campaigns running succesful are not using single microsites as a dead end, but as an intermediate level into social media or into another actions from the same brand. In fact, it looks like the Facebook app became the new microsite, as it is easier to share while inside of a social network.
I found out particularly interesting too that the success of many collaborative campaigns is obviously in a deep relationship with the way in which users embrace technology as a habit. That is maybe the reason of why US and specially Japanese campaigns engage people in such an outstanding way, and makes me think of the face that many brand managers would show if we'd propose such things here in Mexico, for instance, haha.
And finally, there's a LOT of cool stuff already done for mobile devices; it was often said that mobile connectivity was the future but apps weren't worth of that quote. But now, and not because of the content available as a content itself, but because of the content that allows the device to become more of a tool or an interface to get people involved, i think that mobile is now a driving force for interactive experiences.
Q: Please share a snippet of wisdom that you would like to impart on our readers.
I wish i had more wisdom (if any) to share but here in Grupo W we try to follow our instincts when working, even if it sounds weird or unrealistic for other people, trying always to push our boundaries even when we're not supposed to. Last year we were ranked 4th interactive agency in the world by Gunn Report, and i think being dreamers instead of realists helped a lot, so as to finish i would say something like "realism is the most refined way of cowardice"... sounds really deep huh? But my advice is that you don't be afraid of struggling, there is a lesson in everything, and someday struggles becomes success as the most natural thing in the world.
Posted by Craig Elimeliah at 1:21 PM