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How This Agency Is Making Yucatán Mexico’s Creative Hotspot

Advertising Agency
Mérida, Mexico
Vales GCD, Jorge Vales Bolio, on how his family is continuing his father’s legacy and putting Mérida, Yucatan on the international map, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

Jorge Vales Bolio is the general creative director at Vales, an ad agency his father started in Mérida, Mexico in 1999. Raised in the ad world and constantly visiting the agency and meeting creatives while growing up, Jorge says the business is in his DNA. He soon fell in love with infomercials and his father’s line of work more generally - an industry which he had helped pioneer in Mexico’s south-easterly region of Yucatán during the ‘80s. 

After studying communications at university, he enrolled in a local advertising school in Mérida to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, in 2006, his father passed away, leaving the responsibility of the agency with the 23-year-old Jorge and his mother - co-founder and president of Vales - Rocío Bolio.

“We made a huge effort to continue my father’s pathway with the team - trying to continue the show without the main character,” says Jorge. “It was an extraordinary challenge, but the agency survived, and then, it grew. During this process, I had the opportunity to get to know some of the most loving and generous people - friends that invited me to learn from them and share their knowledge with this young (as they called me) ‘padawan’.”

His journey from 2006 to today has since been an odyssey of advertising experiences, completing an internship at Mexican agencies S2 and Recreo under Spook Perez and Lalo Gonzales - two creatives he now calls his brothers - before studying account planning at the Miami Ad School in Madrid, and subsequently adding to his professional resume as a copywriter, planner, creative director and VP of operations at a variety of businesses in Yucatán. Since 2009, he has been the general creative director at Vales, and created a board of directors for the agency four years ago - ascending to the head of the agency, with his mother (“a real warrior, partner in crime and mentor”) as president. 

(Jorge Vales Bolio)

Remembering his father’s creativity that brought Vales to life, Jorge says, “My father was an outcast - someone who had a lot of artistic talent but he didn't understand quite what to do with it. He painted, wrote songs and loved art. It was a problem for his parents, living in a small traditional town in Mexico. They didn't know what to do with him.” He shares that the agency was born after his father fell out of love with the creative studio he had previously founded in 1983. Wanting to establish a smaller, boutique creative shop, his father went into business with his mother and chased his dream - and Vales has existed proudly ever since.  

Originally founded as “a core of creative thinkers who get involved with brands to make them extraordinary”, Jorge’s father made it his goal to become Mérida’s first internationally recognised agency. They soon developed a creative business strategy element to Vales’ offering and formed a network of talent that could execute campaigns in all formats, from print to social to digital and beyond. Whether it be the creative or marketing communication solutions, Jorge says that the agency and its work are always centred around a core set of principles:

Strategic creativity fuels results. 

Don't settle things the way they are, just because they are that way. 

Bigger challenges = Biggest rewards. 

We believe in balance: Eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep and eight hours to live.

Our client needs to be our closest friend. 

Grow together. 

Neuron kills the budget. 

Be brave enough to dare to be extraordinary. 

People like to laugh, make them laugh. 

Despite these strong pillars, running a family business is never easy. Jorge explains that companies grow quickly and therefore require the family to grow and adapt alongside. He shares that family members who are also business partners must have clarity in their roles and responsibilities, communicate well, be prepared to wear multiple hats and ultimately, have a shared vision. Creating a strong foundation by following this advice, Jorge works not only with his mother, but also his siblings. He describes his sister Mariana, a copywriter and experienced creative director, and brother Diego, a Creative Circle award-winning art director, as “very talented advertising professionals” and says, “Today, the family works together as a team and shares a family dream.”

(Jorge [below] with his mother and siblings) 

As well as its strong familial bonds, Vales is also defined by its relatively unique location in Mérida - an “amazing place with lots of cultural richness,” says Jorge. He highlights that the city has historically been home to painters, poets, craftspeople and musicians, like legendary Mayan-Mexican artist and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Armando Manzanero. And now, Mérida has become a modern hub for aspiring creatives, graphic designers, motion graphics artists, illustrators and more due to the high quality of life (ranked the safest city in Mexico) and great cultural heritage.

“Mérida is in one of the lesser developed regions of Mexico, so there are not as many big brands here to service. So, the highest achieving professionals are the ones who have exported their work. Mérida offers a huge opportunity to find great talent… we think Mérida has all the ingredients to become a creative capital,” says Jorge. “It's becoming more and more interesting for people to come live here. It's a beautiful place and was ranked by the Condé Nast Traveller as one of the top cities to visit in 2022. This has given Mérida a new wave of digital nomads that can live anywhere, and are preferring Mérida. Many of these nomads are in the creative industries.”

This creative buzz isn’t just being felt domestically, however, as Jorge shares that the word of the day is ‘nearshoring’ - a term used to describe how Mexican businesses like Vales can service the US market due to its close proximity and timezone compatibility. He says, “We think this could be a huge opportunity for Mérida. We are betting on making the creative industries of Yucatán the creative nearshoring solution for the marketing and advertising industries [of the US].” 

Though, this isn’t to say that Vales has an exclusively international focus. In fact, Jorge shares that a local project for Nextel, a wireless service provider that has since folded into T-Mobile US, stands out as a milestone moment in the company’s history. “Nextel had struggled to achieve good results in southeast Mexico (our region), and they tried everything. Everything except hiring a local agency,” explains Jorge. “We won the account with creativity and local understanding of how an international brand could empathise with a local market.” After guiding them through the creative process with regional insight and changing the slogan to connect better with the local audience, the Vales team created a campaign for Nextel that reached the Effie Awards finals and saw results on the ground in Yucatán. 

“We refocused from ‘business empowerment’ to ‘business time saving’,” he says. “The whole campaign evolved around the word ‘ahorita’ which, in Mexico, has two meanings: ‘now’ and ‘later’ - the same word! So we made a campaign talking about how Nextel would fight that. It was our first work with an international brand, it helped us bullet-proof our teams and the way we worked. The agency had worked a lot on preparing to serve big clients, but this was the first, and it was very satisfying to work in the big leagues and feel confident playing there.”

Other Mexican campaigns from the agency that give Jorge a sense of pride include ‘Deja de Creer y Comenza a Saber’ a campaign for a diagnostics lab to get people to stop googling their symptoms online, as well as Vales’ work for the first franchise gas station network in Mexico, La Gas, and ‘Sal a Votar’ which is a regular campaign for the Business Coordinating Council (CCE) of Yucatán that invites people to vote in imaginative ways. “But,” says Jorge, “we always say that the project that excites us more than any other… is the next one.”

So what is the next project for Vales? In 2023, Jorge and the team are working with clients - old and new - across a variety of sectors, from software development to retail, food and beverage, real estate and more. “We are working on very interesting projects right now,” he says. “Clients like Webhelp, who is landing in Mérida and needs to hire 1,500 people fast! We are making campaigns to help them achieve that.” He adds, “One that has us very excited is ‘Humans of Yucatán’, a project by Emmelie Forsyth (Vales’ business development specialist) to turn the Yucatán Peninsula into a great spot for production companies to come and have a turn-key solution for their projects.” So whether working directly on projects to invite international interest in the region, or partnering with local clients to develop new products, platforms and solutions, Jorge believes that the future is bright, not just for Vales, but for the city of Mérida and the surrounding region too. 

Describing the potential of the ‘Humans of Yucatán’ project he concludes, “From scouting to production management, local talent integration, accommodation and everything [else] you need to have an amazing production experience in one of the best cities in Mexico, the beaches, haciendas, colonial heritage, jungle, and many other things make Yucatán a great place to visit.”

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