Written by Deena Douara

One way or another, Salvador Alanis was going to find a way to tell stories.

That was clear the moment he earned a spot as a puppeteer in Televisa’s Muppets show while in high school. His father, a passionate physician, was less enthusiastic about this foray into the arts. As Alanis puts it, “he went nuts.”

So, to simultaneously rebel and comply, Alanis studied chemical engineering (while quietly writing on the side), and Procter & Gamble’s hiring team immediately recognized he would be an asset — but not in the engineering department.

“They said ‘you don’t have the profile of an engineer … Why don’t you try advertising and tell us what you think.’”

That was the launch of an extremely productive career that would include bringing reality television to Mexico via Big Brother and Fear Factor, leading a production company, founding an ad agency, and writing five books. The stress of some of those experiences culminated in the loss of vision in one eye and the looming threat of greater impact on his health and wellbeing.

“(My wife) told me she understood I was having fun but she was not having fun. It was not the type of life she wanted … It was fantastic but also a nightmare; it was 24/7,” Alanis explains.

It was time for a change of place, and pace. It was, eventually, time for Canada, and Polka.

In industry terms, Polka is an integrated marketing agency that maximizes profitability by uncovering a brand’s optimum distribution strategies. It builds brand loyalty through audience engagement across multiple platforms — market activations, image services, event marketing, and digital and social media.

In other words, Polka finds ways to tell a brand’s story most effectively. And, atypically, it sells the completed production, not just an idea.

Clients have included Clinique, Fairweather, ESPN, Samsung and Neutrogena. Alanis has also previously worked with Nestle, Johnson & Johnson, Time Inc., Coca Cola, NFL, and Adidas.

While he’s resided in Mexico, Sweden, Spain, France and New York, Alanis says there’s something “fascinating” happening in Toronto right now.

“I really believe there’s something here that people are not seeing.”

He was less enthusiastic at first. Basing his impressions on a 1990 visit, he assumed Toronto would be too quiet, too dull to support a creative agency.

So he was shocked by the changes he witnessed years later.

He compares it to Prussia during the Renaissance: a place of real cultural exchange and dialogue that resulted in the emergence of important streams of thought.

He particularly values Toronto’s abundant cultural offerings and vibrant artist community that coincides, somehow, with a small-town feel.

“I fell in love,” he says. “You can’t find this anywhere else in the world.”

He elaborates, emphatic that diversity results in fresh offerings, including in marketing campaigns and productions.

“It makes possible a different kind of expression … a unique perspective.”

Housed in an Artscape creative hub in the city’s west end, and supported by LatAm Startups, Alanis says he is spoilt for choice of diverse talent, and adds there is nowhere better to set up his business and raise his two children with his photographer/academic wife.

Polka has also launched the multidisciplinary Institute for Creative Exchange in partnership with the University of Toronto’s Department of Latin American Studies, intended to support creative expression by artists and cultural practitioners. Its first documentary, Unfold, about the proliferation of Mexican artists in the late 1990s, will be ready for distribution in June.

Through his work at Polka and the Institute for Creative Exchange, Alanis says he’s found a way to unite his passions and tell stories, in one way and another.