Gut trusts its intuition and works ‘at the speed of indie’
In January 2020, Gut brought the entire team from its three offices to São Paulo, a way for the fledgling agency to plot its path forward and celebrate its early success.
The agency’s leaders decided to hold its beginning of the year party in just a matter of hours. “That’s the speed of indie, we can do those kinds of things,” says Anselmo Ramos, who founded Gut in April 2018 with Gaston Bigio.
They had no idea the effect that gathering would have on the rest of 2020. When staff in Miami, São Paulo and Buenos Aires went remote due to the coronavirus pandemic, they were armed with a camaraderie that might not have existed without the event. “You can’t imagine how that really paid for the rest of the year,” says Bigio. “People-first was a good decision.”
The two-day affair was a mix of work and play. Carmen Rodriguez, a partner and the agency’s chief client officer, even sang in a Gut band playing songs including “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”
Soon after, the leadership team was doing what it could to protect the staff, assessing weekly whether they’d have to cut any jobs, recalls Ramos. Gut stuck to its values, despite the uncertainty. “We didn’t say ‘Let’s accept any clients now because we need money,’” says Ramos. “We are a brave agency for brave clients. We’re still looking for brave clients. We’re not going to change that.”
Not only did it not let anyone go in 2020, Gut brought on dozens of new hires as business grew.
“Our intuition was right at that moment and we decided to go all in,” says Bigio.
Gut’s team more than doubled from January 2020 until April 2021, when the team topped 250 people, including 40 based out of its fourth and newest location, Toronto.
Founder chats with the staff allowed Ramos and Bigio to share, on screen, their feelings about what was going on. Soon, they brought in guest speakers, including Cindy Gallop and David Droga. Leaders also held “Gut checks,” one-on-one conversations with employees not about work, but to check in during the height of the pandemic. “We were sharing and being there for people in case they needed some support,” says Rodriguez.
Diversity, she says, is at the agency’s core. Its founders and all six partners are LatinX. In Miami, 19 nationalities are represented, 20% of the staff identifies as being a person of color, and 57% are women. “The great work you see out there is directly connected to this,” says Rodriguez.
Gut’s Miami office saw revenue soar 198% last year. That growth included moving from project work to agency-of-record on one of the hottest restaurant brands, Popeyes.
“I trust their instincts,” says Bruno Cardinali, chief marketing officer, Popeyes U.S. “If I need to fix something or I want to tap into an opportunity, I call them first and seed the idea into their minds.”
A highlight piece of Popeyes work was sparked during that January getaway. Gut’s team noticed Popeyes fans on social media suggesting some of the maroon and orange pieces in Ivy Park, Beyoncé’s hit clothing line with Adidas, resembled the chicken chain’s uniforms. Gut suggested selling pieces of the fast food giant’s uniform to the public, and Popeyes quickly agreed and sprang to action, reaching out to franchisees in Florida for restaurant workers to model them. The site www.thatlookfrompopeyes.com went live within days, earning more than 700 million media impressions as items sold out, with proceeds going to Popeyes’ foundation.
“It was a joint effort to really make it happen,” says Cardinali.
Gut keeps finding fitting ways to insert brands into cultural conversations. It worked on Headspace’s first TV commercial, which offered unemployed Americans free access to the mediation app. “It was a bold act from their side,” says Ramos. That somewhat gutsy move boosted Headspace’s recognition at a time when traditional ads may not have felt right, and led to more than $30 million in earned media value.
Gut collaborated with Bud Light Seltzer and Twitch on “Battle of the Best,” a three-day esports tournament featuring a Kygo concert, which became the top brand stream in Twitch history. And the Philly Series 5 cheesecake kit was Gut’s way to bring cream cheese—yes, cream cheese—into the conversation around new gaming consoles such as Sony PlayStation 5. “It shows how iconic brands can do more, can push further, can really hijack conversations,” says Ramos.
Three years in, Gut remains focused on courage, transparency and, most importantly, says Bigio, intuition. Even so, one reason Gut stood out in 2020 had to do with types of clients it had. “A lot of them were doing OK from a sales perspective,” says Ramos, noting the agency wasn’t working with clients in, say, travel.
Being a small agency may also have helped. A few clients said they would hold off on shrinking their budgets, knowing every payment mattered to the budding shop. “It was truly emotional to get those calls,” says Bigio.
On Jan. 3, 2020, Ramos fired off a “My next decade” tweet that listed a plan for each year. The 2021 goal? The Ad Age Agency A-list.