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Gut’s first US boss on how it’s taking on America after its Agency of the Year win


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

August 3, 2023 | 8 min read

Sandra Alfaro on her plan to increase organic growth at the buzzy indie agency on the back of its Cannes Lions Agency of the Year accolade.

Sandra Alfaro

Sandra Alfaro, Gut‘s new US CEO / Gut

Between the pandemic and the current economic crisis, the last five years have not been kind to most advertising agencies. Except for Gut.

Founded in Miami and Buenos Aires in 2018 by former WPP execs Anselmo Ramos and Gaston Bigio, the indie shop has established seven international offices and a staff of almost 500 people in just a few short years. It was one of a handful of indie agencies to clean up at Cannes this year, culminating in being named Agency of the Year, and in recent months has been tempting execs away from DDB’s frigid Chicago precincts to the palm-shaded boulevards of Miami.

Sandra Alfaro, formerly president of DDB, is the latest. Speaking to The Drum – moving boxes behind her, displaced Jack Russell terrier at her feet – she says the chance to become the agency’s first-ever American CEO was too good to pass up.

DDB, however, is likely still reeling. At the Omnicom shop, she replaced then-president Andrea Diquez in October 2022, after she left to become Gut’s global CEO. Alfaro stayed at DDB for less than a year before following her to the agency.

“I’ve nothing but wonderful things to say about DDB. I learned a lot and really enjoyed my time there. But this opportunity is just incredible,” Alfaro says.

After establishing offices in Argentina, Brazil and the Netherlands, Gut needed a US leader to ensure this core market didn’t lose focus or momentum. “It’s at the stage where the US needed that special focus and attention,” she says.

Alfaro began her career at the first Latino agency in the US, Conill Advertising, and over three decades, ended up president of DDB in Chicago. Along the way, she spent time at Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, J Walter Thompson and Grey, founded a career coaching side hustle and was an executive at 305 Worldwide.

A New York native, Alfaro’s now set to return to the east coast with her family and terrier, Bruno, in tow. “My son, who’s nine, named him. At the time, I was working for [305 Worldwide], where the co-founder was Pitbull. So the rule was: don’t tell Pitbull we named the dog after Bruno Mars.”

Much of her time in the industry has been spent in client services – and honing a personal philosophy on business relationships and the role of an ad agency. “Clients usually come to agencies to do ads,” she says. But creative projects and campaigns don’t have to be where those relationships end. “It’s my belief that if you do that really well, you will become their marketing partner, and you go beyond advertising.”

Though Gut has recently sharpened its reputation for advertising creative by winning a bunch of Lions, she says her first priority will be to tend to its current client relationships – and in the process, increase organic growth.

Current clients include soft cheese brand Philadelphia, coffeehouse chain Tim Horton’s, Google and brewer Stella Artois. Its ’Artois Probability’ campaign for the latter gained it a Grand Prix this year.

Though she‘ll be based in Florida, the company‘s LA outpost is a priority. “Los Angeles is an office that has all the potential in the world... [but] it needs to grow more,“ she says.

To achieve that, she wants to get her new team to think like consultancy competitors, not a creative boutique.

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“It has always been my ambition and aspiration for clients to really see us as a true business partner. That means solving problems that go beyond marketing, where the solution is a non-marketing solve,” she says. “You can train folks to listen a certain way so that they're not just listening for the next assignment or deliverable, but are curious and asking questions that are going to get them to understand the client’s business more.

“Fostering hunger, curiosity, a love of craft, makes us better business partners,” she argues. She adds that approach should help Gut fit in better on integrated accounts. “If you are contributing holistically, it makes you a better partner.”

And Gut isn’t done expanding its real estate footprint. To grow in the States, Alfaro suggests the agency will be on the lookout for burgeoning commercial creative scenes or clients opening up new regional markets. “You can grow as a client’s footprint grows. You can see a white space, an underserved area, and put a new office there,” she says.

Growth will have to be handled cautiously, though. Gut’s international team is still tight-knit enough that the company flew most of the firm – hundreds of staffers – to Buenos Aries earlier this year for a corporate retreat celebrating its fifth anniversary.

The gesture made an impression on Alfaro. She recalls watching videos of the trip: “Here’s me, an outsider who didn’t know anything about the agency… I had tears watching the video. I had chills because what you could see was that culture, alive, and you could feel it.”

She hopes to keep the team’s internal culture intact – and to be around to get an invite – long enough to celebrate Gut’s first decade in business in five years. Growing in the US, she adds, will be done with care. “It’s about identifying what model works best for our talent and people, and in a way that protects our culture.”

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