“I feel very uncomfortable now.”
That answer, to the first question asked to Anselmo Ramos, one of the masterminds behind David, the WPP agency that took the ad world by storm with breakthrough work, seemed a bit out of place.
“But that’s a great feeling,” he noted. “When I look at my career, every time I’ve advanced was a moment that was uncomfortable.”
Speaking with The Drum on stage at the Worldwide Partners Inc. (WPI) conference in Miami, Ramos wasn’t referring to the vibe of the room, but rather the fact that he, along with fellow former David co-founder Gaston Bigio, are entering the agency fray as freshly-minted independents with their agency, Gut.
The name, which adds to the pantheon of single-word agencies, is a tip of the creative hat to they type of work and Ramos and company hope to do.
“It’s visceral. It defines what we do and the kind of work we want to do,” he said. “Gut is about having courage to do something different and it’s also about trusting your feelings and a daily reminder. If you’re a client that doesn’t want to do good work, then you’re not going to call an agency Gut.”
Indeed, the work that Ramos has helped lead over the years is definition enough about the agency’s ambition. The difference, however, is that Ramos is on to the next chapter of his career and didn’t necessarily see the value in keeping with WPP.
“I’ve always wanted to have an independent agency. That’s always been my dream — and David was the closest I got to that,” said Ramos. “Clients from big brands are also open to talking to independent agencies.”
What’s interesting, and likely telling, is that during his time at David, most of the brands he came into contact with thought that the agency was independent. When he informed them that it was WPP, there was, according to Ramos, a sense of disappointment.
“Sometimes I’d go into meetings and tell them that David was part of WPP and people would say, ‘Really? I thought it was your agency.’ It was kind of a bummer [to them],” he said.
Taking the leap (and the work)
Now, he and his partners are navigating the uncharted waters of being independent, dealing with all of the essentials that, during his time with WPP, though important, weren’t his main concerns.
“Should we fly coach? What’s our bank? Everything is in the open [and] I don’t have daddy anymore,” said Ramos, referring to WPP.
Once he decided to make the leap, Ramos feared that the reaction would be less than positive. He couldn’t have been more wrong, as clients offered their enthusiastic support.
“They said, ‘finally, you’re doing this. I’m so happy for you,’” he said.
Yet, Ramos approaches the future of his clients with Gut in the same way that he did with David.
“Why David felt independent was because everything was about the work,” he said. “The work is the boss — that’s the most important thing. Then we can talk about anything else, but the work is everything. I think sometimes holding companies don’t talk enough about the work.”
It’s easy to understand why Ramos feels this strongly. Throughout his career, he has been at the forefront of some of the most impressive creative work, including Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ and game-changing creative for brands like Burger King, KraftHeinz and Budweiser — most of which has garnered significant industry praise and awards.
Where he also sees creative green space is in Gut’s ability to adapt to the changing landscape of advertising and marketing. Ramos also contends that access to the right people makes a difference for brands.
“Things change every six months,” he said. “As an independent, you can adapt faster to that. Additionally, clients like to deal with the founder and see that they really care about their businesses as much as they care about the creative idea. They feel that commitment and like that one-to-one relationship.”
Advice from the crowd
Usually, when leaders like Ramos take the stage, they are often doling out advice and wisdom. In this case, the assembled WPI partner agencies from around the world saw an opportunity to weigh in with their own advice, something that Ramos craves.
“I want to learn from all of you,” he said.
Advice ranged for the practical (think about a regional bank instead of a big one) to strategic (make reconciling invoices easy) to the epic, from Charlie Tombras, founder of Tombras Group.
“I’ve been in this for 52 years,” he said. “As long as you're passionate and every day is fun, just keep doing it and have the confidence that what you're doing is the right thing and you're going to succeed — and you will.”
For his part, Ramos is confident — and also not keen to sell. He also understands that, even though he is building a business, he is now part of a new, welcoming and supportive group.
“I hope that we can contribute with showing that it’s possible to do great work by being independent,” he said. “When I think of the agencies I admired from the past, they were all independent. Wieden+Kennedy, Droga5 — 72andSunny and Crispin before they were acquired. They are always driving the best work and I think, historically, if you think about the work in the industry, historically, it’s always been about independent agencies.”