David vs. Gut: How a Talent War Has Engulfed 2 of Today’s Hottest Agencies

Miami is becoming a new battleground for creative leadership

Since two of Ogilvy-owned David's founders launched Gut, the independent shop has been snapping up David's veteran talent.
Adweek illustration by Dianna McDougall. Background image: Getty Images

Even in the agency world, where talent poaching is a constant fact of life, it’s rare to see doors rotating as quickly as those at two of Miami’s most prominent shops right now.

In the dizzying shuffle of talent centered on Ogilvy-owned David and independent agency Gut, some of the industry’s most highly awarded and respected talents have relocated in recent months—with three more defections from David announced today.

The surging flow is redefining both agencies, with David bringing in a new generation of leadership and Gut establishing itself as a force that’s ready to make its creative impact be known globally.

It’s also a much-needed injection of adrenaline for Miami’s agency community, which saw Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s main operation move away to Boulder in 2006 and, ultimately, close its doors in Miami after almost 30 years. In recent years, David has helped put Miami back on the global agency map with its groundbreaking work for Burger King, Heinz and Coca-Cola, and now Gut is ready to build its reputation on similar A-list brands.

A talent pipeline on full blast

Since Gut’s inception in 2017 (they officially named the agency in April 2018), agency co-founders Anselmo Ramos and Gaston Bigio have progressively built their profile and, along the way, poached several leaders from David, the agency they helped form in 2011.

Today, the agency announced that two of David Miami’s most awarded ecds, Ricardo Casal and Juan Javier Peña Plaza, have joined the agency in addition to Carmen Rodriguez, David’s head of account management, who is joining Gut as a partner and its first chief client officer.

Juan Javier Peña Plaza, Carmen Rodriguez and Ricardo Casal moved from David to Gut.
Gut

These moves for the 50-person indie with offices in Miami, Buenos Aires and São Paulo, come on the heels of other high-profile departures from David including its managing director, Paulo Fogaca, and Ignacio Ferioli and Joaquín Cubria, who left David to become partners and chief creative officers for Gut in Argentina.

Conversely, David has been busy refilling its own talent pool after those departures with the appointment of Spanish creative star Francisco “Pancho” Cassis, the former ecd at LOLA MullenLowe in Madrid, as David’s global chief creative officer.

Casal and Peña Plaza, named to Adweek’s Creative 100 in 2017, were part of teams that won 67 Cannes Lions in eight years. They’ve now joined forces—again—with Gut’s Ramos, whose career tally includes around 200 Lions, with seven Grand Prix. (For his part, new David global CCO Cassis has led work resulting in more than 55 Lions, 22 of which were Grand Prix.)

While David has been a hotbed of creative talent since its launch, Ramos points out that there was one thing David, as part of WPP’s Ogilvy network, could never offer: true independence.

“David was amazing and a great agency,” said Ramos. “[But] we weren’t 100% happy because it wasn’t ours. Even though we were founders and partners, there were limits to things that we could do, which is normal. Now, we’re going into our second year as an agency, and can work with anyone, and hire anyone. It’s total freedom, but now things are starting to get serious.”

One goal, two pathways

There is a competitive landscape in the market and one with a history that, interestingly, includes a shared client in Burger King’s (and currently Popeyes’) global CMO Fernando Machado. A big part of David’s pedigree was built on its work for Burger King, and now Gut is carving out its own niche with work for BK sister brands Popeyes and Tim Hortons (all three are owned by Restaurant Brands International).

“Agencies have their cycles and need to renew their talent,” said David’s Cassis. “I think that it would be a mistake if we tried to look at each other. There are enough clients in the world for both of us to shine. We’re competing with [other agencies] like Wieden and [places like] Netflix.”

Pancho Cassis, global CCO, David

Taking a more contrarian view, Fernando Musa, David’s chairman, believes that agency’s talent pool remains strong and that the upstarts at Gut are looking to the past to build their future.

“They are looking to David and trying to build what we did five years ago,” he said. “We’re not there. We are moving forward and looking forward. We are using [this as an] opportunity to aim high and go for bigger dreams. We’re doing this with the full support of WPP—and all of this matters in terms of talent, and it also gives comfort to the clients. I think it’s the best of both worlds, the best part of being part of a network and the best of being a family.”

"They are looking to David and trying to build what we did five years ago. We’re not there. We are moving forward and looking forward."
Fernando Musa, chairman, David Miami

Yet, as Ramos points out, Gut’s goal is to meet the needs of clients, especially those who are accustomed to working faster in the ever-changing marketing landscape.

“Brave clients are open to a lean structure [like ours],” he said. “They care deeply about creativity with the founders’ involvement. A lot of our clients are really fast and, sometimes in a holding company like WPP, it’s not that fast. We want to be as fast as our clients.”

“I think we’re going to attract clients that are into the type of work that we do,” added Rodriguez. “They will be brands that want to do disruptive work.”

Miami’s ad scene goes worldwide

As Gut pursues its “lean” strategy and David continues on its own path, there is an interesting dynamic emerging in Miami that could harken back to the heyday of the city’s creative history, most notably with CPB. After the agency network moved its headquarters to Boulder, the market’s creative spotlight largely faded, with the exception of multiculturally focused shops like The Community and Alma.

"The more creative-focused agencies that are here [in Miami], the better it is for the talent pool."
Ricardo Casal, partner and ecd, Gut

“It helps to have an independent agency in Miami,” said Casal. “The more creative-focused agencies that are here, the better it is for the talent pool. We’re here along with David, The Community and Alma and all of these agencies are doing cool stuff.”

Adding to the mix is another independent agency in the city, 305 Worldwide, a collaboration between Horizon Media and pop icon Armando Christian Pérez, better known as Pitbull. The agency intends to focus on the multcultural market and, while it’s not fully clear how that partnership will evolve, it’s another opportunity for Miami to attract a wide range of talent.

Pitbull and Horizon Media CEO Bill Koenigsberg partnered to launch Miami's 305 Worldwide.
Horizon Media

“People are really curious about what’s going on in Miami now,” said Gut newcomer Peña Plaza. “I think that having an agency like Gut is going to open the market and more creatives will want to be here.”

David also sees the city as an enticing proposition for talent looking to be part of a diverse, international market. Cassis pointed out that, across the David network, 25 nationalities are represented and that Miami is a perfect stop along a young creative’s path.

“People want to work here, and maybe they stay, or maybe they move,” he said. “Most people stay, but it is a great first stop for people.”

In the end, while agency loyalties clearly aren’t permanent, it might be the Miami connection and local pride that still unite all these colleagues-turned-rivals together.

“It was sad when Crispin left,” said Ramos. “But we’re going to do the best we can to put Miami back on the map again and show that’s it’s possible to do great work here. I love the fact that we’re not New York, Chicago or Los Angeles and that we’re outsiders here.”

The Timeline:

January 2012: David is founded by Anselmo Ramos, Gastón Bigio and Fernando Musa. First offices: São Paulo and Buenos Aires.

July 2014: David Miami opens.

February 2018: Ramos and Bigio leave David.

April 2018: Ramos and Bigio announce the opening of Gut, an independent agency in Miami.

February 2019: Francisco “Pancho” Cassis leaves LOLA MullenLowe Madrid to start an independent creative company.

June 2019: David managing director Paulo Fogaca joins Gut. David ecds Ricardo Casal and Juan Javier Peña Plaza leave the agency without announcing their next move. David hires Cassis as global CCO and announces expansion to Madrid.

July 2019: David CCOs in Argentina, Ignacio Ferioli and Joaquín Cubria, depart to become ecds at Gut across offices in Miami, Buenos Aires and São Paulo.

September 2019: Casal and Peña Plaza become partners and ecds at Gut. Carmen Rodriguez, David’s head of account management, joins Gut as chief client officer.


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