Genie Gurnani Takes on Lead Creative Role at Virtue Americas

Their appointment is part of a restructuring at the Vice-owned creative agency

In addition to their day job, Genie Gurnani is a drag queen who's starred on the reality series Drag Race Thailand. Genie Gurnani
Headshot of Minda Smiley

Virtue, the creative agency owned by Vice Media, has promoted two of its executives as part of a broader restructuring that involves integrating its operations across the Americas region.

Genie Gurnani is taking on the role of executive creative director for the Americas region. They previously served as head of creative at Vice and Virtue in APAC, a role they took on last year. Krystle Watler has been promoted to managing director of the Americas at Virtue. She joined the agency in 2017 as director of business development and was promoted to managing director of North America last year.

Together, the two will oversee roughly 120 staffers across Virtue’s Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Mexico City, São Paulo and Toronto offices.

Gurnani takes over responsibilities previously held by Simon Mogren, who joined Virtue last year as executive creative director in North America. Mogren has since left the agency. Sergio Escamilla previously served as managing director of Latin America for Virtue, a role he left this year. It appears as though Watler will be taking on his responsibilities in her expanded role.

Watler said Virtue focuses on “brand building through an entertainment lens,” an ethos she plans to continue building upon in her expanded role. She describes Virtue as having its “finger on the pulse of emerging trends and emerging talent” and an ability to adapt.

“We exist to help brands matter in the world, especially in this new world that we are operating in,” she said. “An agency like Virtue is needed. Our goals and plans haven’t changed. We’re still this borderless agency that aspires to throw a wrench into what currently exists in ad land.”

In addition to their day job, Gurnani is a drag queen who recently starred in the reality series Drag Race Thailand. In their prior role, Gurnani was based in Singapore, overseeing creative output for clients including Urban Decay and Diageo.

Now based in Brooklyn, where Virtue is headquartered, Gurnani said they’re focused on bringing a “spirit of rebelliousness” to the agency’s work that they feel is missing in the industry.

“Aside from the virus and all the problems that we’ve had as a world and country, things got really boring for a while in advertising,” they said. “Things got sleepy. There’s a reason why ‘in these uncertain certain times’ became a thing. There’s the same thinking happening over and over again.”

Earlier this year, Virtue was named lead creative agency for Cholula Hot Sauce. On Cinco de Mayo, it debuted a “Tacothon” on the brand’s Instagram starring Dwyane Wade, Sophia Bush, Victor Oladipo and a mix of celebrity chefs. The push raised more than $100,000 for restaurants impacted by Covid-19.

The agency also recently created a launch campaign for All Good, a new brand of diapers from P&G. According to Virtue, its added 17 new clients to its roster in the Americas since the start of this year, including Canada Goose, Frosted Flakes and Landshark.

As two people of color leading an agency, Watler and Gurnani collaborated on an open letter that speaks to underrepresented talent in the industry. The letter details what they’ve endured throughout their careers, like “going above and beyond while being underpaid and undervalued,” and encourages marginalized talent to get in touch if they’re interested in working at the agency.  

“To anyone who’s been made to feel like you can’t make it, won’t make it, shouldn’t make it through: You belong at Virtue Worldwide,” the letter concludes.

@Minda_Smiley Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.