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Agency Profile: GERTRUDE

Posted on August 24, 2009 and read 3,456 times

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colinmurphypic Agency Profile: GERTRUDEColin Murphy
Art Director 
ihaveanidea Correspondent

Whether it is shredding a face-melter on the guitar or keeping up with your inner Picasso, everyone has a passion separate from advertising. This outlet not only serves as inspiration, but it also keeps the advertising juices flowing.  For me, it’s food.  I find food to be a close relative to advertising.  Like advertising everyone loves good food, a true chef will never serve anything cold, sloppy or undercooked and when you taste a home cooked meal, like a well-executed campaign, you can taste the love and time put into it.

So when I walked into GERTRUDE, Inc., I could immediately smell the creativity cooking, as if standing in a kitchen right before dinner. Ironically, the moment Otis D. Gibson, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of GERTRUDE, walked in with 4 bags of Puerto Rican take-out for the agency (on his way back from scouting the space for ihaveanidea’s Portfolio Night 7 Chicago), he offered me a bowl of beef stew and said “food is important to us.”  He spoke my language.

GERTRUDE was founded by Otis about four years ago.  Born in Belize and raised in Manhattan and Brooklyn, he has lived in many different areas of the world including Philadelphia, London, Paris, New York, and North Carolina before landing at Leo Burnett in Chicago.  He has sat at the top of a plethora of well-known agencies across the world, but what he saw in the ad world didn’t satiate his palette for creativity. So instead of trying to find an agency that had what he was craving, he created it.

In starting the agency and the brand GERTRUDE, he wanted to evoke something that was different from any other shop in the world, hence the name GERTRUDE.  Logos of ninjas and ironworkers are repeated throughout the office and the website.  But what the hell does GERTRUDE stand for?  A name that is close to his heart for an undisclosed reason, the name GERTRUDE represents everything Otis wanted in an agency, trustworthy, strong, and nurturing.  He would not reveal the true story behind the name. Whereas the symbolic ironworkers represent strength and work ethic along with iconic ninjas representing how they work and GERTRUDE’s brand promise: Stealth, Smart, Thorough, Caring and Vicious.  All of these things are what make GERTRUDE, GERTRUDE.

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In the advertising world, a lot of agencies are defining themselves as interactive or traditional, but GERTRUDE, as Otis would say, is a “find the different way to do it agency.” This philosophy resonates throughout the agency culture.  When it comes to the staff, everyone has their specialties: copywriter, art director, creative director, but it is more than welcomed to step outside those boundaries and do what you love.  One of the copywriters there likes to dabble in web design and Otis himself not only is a trained Art Director, but still whets his appetite with a little copywriting. GERTRUDE welcomes it all.  And with an open office including a kitchen and four bags of Puerto Rican take-out for everyone, they create, work, live, and eat together as a creative family.

In talking about the style of GERTRUDE Otis claimed, “GERTRUDE found its own voice. We are a youth-focused agency. We thrive on a young voice, thought, style, intellect, and energy to our work.” When pitching, the clients generally know they’re in for a ride. When a bank picked GERTRUDE to do their advertising, a rep from the bank said, “I knew and I was scared I would get something different from you guys and I knew it would be smart.” This is why GERTRUDE was created and this is what GERTRUDE is known for.

And in order to have this edge and specific flavor to the agency’s work, GERTRUDE is filled with people who remain curious not only about the advertising industry but about each Young Adult Ninja Master’s specific fascinations. With a rich background in travel and world culture, Otis finds himself drawn to people who understand the differences in communication between the areas of the world and how to bridge that gap. There is a truth in advertising that a simple idea can be appreciated by anyone no matter what language you speak, and Otis looks for people who are aware and push for this perspective.  Although different in their own specific way, each employee at GERTRUDE shares one thing in common, an appetite for simple ideas and great work.

lagearusb Agency Profile: GERTRUDELocated in the West Loop in Chicago, GERTRUDE embodies its creative mindset and ideals.  Keeping up with the youth-minded philosophy, GERTRUDE is consistently refreshing the physical set up of the office generally every 6 months.  The reasoning behind these alterations is to experiment with what works.  Like in grade school, people naturally migrate to areas of a room based on their personality and needs.  Because GERTRUDE tries to provide the most welcoming atmosphere for the employees, GERTRUDE implements a system that maintains everyone’s freedom to develop each Young Adult Ninja Master’s own creative atmosphere.  But not every experiment is successful.  “We tried a setup using Ninja pods, where 6-8 members sat together.  As it turned out one copywriter enjoyed singing along to every song piping through the agency, where as a few members of the Ninja Community preferred a little more quiet,” making the Ninja pod experiment short lived.  But Otis feels that physical environment is truly important to creative thought and inspiration.

lagear Agency Profile: GERTRUDE“Working hard for the work” is a credo, if you will, for everyone at GERTRUDE.  GERTRUDE has created radical work for clients such as L.A. Gear, Time Out Magazine, Binaca and a yearly required pro-bono campaign, like the breathtaking work they did for Concern Worldwide.  All of which uphold the style and flavor that GERTRUDE is known for.

binaca Agency Profile: GERTRUDEIn order to keep the ingredients for great ideas fresh, GERTRUDE brings in various groups from all industries. There are many creative people and things going on out there so GERTRUDE makes sure employees are kept up to date.  Every Monday, GERTRUDE has “More Than Mondays” where over lunch the agency discusses work found in advertising and media along with invited guest speakers such as photographers, fashion designers and artists from all over the world.  The agency encourages all forms of inspiration from all over the world, because everywhere at every moment people are thinking of and executing great ideas.

unmasked Agency Profile: GERTRUDEAlong with a very passionate creative mindset, GERTRUDE employs a unique system when pitching to clients.  Instead of a standard menu of who will be working with the client, GERTRUDE makes it a point to match and show why each person is the best candidate.  The relationship between client and agency is the most important part of the advertising business.  Matching personalities and interests to each client is the major step towards building a healthier and comfortable connection.  “Can this person work with that person every day,” Otis stated.  “We need to give our clients the respect a healthy relationship deserves, because without our clients our work couldn’t exist.”

seamonkeys Agency Profile: GERTRUDEGERTRUDE also has an experimental content ideation production studio called G-SPOT FILMS, since Otis feels that a truly great creative idea should never die because of logistics.  Therefore G-SPOT FILMS and GERTRUDE work hand in hand with each other to maintain that the creative work is the heart and soul of everything they do.

Another venture that I found particularly interesting has nothing to do with advertising or film, but giving back to the community.  GERTRUDE is currently producing a charitable campaign called the Y.A.N.M. GLOBAL UNIFICATION PROJECT.  In this project, Gertrude will offer a Ninja Logo T-shirt for a mere $25 in exchange for a picture of the recipient wearing the t-shirt anywhere in the world.  The proceeds are then donated to five charities specially chosen by GERTRUDE. The Y.A.N.M. pictures will ultimately be on display in GERTRUDE’S Flickr album, which can be viewed HERE. Y.A.N.M UNIFICATION PROJECT is truly a unique project that I have never seen done by any other agency and says a lot about the effort GERTRUDE makes to give back to the global community. (Editor’s note: the ihaveanidea team are the first entries in this project!)

As far as the future goes, GERTRUDE is definitely cooking something up.  Otis told me there is another office possibly in the works, but all of the other ducks must be in a row before you can start thinking about other ventures. Otis makes sure that just because GERTRUDE is growing up doesn’t mean that the core changes.  The original philosophy still prevails in London, New York and Chicago and will always be a part of GERTRUDE no matter where the offices are located.

As I am entering this industry, I look up to shops like GERTRUDE, who maintain the true essence of great creative advertising.  After indulging in the work, environment, and the bowl of beef stew, I left GERTRUDE with not only an appreciation for what the agency has accomplished, but also a craving to love this industry as much as GERTRUDE does.

Colin Murphy is a New York based art director and recent graduate of Syracuse University with a degree in Advertising Design and a minor in Marketing. You can find him on ihaveanidea right here.






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