Is it possible to be an effective business leader and at the same time have fun? Natalia Forster certainly thinks so, although right now the weather in Amsterdam seems determined to undermine her positive energy. “You should see it out there,” she says, glancing at the downpour. “We should get a tax break for living in this climate.”
The rueful joke belies the fact that the new Managing Director of GUT Amsterdam – the smoking hot network’s first European office – has lived in the city for 15 years. In fact, she’s held posts at the creative hub’s most iconic agencies: 180 and Wieden + Kennedy, as well as TBWA.
Natalia hails from Argentina, however, where her ascent began at McCann-Erickson. “I originally wanted to be an artist – specifically in musical comedy: singing, acting, dancing…but I was also passionate about psychology. A friend of my dad’s was president of McCann back in the day, and he told me that advertising kind of embraced both: there’s performance and creation, but also the in-depth understanding of consumer psychology.”
He offered Natalia an internship, and she never looked back. “I kept acting and singing as a hobby, but advertising became my world.”
Like GUT’s founders – Gastón Bigio and Anselmo Ramos – she describes herself as an “ad nerd”. “Creativity, storytelling, what makes people tick: I love every aspect of it.”
"GUT is where I've always belonged."
After learning the trade at McCann – “and making every possible mistake” – she moved on to Ogilvy, where she first met Gastón Bigio, who was an ECD there. They kept in touch over the years and often discussed the possibility of working together again. Meanwhile, Natalia’s next post was at 180, the Amsterdam agency of the moment, during the era of the Adidas “Impossible Is Nothing” campaign.
“I remember the interview I had with Dan Gibson, who was the global business lead on Adidas,” she says. “It was a wonderful conversation. Everything about the agency felt perfect. And they were keen to add an Argentinian to the mix because they took a lot of pride in being home to many different nationalities.”
When she arrived, to work on BMW and Adidas, she says her “mind was blown, by the sheer amount of talent within the walls of that spectacular building”.
Several tremendous Amsterdam experiences later, Gastón came back with the right opportunity. “At one point we’d talked about me going to work at GUT in Miami, which sounded amazing, but the timing wasn’t right.” But now here was GUT opening on her own doorstep. “It literally touches every fibre of who I am as an individual and as a professional. What they pledge, how they work, how they think – GUT is where I’ve always belonged, without knowing it.”
GUT had an incredible year at Cannes (it was named Independent Network of The Year and LATAM Regional Network of the Year, while GUT Buenos Aires was both Indie Agency of the year and Agency of The Year), which begs the question: what are they doing that’s working so well?
Natalia says: “Firstly, they say that they’re ad nerds, and it’s true: they really are passionate about the business. And they pledge to make the world braver through creativity, hence the name. Of course, saying something is not the same as doing it, but I can tell you that GUT is a very well-oiled machine full of individuals who ‘get it’. They’re obsessed by and have a deep understanding of comms, content, and people. There’s an imagination and a structure behind what they do.”
She compares the network to a World Cup football team. “You see the tactics in motion, you watch them edge forward and then suddenly – inevitably – they score a goal. Passion runs through the veins of every individual in the team. I’m experiencing it right now. They’re utterly devoted to finding the solution that will make the difference to a brief.”
She adds that GUT’s idiosyncratic approach doesn’t work for all clients. “We’re not for everyone – and that’s fine.”
The Amsterdam twist
At the time of writing, GUT Amsterdam has just eight members of staff – but it’s set to grow dramatically. Does Natalia have a particular type of future employee in mind? “I gave a talk about this not so long ago. I’d sum it up as the ‘kind’ kind. I’m looking for kind human beings who have a spark. I think one of the things I’m good at as a leader is in identifying your superpower and doing everything I can to make you even better.”
She can spot people who truly care about what they do, she adds. “When you care about something, that energy travels. It infuses the way you think and it’s apparent in the work.”
In the meantime, it’s important to note that the Amsterdam office has access to the resources of the entire network. “We’re here to serve the European market, but it’s not just eight people, it’s more like 500.”
I wonder aloud how GUT will fit in to the existing Amsterdam ecosystem of cool agencies. “To ‘fit in’ is not necessarily my goal,” she smiles. “My aim is to carry on the values that GUT has, but with an Amsterdam twist, which is a very open and international way of looking at things. We’ll be shaped by the clients and the talents that join us. Overall, my ambition is to have tons of fun making meaningful work that gets the world talking about our clients – and about us.”
Judging by the mark that GUT has made elsewhere in the world, it doesn’t seem too much to ask.