#100K: Gustavo Averbuj


This week Global CEO of Red Havas, James Wright, was asked by PR Daily “What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?” Here is his answer: “Surround yourself with people who can—and will—challenge and inspire you, which also requires that you actively listen to learn, understand, connect and coach.” A great advice and my call to meet with someone who has challenged and inspired me throughout my career at Ketchum and beyond (even he lives on the other side of the world):

Gustavo Averbuj, Regional Director Latin America, CEO Ketchum Argentina, Storyteller and Music pasionista.

I met him for a (virtual) coffee – me in Munich and he in lovely Buenos Aires (see his office and team) - and I asked some (serious) questions about inspiration, creativity and more:

Gustavo, three difficult years are behind us. All the crap with Covid. But it seems to be over now, doesn't it? What do you think? Is there something from that time that you take with you, that stays, that you won't forget?

Uhh, I must say: much of the old is back. It seems so. Even things we thought to be unfashionable – before Covid - are massively coming back. I'll give you an example: before Covid, we thought press conferences didn't really work anymore. But today – three years later - they are back. Clients love them and journalists too. This may be due to our Latin American mentality, we love to meet people, to touch each other for greetings - yes, we are a "hugging culture."

We missed the kissing, tapping and hugging. Now we have to catch up. So wherever possible, we do meetings, conferences or at least meet for a (real) coffee with a journalist.

What changed is how we organize work. And this will not change back to the old model. We allow ourselves much more flexibility in where we work from. This gives us freedom in many ways. As a teamleader of around 40 colleagues, I see great opportunities in this flexibility, but also challenges. It's wonderful that we can keep colleagues on the team, even if they want to move 600 km away from Buenos Aires - to the countryside. Or even move to another country. We kept a colleague who moved with her family to London. It´s great to keep the family together. But it's not quite that simple.

For example: before Covid we used to have lunch – all together, like one big family. Today, with many of us working alone at home, this is in jeopardy. That's why I ask everyone to come into the office at least once a week. To see each other in person (and give them a hug 😊). And once a month (almost) everyone gets together for a big agency breakfast where, among other things, we celebrate that months birthdays. Town Hall meetings re-invented. As great and convenient as home office is, the team spirit is super important and must not be lost.

And then there is another change I´ve observed since the pandemic: The separation between business and private is no longer as strict.

In the past, especially at the beginning of my career, I kept these two worlds strictly separate. I never told clients about my family and, the other way around, I didn't find out much about my clients private lives. The older I get, the more open I am about my personal situation - so maybe that has something to do with age. But virtual meetings have accelerated this. Do you remember the videos that went viral, in which a manager gave a TV-interview at home and a toddler scurried through the picture in the background? That was embarrassing at the time - oh, actually, it was funny. Everyone laughed about it. But today it's quite normal to look into private rooms and see children or pets wandering in the back. And it's ok, because you get to know something private and personal about the person on the other side. The private and the professional become more connected - and I find that very pleasant. Computer screens have turned into windows (no pun intended…) After all, it's all very human.

Gustavo, you are one of the most creative colleagues I know. There is hardly a situation in which you don't question things, see them differently and creatively turn them around with a new perspective. Question for you: what do you need to be creative?

Long showers. No kidding, when I work on a problem, I ruminate around - for quite a time. I sleep on it. Sometimes I wake up at four o´clock in the morning and have an epiphany, an aha-moment. But the best moments are in the shower.

The brain needs input to come up with ideas, right. But as important is rest. When we go sleeping, go for a walk or take a shower, the brain forgets the superfluous information and continues working in the background with the really important stuff. That's exactly the kind of time I need.

It's funny many people think the best ideas come in brainstorming and ideation sessions. Well, sometimes that´s the case. But mostly these meetings only provide food for thought. Afterwards, - in the shower – and somewhere else - this material from the brainstormings is processed and someone finds the idea. Well, it´s the “raw material” for an idea. We then work out the actual idea together in our teams.

Unfortunately I can not force this “time out”. I can do as many showers as I want. But not every "shower session" is a creative one. In the end, it remains a mystery when incubation for a new idea kicks in. But what I do know for sure is that I have to keep feeding my brain with stimuli: with movies, books, art, musicals and lots of music. With the creative work of others. Only with this creative material I can start on my own.

And … provocation helps. Give me a challenging task and I'll jump right in. But maybe that's typically Argentine...

...Speaking about Argentina. We live in challenging times, especially in your country but also worldwide. Business challenges, climate change, wars, political distractions. The world runs crazy. And we are in the middle of it. Each of us is called upon to care and do something, right? So what´s your contribution making the world a little bit better?

That´s a difficult and also good question. I live in a country with 100 percent inflation, with poverty, difficult political conditions and an uncertain future. And yet I also live in a bubble. In an agency world. In a business world. We take care of communication, creativity, innovation. You quickly run the risk of ignoring the reality out there.

Three times a week I do sport in a park. There's a bar nearby where some politicians have a coffee or drink, people who could really make a difference in our country. One day I went up to one of them and said, "hey, I'd like to work on your team – help to really move the country forward."

At that moment, I wasn't interested with that particular candidate or party. You could almost say it doesn't matter. But the importance of politics and the power and responsibility of politicians - that makes a difference.

In the past I used to be involved with NGOs - doing pro bono work. This was nice but somehow ineffective. Maybe a few people were saved, a few issues were better perceived. But it didn't really change anything. The real processes for change lie elsewhere.

In the end, in this bar … the politician didn't take me up. How could he – a guy suddenly shows up in a training suit? But I often wonder about where the powerful buttons are to make a positive difference in the world. As with brands and companies, looking for the drivers is always a pursuit that requires strategy and intelligence plus insights on human behaviour.

And then there are the little things. Or things that seem little, but they aren´t. The things that are close to my heart as a team leader. I am responsible for 40 workplaces and more. For 40 very different people with different needs. And we have all been damaged in some way by the pandemic – some more some less. But covid has left traces everywhere. Mental health has become of great importance. We need to take care of each other.

That's what's particularly important for me. Our agency should  be at least a stable harbour for everyone. A place to feel comfortable. That's the main reason why I ask my colleagues to come to the office once a week. For a quick chat at the coffee machine. For feedback. For a compliment. For a hug. We are humans. We need each other.

(Final comment from my view: Gustavo needs showers, I need to blow-dry hair - to get new ideas. So everyone has his or her personal epiphany-moment ... depending on the hair length :-)

About #100K

The communications network Ketchum celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2023. This makes it probably the oldest communications agency in the world. As I, Petra Sammer, worked more than 25 years at Ketchum, learned so much at this agency and thankfull, take this as an opportunity to meet old Ketchum-colleagues and friends. And ask them some fundamental questions. Thanks to Gustavo, Sabine Stadel-Strauch, Gesine Märten and Martin Dambacher.

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