Gibson’s Gertrude: boutique with big ideas and heart


Otis Gibson, Gertrude founder/CEO

He doesn’t run the biggest ad shop in the Chicago. Not by any means. Nor the most highly publicized.

But he has been a presence.  Dare we say a force of a somewhat different sort for these past seven years as he first opened — and then diligently sustained — his own boutique ad agency.

Yes, we’re talking about the very real, the very straightforward — tell it like he believes it to be — Chicago ad man Otis Gibson.

We can’t say we know Gibson really well.  But we do know that whenever we do speak, we feel like he wants to have a real conversation. Not a lot of public relations yakkety-yak.  And that is — in this town — a comforting feeling indeed. 

Though we tried to, we weren’t able to reach Gibson when we were preparing our year-end assessment of the Chicago ad world that ran last week.  When we did catch up with him this week, we discovered he had been ill — as so many have been in recent months — with that vicious bug that’s been going around.

But he’s back at work now. 

And when we did talk, he was ready to say he believed we had been a tad harsh in our assessment of the situation in the Chicago ad world.  Harsh?  We can’t imagine!  

Gibson believes boutique shops push the boundaries

Gertrude’s colorful reception roomWhen we asked him what he believed to be the state of affairs within the local ad world, he did concede there was always room for more boutique ad shops ready to push the boundaries and do the kind of work so many large, bloated shops can’t get their big, bloated clients to commit to doing.

Where he took issue more specifically with our take on things was the matter of whether Chicago still is an ad center capable of producing the proverbial “big idea” advertising — especially in the big ad shops where there are so many people presumably able to produce them.

Gibson believes the big idea can happen — and has happened — in recent times.  And that alone, in his mind, is reason enough to take a more hopeful stance on the state of things.

We won’t argue with him on that point. 

Rather, as we told him, our more negative take on things wasn’t so much related to whether the Chicago ad world can still come up with big ideas, but rather to a collective state of mind in ad shops here that suggests inertia more than anything else.

Gertrude becoming more internationally focused

But enough of the general state of things.  What, we wanted to know, had been going on at Gertrude Inc. during 2012, since we hadn’t really had a chance to catch up in quite a while.

On the whole, Gibson told us, he was pleased with the way the year went for Gertrude Inc., which to this day is, along with Tom,Dick & Harry Advertising, one of the city’s most distinctively-named shops.

From there he went on to tell us about the way he is developing his shop to be more internationally focused.  He likes having a roster of clients that ranges from Singha Beer in Thailand to Tiger Beer in Singapore and then right back to New Jersey, where his newest client, the SuperPretzel, is based in Pennsauken.

Though it certainly won’t qualify as one of the Chicago’s biggest account wins in 2012, SuperPretzel is exactly the kind of brand Gibson said he likes.  Forgotten for too long, from a marketing standpoint anyway, SuperPretzel desperately needed to be reintroduced to the American public — many of whom may have unknowingly munched on one at the movies or in a ball park.

So with the blessings of SuperPretzel parent J&J Snack Foods, Gibson went to work developing a social media presence for the giant soft pretzels on Facebook and then proceeded to develop some print advertising that centered on the theme line “Fun baked in.”

And, oh yes, there was that matter of updating the web site — a must when the Internet remains the place so many people turn to for entertainment and information.

Chicago’s ad industry still has a heart

Beyond the SuperPretzel, Gibson said he is preparing for Gertrude Inc.’s eighth anniversary in February.  He hinted at some new initiatives related to the Gertrude Inc. brand that will be tied to that birthday.

They won’t be really big things he said.  Just some updates to remind everyone that ad shops must refresh themselves from time to time as must any good ad campaign.

Since we were having an honest exchange of thoughts, we felt compelled to ask him if he was considering removing that thumping heart from the home page on the Gertrude Inc. web site.  We were honest. We told him it was, to us anyway, creepy. But he said he rather liked it.  And had no plans to take it down.  We doubt anything we said would cause him to change his mind.

So Gertrude chugs along.  A reminder that boutique ad shops can open and survive and continue to think big so long as they have a game plan.

Gibson has a game plan. He wants to make it work.  And he wants to make it work in Chicago, which he firmly believes will one day once again live up to its fullest potential.  Yes, in Gibson’s mind, Chicago’s ad industry still has a heart.

And it’s still beating. Thump. Thump. Thump.

Contact Lewis Lazare at