Inside the agency: Johannes Leonardo

In Johannes Leonardo’s new Soho office you can almost touch the sense of reinvention.

The shop, minority-owned by WPP, is enjoying a strong streak of new business. As CEO Michael Duda puts it, the best thing for him this year has been knowing that Johannes Leonardo’s four bigger clients — Adidas, TripAdvisor, Coke and Mondelez — arrived within the last year. (The moniker is a combination of the names of Jan Jacobs and Leo Premutico, co-CCOs at the agency.)

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride for the agency, which quadrupled its revenue in its first three years after opening in 2007. It did standout work for Google, specifically “Demo Slam,” which asked customers to upload videos of Google products onto a beautiful site. The work netted almost a billion impressions, and was honored across the awards circuit.

But things seemed to slow for a couple of years after. Not much buzz-worthy work was coming out. And in the 18 months leading up to Duda’s arrival in late 2013, nothing was moving on the new business front. CCO Jacobs said that a lot of the work was international, so mostly invisible in the U.S. There was also more project work, rather than growth. Without an office of their own, Johannes staffers drifted from co-working space to co-working space. 

Now, the new office — a former photography studio — is in a building that dates to the late 1800s. It’s gorgeously designed by Allied Works Architecture to resemble a fishbowl, completely transparent from front to back. The 11,000 square foot space houses just 50 employees, but “growth is on the way,” according to Premutico.

  The office was designed to be fully visible from front to back.#DigidayAgencyTours   A photo posted by Digiday (@digiday) on

The agency won all seven pitches it participated in last year. Since landing Adidas, the agency has done popular work like “Originals,” which relaunched the Superstar shoe in a campaign starring Pharrell Williams and David Beckham. After landing TripAdvisor last year, the company sought to make the travel site a destination in its own right.

According to Premutico, the agency also migrated plenty of business away from project to retainer. “We’re now comfortable saying no,” he said. “We’re better at determining what will work for us and what won’t now. What doesn’t work is when you rely on one person to fix and change things, as opposed to a strong management team who all lean on each other’s skills for the greater good.”

Jacobs said the agency doesn’t want to be known for just one thing. “When you look at the ideas that contributed to a brand’s growth, ultimately it was a bunch of individuals agency and client side who made it happen. Not a model. Not a process,” he said.

The agency has also invested in making sure its staffers stay on board. Every Friday, it hosts cocktail parties on its roof where one employee picks a cocktail and a theme. A lot of surfers work at Johannes, so the agency invested in a truck that ferries them to Long Beach at dawn whenever the waves are good. “For them to be operating at their full potential, you need truly progressive creative people,” said Jacobs. “People who are open and comfortable collaborating with other disciplines, are constantly curious, and always open to changing how they work.”

Check out a Snapchat tour of the agency below, and follow us @Digiday on Snapchat and Instagram for more.

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