Johannes Leonardo - Despite being a boutique shop by US standards, a lot of their work is global

LeoP_NewestWorldOrder-web.jpgIn New York this week - which happens to be Advertising Week - CB caught up with Aussie expat Leo Premutico, who runs one of the hottest agencies in the US, Johannes Leonardo.

The agency launched in late 2007 when the award-winning Premutico - who was 29 years old at the time - and his South African creative partner Jan Jacobs decided to exit ECD roles at Saatchi & Saatchi New York to start an agency.

Backed by WPP, which took a minority stake in the agency, the company boasts an impressive client roster, including Coca-Cola, Google and Bacardi. Its unprecedented growth led to the agency becoming the fastest growing business across the entire WPP network and it won 14 Cannes Lions in just four years.  
Admittedly, the decision to set up in the US was not a planned one for Premutico. His career had already taken him from Sydney to Auckland to London and then to New York and in retrospect, was at the right place at the right time. "When I became passionate about starting an agency, I just happened to be in New York," says Premutico. 

Premutico also congratulates Australians on their unique entrepreneurial attitude: "We are optimistic, we take initiative without being asked to and we believe things are possible even if we think they may not be."

Leo Premutico-web.jpgNew York, he explains, is also a bit of an anomaly; a global hub even though it's in the US: "Despite being a boutique shop by US standards, a lot of our work is global," says Premutico. "Our clients have been based everywhere from Paris to Switzerland to London to Atlanta and here in the city. So in many ways, it's less about being foreign in the US market and more about being able to adapt to different sensibilities." 

Structuring an agency filled with many different nationalities (the team at Johannes Leonardo represents 16 and speaks 14), having a South African partner, and growing up in an Italian family in Sydney also probably didn't hurt. 

"When you're starting a business for the first time, there's so much else that is foreign that where you come from falls down the list of importance." He would argue that it's more important to consider market momentum, if you understand the nuances of the way things work and if you know who to hire, along with which clients would want to hire you and who your best production partners could be. "Everything else starts from the inside, so you can't go wrong starting there," he adds.

Once exposed to the minds he most admired, Premutico quickly realised no magic formulae exists: "You need to accept there are going to be failures along the way and the key is treating them as stepping-stones to success," he says.

Accounts in New York are large and in a country of 300 million people, sophisticated marketers run them. "One of the first hurdles is your ability to handle and implement work at scale. One of the early decisions Jan and I made was to get the support from a network. We had ambitions from day one to work with the world's most influential brands so we knew support was important."

When searching for incentive, Premutico takes his cues from the family unit. "My mum would always say: 'You can sleep when you're dead', a valuable perspective for anyone wanting to start and agency," he advises.

One of the best bites of advice he received came from director Chris Palmer. "Chris said 'the perceived problems are never the real problems' and for some reason it stuck with me. I think that sentiment is true in a lot of areas beyond production."  

Throughout his career, Premutico has certainly upheld one golden rule: "Follow your gut and don't do something just because everyone else is." 

Further counsel he offers to young creatives is not to let their self-doubt affect their ambition. "If your early ideas are exposed to the wrong people you can be made to feel very average very quickly," he warns. "Create the sort of work you want to and if it's not happening where you are, don't doubt whether it's right or not, go hunt it down... or better yet, go create it from scratch if it doesn't exist." 

Johannes Leonardo 
Founding Partners: Leo Premutico & Jan Jacobs
Launched: November 2007 
Company ownership: Majority owned by the partners (WPP has a minority shareholding)
Number of staff: 50 plus

> Johannes Leonardo's 'Damn Boots, Right Boot Store' campaign for Nomis asks customers to stop buying into the hype surrounding the sports industry and instead 'Ask your feet'. Based on the fact that the human body is the perfect mechanism to compare the quality of one boot against another, customers can enter the store, choose a Right Boot, take it home at no cost and test it by wearing their current boot on their left foot. If customers prefer the Nomis Right Boot, Nomis will send out the matching left boot at the price of a pair.

Ted_Pangea_Day-web.jpg> Pangea Day is a worldwide event organised by TED that aims to foster peace through understanding. Johannes Leonardo thought what better way to demonstrate global understanding than to see another country's choir learn and sing your national anthem?  

> Johannes Leonardo creates Underground Puzzle, a 40-piece puzzle for client Daffy's that comes together to reveal a branded image normally not allowed to appear in traditional advertising. Each piece of the puzzle is printed on posters found in New York City subway stations throughout downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, including a photographic instruction icon and hash tag: #Undergroundpuzzle where clues and updates will be available on the Twitter stream throughout the campaign.

GoogleReBrief_originators of the alka seltzer ad-web.jpg> For Project Re:Brief, Google partnered with four global brands and the ad legends behind four of America's greatest ads to re-imagine Coca-Cola's 'Hilltop' (1971), Volvo's 'Drive it like you hate it' (1962), Alka-Seltzer's 'I can't believe I ate the whole thing' (1972), and Avis' 'We try harder' (1962) for the digital age. Despite two decades of innovation online, digital ads are still being used to simply inform more than they're being used to connect, engage, and entertain. So to create an immediate change in the industry's perception and approach to digital advertising, Johannes Leonardo put the space to the test.

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