13 Lessons From 13 Years of Johannes Leonardo

The co-founders on the secrets of building, and sustaining, a creative agency

The end of 2020 didn't just mark the closing of a challenging year, it also signaled a milestone for the growth of our agency. We blinked, and Johannes Leonardo turned 13.

We have always been fearless optimists when it comes to our industry, almost to a fault. We believe in the power of brand. We believe in the role that courageous creativity has to inspire new generations to rise and become empowered advocates for a message.

And as we turn the page and enter a blank canvas of the new year, we see endless possibilities all around us.

We see a new crop of agencies who are opening their doors in the same way that we did all those years ago. A couple of creatives coming together during a time of crisis, looking to bring some heat.

It's impossible to predict major disruptions like the global financial crisis that was the setting for when we opened our doors in 2007, or the pandemic that we are in the midst of today. What you can guarantee, however, is that they'll become watershed moments.

The truth is, a crisis can be an opportunity to make a new and burgeoning company, better. It forces you to solidify what you have to offer, to make decisions quickly with confidence, and to be ready to provide a fresh perspective for the new market that is unfolding all around you. 

The most important thing, as you begin, is to unleash all your creativity around creating the business you really believe in. From the people that you hire, to the sort of work you create. More often than not, when that part is done well, everything else follows. Your agency will naturally grow and develop new skills, your work will impact culture, and as a result be both progressive and effective. That's when, and how, an agency is meaningfully transformed.

From two creatives who set out during a moment that has some parallels to this one, here are some things we learned along the way. 

Embrace the challenges.

Difficult situations and challenges will always arise. 
Have empathy for others, and be human for the situation we are all in, especially now.
We've made some of the greatest work in the most difficult of circumstances. 
Discomfort should be inspiring, not crippling. 

People are the biggest variable, and the most valuable asset.

Our people are our agency's biggest superpower. 
They always have a way of surprising you in the best of ways.

Love your clients.

Our clients are valuable sources of knowledge, individuals who trust us with their careers.
Treat them as such.
If you show clients you care, you will be surprised about how honest you can be with them, and them with you.

Make good work, the rest will follow.

We say this to everyone entering advertising. 
Our success and our reputation as an agency is built on great work.
That's our North Star.

The best work makes you uncomfortable.

From the moment you see it and until the moment it is finished.
It doesn't happen that often, but when you find that feeling, don't lose it.

The difference between something happening or not is up to us.

All work you see that you are jealous of, was at risk of not happening at some point.
Push things over the line. 

Sweat the small stuff.

People pay more attention to them than we think. And if you don't do the small things well, it's hard to do the big things well.

Don't worry about things that haven't happened.

Save yourself the trouble. 
You'll be equipped to tackle anything that comes your way. Worrying about it only means you've lived it twice.

The perceived problems are rarely the real problems.

A creative we once worked with told us this when we worked together. 
Always dig deeper with your clients to find what the real root is. 

A small group working together can achieve more than a large group that doesn't.

We saw this very early on when we were a tiny agency and beat agencies who were much bigger than us in pitches.
If you don't have a team that collaborates well together, it just won't work. No matter the size. 

Celebrate the wins, however small.

One thing we know about our industry is that it is a roller-coaster ride. The highs are high, and the lows are low. Celebrate the good times, every time. 

The future will look very different than the present.

Just look at 2020. Even in February it was impossible to imagine today.
This, too, will pass.
Things will improve. We will not feel this way forever.

Bring yourself.

What makes an agency who it is, is you.
It's you that makes the culture.
It's you that makes the work.
Bring your uniqueness, your weird, your ideas.
They'll not only be welcomed, they'll be defining. 

Best wishes for 2021. The industry needs your thinking, your rebelliousness and your creativity now more than ever.

Profile picture for user Jan Jacobs and Leo Premutico
Jan Jacobs and Leo Premutico
Jan Jacobs and Leo Premutico are co-founders and chief creative officers of Johannes Leonardo.

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