Our Agency’s Superpower Is Our People: Bryan Yasko, Johannes Leonardo

by Dasha Ovsyannikova

Johannes Leonardo
Full Service
New York, United States
See Profile


How and when was your agency founded?

Johannes Leonardo was founded by Jan Jacobs and Leo Premutico on the eve of the financial collapse in 2007. 

At that time, everyone was talking about “going viral.” Twitter and Facebook were gaining popularity, the first iPhone was released, and the industry was getting its first taste of modern, digital advertising. 

They wanted to create an agency that wasn’t focused on trends and short-term advertising campaigns but on the power of creativity to make a long-term brand impact. 

It was then, that they realized that their agency would only be successful if their clients were. As the agency comes up on its 13th birthday this December, we yet again find ourselves in a situation where we must be extremely intentional and focused on not just being creative partners but business-minded creative partners for our clients.


What is your agency's superpower?

Well, how can I position this without giving too much away? 

This may sound cliche, but our agency’s superpower is our People. We have some of the smartest, most strategic, and creative Talent in the business at JL. They are our secret weapon. 

We don’t relinquish creativity to a single department, it’s something that everyone owns within the agency regardless of titles and hierarchy. 


Why would a client choose your agency over a large network?

Clients come to us because they know that we believe in creative partnership and have a reputation for getting results. 

Modern marketers are looking for less layers. They want simplicity. They want access to leadership. They want non-traditional thinking. More importantly, they are not looking to compromise on any of this, and they shouldn't have to. 

I always say that successful agencies are built on three things - culture, talent, and alignment on the client’s business problem. At JL, we are organized in a way that allows us to be super focused on these three things in a way that is the most true for no one else but us. We have the freedom to partner with clients based on a shared set of values and chemistry, and whether a long-term relationship or project, we have the ability to flex quickly around our client’s current problems and future problems. Right now, clients are looking for both immediate short-term needs and long-term agencies to partner with, and we have the capabilities and confidence to take on both. 


What is your view of the current climate in terms of new business opportunities?

What I have been saying a lot this year is that the only thing that we can be sure of, is there is more uncertainty ahead.

There is always massive introspection and opportunities that come from economic downturns and crises. It magnifies any and all issues. The pandemic has accelerated the traditional way of working, and clients are looking towards the future. 

What we are seeing as a result of this is that clients are in need of transformation. They are looking for big, bold, media-agnostic ideas that will rally brand loyalists. On the flip side, consumers are more careful and selective in partnering with brands they feel they can trust, brands who are providing real purpose and value.

There is a level of efficiency, transparency, directness and clarity everyone seems to be absolutely comfortable asking for right now. We think that’s going to be a strong thing for client/agency partnerships.

What I am encouraged by, is that brands are starting to think ahead again. There’s a sense of optimism, and there’s an understanding that we will come out of this. And how we come out of this and re-build is just as important as how we get through it. 


Tell us about the latest work you've released?

Despite the hurdles our industry has faced in 2020 due to COVID-19, I am pretty proud to say that our agency has been able to produce a robust and unique body of work since we have been in lock-down. In total, we launched 25 pieces of work, coordinated 30 productions and launched two brands remotely. 

The first remote shoot in the agency’s history was for Vizzy, Molson Coors’ latest hard seltzer that is the only hard seltzer on the market with Antioxidant Vitamin C.


We created Bagel Bites’ first major advertising campaign since the 2000s. 


We created and launched the weirdest, best and most oddly satisfying content for a sneaker with the The ZXience Network, a 12-hour streaming content hub for adidas Originals. 


We earned and produced new work for Amazon Music which consisted of over 100 assets.


Finally, just a few weeks ago we launched the Apeel Brand with our new Food Gone Good platform - the sustainability icon that is combating the global food waste crisis. 



How have you been able to nurture your culture during the pandemic?

For me, it’s about how you encourage authentic behavior. You build culture not by painting it on a wall, or posting something on Instagram, but how you live and breathe it everyday. 

An example of this is having transparent conversations among staff. As President, this has been one of my main priorities in ensuring that we are constantly and openly communicating with our people. 

I am also proud of our leadership team who have stepped up in times of need, approaching every meeting and every interaction with an added layer of empathy. What working remotely has really brought to the forefront for me is that culture isn't just dependent on a physical space but how we interact with each other. We are a group of people who are fervently brave and ambitious but also very kind. Right now, fostering a culture where people are empowered to speak freely and what’s on their minds is extremely important. If 2020 has shown us anything as an industry, we also have to do better across workplace diversity, inclusion and equity. In addition to walking the walk, it’s equally as important that we talk to the talk. 

We have to talk about it. And we have to make the ongoing commitment to take action internally every day.

This is how we’ll continue to achieve the best work for our clients, hire the best talent, and build the best culture for our agency.