Jan and Leo become Johannes and Leonardo

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Jacobs, left, and Premutico
Jacobs, left, and Premutico
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Coincidentally (they say), on the same fateful day we announced their old boss, Tony Granger, was headed to Young & Rubicam, former Saatchi & Saatchi ECDs Jan Jacobs and Leo Premutico announced the birth of their latest venture, two-week-old Johannes Leonardo.

The venture is backed by WPP, whose CEO, Martin Sorrell approached the two to talk business. WPP holds a minority stake in the agency while Premutico and Jacobs retain majority shareholder status. "It was very important to us that we're in control of its direction, because we have beliefs we want to put out there," Jacobs says.

Those beliefs are still being finalized, so the two universally awarded creatives wouldn't go into the specifics of their new agency idea. "We realize that there's a lot of cynicism in the industry at the moment," Jacobs says. "'Oh, here's another startup talking about the new media landscape,' so we're kind of wary to get into that. We've spent quite a bit of time and worked on something that we think is a unique offering and a very powerful thing. It's a great time to be doing this sort of thing. Creativity is becoming valuable again for clients after years of so much testing, so many formulas. I think a lot of the value of good creative people has been diluted by formulas and so forth."

Premutico hinted at the agency's tone: "The best work at the moment doesn't have any precedents and doesn't follow any formulas, and for that to happen the client has to trust and have access to the creative people working on their business," he says. "We really wanted to create an environment that allows us to take advantage of the new media landscape, if you like, in a way that is beneficial to our clients."

For now, Johannes and Leonardo numbers four employees including Jan and Leo. When asked if they'll be as "new model" when it comes to staffing the business side, Jacobs says he wants to avoid being hasty on structural decisions. "We don't want to put in any structures and make up these rules before we know how well they're going to work. We don't want to say 'No account people, no time sheets.' I think a lot of agencies come out saying 'We're not going to do that.' I think we'll do what we have to do to service the business bit. Our idea of how we plan to approach this, we think, is a really interesting one."

Johannes and Leonardo's space, a scant three blocks from their old digs at Saatchi, can hardly be full at the moment, but the little group's hard at work on new business leads. The two say the deep contacts they've gained in their intercontinental careers will bring in interesting types from all over, with Premutico—himself one of advertising's most awarded at 29—placing a 'talent is king' sort of emphasis on who he'd like to work with.

"What we're trying to do is concentrate on the individuals who work here, because at the end of the day they're more powerful than any model that you can put into place," says Premutico. "And right now, given how easily people can execute and come up with ideas and express and share them, those individuals have never been as powerful to clients as they can be now."

The agency's name is an amalgam of the duo's actual first names, but we can't help but think of astronomers and renaissance men Johannes Kepler and Leonardo DaVinci, who also looked into the unknown and explained it to the rest of us.

UPDATE: The agency's manifesto is up on the site. A chorus of disembodied mouths intone the statement; more mouths (with the same voice pitch-shifted) join after each line. "We are a creative community," it says. "We harness the energy of the masses by creating ideas that acknowledge them as the medium, not just the destination. That way millions of people are empowered to promote your brand, not just a handful. A legion of activists ready to enrich the brand and protect if if necessary. So that the brand has the freedom to express itself and the security to take risks. This is the landscape in which brands find themselves, and only those that embrace it will discover their full potential. Johannes Leonardo is that community. We instigate from New York."

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