Jeff Kling, Laura Janness and Barney Robinson open agency Lightning Orchard

Independent creative shop is based in Brooklyn

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(From l.): Lightning Orchard CEO Barney Robinson, Chief Strategy Officer Laura Janness and Chief Creative Officer Jeff Kling
(From l.): Lightning Orchard CEO Barney Robinson, Chief Strategy Officer Laura Janness and Chief Creative Officer Jeff Kling Credit: Lightning Orchard

A trio of industry vets, Jeff Kling, Barney Robinson and Laura Janness, have joined forces to open Lightning Orchard, a new independent creative agency based in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

Kling, who will serve as chief creative officer, last served in the same post at Fallon Minneapolis, where he led campaigns such as Arby's "We have the meats" and Loctite's Super Bowl debut. Prior to that, he had made his mark with efforts like Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man" via Euro RSCG and "Miller High Life" out of Wieden & Kennedy Portland and directed by Errol Morris. Kling departed the agency last May with the goal of starting his own company in New York.

Robinson and Janness serve as chief executive officer and chief strategy officer, respectively, after serving in those roles at independent shop Barton F. Graf. Before that, the pair had worked together when Robinson had been managing director at BBH and Janness was at Google, one of his agency's clients.

The name of the company speaks to its M.O.--"growth at speed" for its clients.

"You can't think of the creation of our species separate of the species' natural inclination to create," Kling says. "We wanted to reflect that and we wanted to signal, albeit in a poetic way, that we are about results." Or to put it bluntly, they want to be "the shiv" in their clients' sock--the ones who just "get things done," Kling says.

The agency's first work is a new outdoor and print campaign for New York real estate platform StreetEasy that celebrates the city as the center of the world, where "staring out the window is better than TV" and where Godzilla-inspired creatures battle over pizza joints Lucali and DiFara. (To illustrate how the agency was the "shiv" on this one, Robinson donned a gorilla suit to portray one of the characters in the campaign).

From StreetEasy's 'There's Only One City' campaign
From StreetEasy's 'There's Only One City' campaign Credit: StreetEasy

The partners say strategy is a key pillar of its offerings. "The communication landscape is only getting more complicated, so it's imperative to have deeper thought and better, organized thinking," Robinson says. "I don't know how you move forward in a meaningful way without strategy being central to everything."

The agency, which currently has a staff of 12, has four other clients the partners can't yet disclose, but more work will roll out in the coming weeks.

The trio's coming together was born out of a bit of wishful thinking and serendipity. Kling had originally met Robinson about seven years ago during a visit to Barton F. Graf. "I realized, in a handshake, that if I was ever going to open my own place, that I needed to find my own Barney," Kling says. Fortuitously, after he finally made the decision to go on his own, "a mutual friend told me that the real Barney had left his agency and was available."

Each partner had their own reason for starting anew. "Leaving Fallon was really difficult," says Kling. "It was a great setup, but I knew I had to do my own thing, and if I didn't leap at it, given where my daughters are in life (one is just about to start high school, another is a sophomore)--it would be another six or seven years. New York had been my spiritual home, and when we left in 2007, we knew we'd be back." On top of that, he was exorcising another demon: "I had a stepfather who was always asking me, why haven't you opened your own agency yet? My whole purpose in life was to silence him," he jokes.

Both Robinson and Janness hadn't originally expected to work together again. They had resigned from Barton last April with hopes of pursuing new opportunities individually--Janness, for one, wanted to ensure that whatever her next gig was, "strategy played a central role and I could become an equal equity partner."

At Lightning Orchard, she has more than she hoped for. Janness' slice of equity is actually the largest of all the partners--though they won't disclose by how much. Whatever the amount, "holding majority equity sends a clear message that strategy sits at the top of everything we create, and women will always be treated equally," she says. "In fact, should there be any gender pay gap, it will finally work in favor of women."

The agency is currently in talks with a local nonprofit and education experts to develop an in-house program to train young, diverse and underprivileged talents while also providing them with real job opportunities in the industry. "A lot of kids get left behind in the New York education system because they don't test well but they're actually really creative thinkers," Janness says. "We're looking to use our creativity and experience to find new ways to fix problems. I don't want to sit on a panel and talk about diversity. I want to sit with people and figure it out."

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