Johannes Leonardo's president dislikes the holding company model, loves VW
It was a busy first quarter for Johannes Leonardo. In early February the 12-year-old shop announced that it would buy a "significant" portion of itself back from WPP. The holding company reduced its minority stake from 49 percent to 25 percent. Then, later that same month, Volkswagen tapped it to be its lead agency.
Those two events were not wholly unrelated, says Johannes Leonardo president Bryan Yasko on the latest episode of the "Ad Lib" podcast. That holding company independence is crucial to how the shop was formed in 2007, why VW went with the shop as its lead agency and how it will chart its course for the next decade.
"Independence is incredibly important for us: How we differentiate ourselves in the marketplace, how we attract talent, how we are able to pivot and be nimble for our clients," Yasko says on the podcast. "It was just important that that financial structure reflected the nature of how we run our business day-to-day."
Yasko was on hand to discuss his agency's strong 2019 (so far) and what it means for Johannes Leonardo going forward. As someone who has spent time at Publicis and Droga5, in large shops and small, Yasko is convinced the holding company model does not set agencies up for success.
"Advertising is not an industry you can measure on a quarterly basis. I wish it was but it's not," he says. "Sometimes you have to make decisions that are not best for the short term but are going to pay off in the long term." But holding companies demand margins that are often only met with short-term thinking.
On VW and the path forward
With the Volkswagen account, JL becomes "the fifth lead agency to touch that brand," says Yasko. It's not an honor he takes lightly. "The story of VW from an advertising standpoint is that they are the brand that invented modern advertising," he says, alluding to the game-changing work Doyle Dane Bernbach did for the automaker in the 1960s, at the height of the creative revolution.
Today, VW could use a little love, especially as it emerges from a 2015 emissions scandal that severely damaged the brand. Yasko says recovering from that was not part of the brief as much as looking at our evolving relationships with our cars, electric and autonomous vehicles and the future of mobility.
"It's such a famous brand," he says. "How do you resurrect the soul of the brand and reinvent it for a new generation?"
Yasko discusses all of this on the podcast, plus working with another client, Adidas, as well as his thoughts on the broader industry trend toward project work.