A former chief strategy officer for Barton F. Graf, Laura Janness co-founded Lightning Orchard in Brooklyn in 2019. Starting its first year with zero clients, employees and outside investments, the agency now has eight figures in annual revenue, released critically acclaimed Super Bowl campaigns for Oikos Triple Zero and Dashlane and has more than 30 employees.
“Everywhere I've ever worked before had left me emotionally exhausted because I spent time fighting for my voice,” Janness says. “I knew that if I just created a new agency where I was completely equal, I would have the emotional energy to build something truly meaningful for not only my local community but the industry as a whole.”
Janness also spearheaded the creation and execution of a program dedicated to training at-risk BIPOC high school youths for careers in the communications arts through real-life job opportunities. Built with NYC nonprofit Good Shepard Services, the program, which has over 30 interns, is designed to provide a long-term commitment for students through and post-graduation.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Go out on my own sooner, do it sooner, do it faster. I think I was capable of doing what I'm doing now years ago but was probably too scared at the time and that's nonsense. I know how to build an agency and I know how to do it with zero outside investment.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Starting my own company with zero outside investment. It's a really scary thing when you don't have income coming in and you're on the hook for everything. When you're on the hook for a lease, for paying someone's salary and, they just had a baby that’s the weight that you're carrying every hour of every day of the week. I take it very seriously. The responsibility you have as an owner of a company isn't just to yourself, it's to everyone who chooses to be a part of it and believes in it. I feel the same way about our 32 students. I wake up every day, not wanting to let them down. I wake up every day wanting to make sure I give them access to every single opportunity that they deserve. I feel the same way about our employees.
If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you be doing and why?
I'd be all in with my philanthropy. I want every single kid in this city to graduate and get a high school diploma.
What should the industry do to encourage more women and people of color into its ranks?
I always tell everyone. curiosity doesn't exist unless people feel safe. Those two things go hand in hand, we have to create safe environments for people. Traditionally creative and creativity has been this angsty thing everybody was afraid of and I think that's wrong. I've watched that with our own internship program. I've watched that with young women, I've worked with, when people feel safe, and they can really bring their true selves to the table that's really an important piece of it. The other important piece is that everyone has to be involved in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable.
If you're not uncomfortable, you are not doing enough and if you don't have the emotional capacity to put yourself in that position, then you need to leave what you're currently doing. It is our responsibility, each and every one of us, to put ourselves in a position where we're doing the work of actively, coaching, mentoring, helping, giving them opportunities, and not doing the bad crap that bad leaders do, like stealing ideas, shutting people out, or being afraid of what someone's going to say in a meeting. What I watch the industry doing is delegating the responsibility instead of everybody collectively taking it and really owning it. If you don't know where to start, and if it feels too overwhelming, call me. It reminds me of my mom when I was a kid, she'd be like, ‘Oh, you're bored. I have some things for you to do.’ I'm like, ‘Oh, you don't know where to start. I can give you a bunch of places where you can start.’ So, find your starting place and just start doing it.
Which campaign or other piece of work have you seen in the last year that you wish you had done?
Pretty much anything coming out of Droga London right now. That “Just Because,” Diet Coke ad is incredible. I just want to watch it over and over again. It's fantastic.