Ex-Saatchi Execs Launch WPP-Backed Shop

NEW YORK Jan Jacobs and Leo Premutico, former executive creative directors at Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi, have unveiled a new agency: Johannes Leonardo, which is backed by WPP Group.

Taken from the duo’s given first names, the agency is located in New York’s Greenwich Village and has a “handful” of employees so far.

While no clients have been signed as yet, the founders hope to have some soon. “We’ve got a few things in the pipeline,” said Jacobs.

WPP has a minority stake in the fledgling company. The move to help finance star talent is reminiscent of Publicis’ backing of its former worldwide CCO David Droga’s Droga5 venture in 2005 and Omnicom’s support for Cutwater, which launched this year with former TBWA\Chiat\Day North American ecd Chuck McBride at the helm.

While at Saatchi, Jacobs and Premutico last worked on Wendy’s. Tony Granger, the former CCO of Saatchi’s New York operations (who yesterday shifted to WPP’s Young & Rubicam), brought the pair over from Saatchi in London two-plus years ago.

Jacobs, an art director, and Premutico, a copywriter, helped Wendy’s this year introduce a campaign featuring a man in a poorly fitted red pigtail wig talking about “hot, juicy burgers.” Before that, the pair worked on Folgers viral video “Happy Morning” and the Tide Coldwater campaign that focused on how much energy the detergent can help consumers save. The team helped the shop win several awards during their tenure, including Agency of the Year honors at this year’s Cannes Lions festival.

While they are not contractually obligated to keep away from Saatchi clients or employees, they say they won’t pursue either. “We won’t be doing that,” said Jacobs.

The new agency came about after WPP chief Martin Sorrell contacted the duo. “Martin got in touch with us. That was kind of it. We really want to do something to follow our dream. And this is it,” said Premutico.

Johannes Leonardo is designed to straddle the line between digital and traditional shops, said Jacobs. “There’s a lot of cynicism in another littler place saying we know how deal with new media landscape,” he said. “We’re not here because of the Internet and we’re not an advertising agency. There’s an opportunity for people who understand how to brand clients and create interesting work that acknowledges what is going on in media landscape.”