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Michael Duda on Making Johannes Leonardo the “World’s Most Creatively Ambitious Agency”

Michael DudaMichael Duda was recently named CEO of Johannes Leonardo, a new role at the creative agency helmed by co-founders Leo Premutico and Jan Jacobs. Duda was previously co-founder and managing partner of Consigliere Brand Capital, and prior to that he spent over a decade leading Deutsch, most recently as partner and chief corporate strategy. In his new role, Duda will oversee Johannes Leonardo’s operations, teams and clients, which include Google, Diet Coke, Sprite and Nike. The Makegood recently spoke with Michael about why he made this transition and where he sees the agency heading.

The Makegood: Congratulations on being named CEO of Johannes Leonardo! What made this creative agency such an attractive destination for you?

A few things.  First and foremost, the people. While the talent and creative product are incredible at Johannes Leonardo, the Agency is comprised of great human beings that want to be a part of something bigger than what they could do elsewhere. Second, the business climate has had massive change in the past five years and my belief is that Johannes Leonardo’s modern infrastructure and ‘consumer is the medium’ proposition is phenomenally poised for the challenges brave brands face.

The Makegood: You join Johannes Leonardo coming off of tremendous success with Consigliere Brand Capital, what did you learn there that will help you the most at Johannes?

I was an acting CMO, an agency search consultant and an entrepreneur working with other entrepreneurs – no one succeeded unless we all did. The purview into the client and investment world gave me incredible insight into the realities brands face, which are far greater than what agencies typically see. It reinforced my belief that accountability should be a business imperative for any agency to its clients.

The Makegood: You’ve been involved in marketing since being with Young & Rubicam in the early 90s. How has the landscape changed over the last two decades, and how have you stayed ahead of the trends?

I don’t take a lot of stock in people who claim to stay ahead of trends. That has proven countless times to yield fool’s gold or “un-commercializable” propositions.

I just love to help the brands who have the guts to place their faith in us to win. Period. It’s so much fun to talk about what the world will look like in 2020, etc., but if one of our clients does not make their sales numbers, their livelihood is in jeopardy. I’ve seen this on the agency side, the client side and the investment side. There is no tomorrow without a successful today, so I have long taken pride in trying to know more than anyone else about the state of business, what Wall Street thinks, what the macro challenges are, etc. and THEN figure out how to solve the issue. And no other industry – I repeat, no other – can uniquely solve business and brand issues like an agency that believes in creative problem solving.

At Johannes Leonardo, we have about 50 people who collectively speak 11 languages, hail from Ivy League schools and come from amazing agencies across the globe. We have award-winning creative directors from Australia and Asia that want to come here as art directors for the opportunity. So, yes, I laugh about worrying about future trends and the what-ifs; I want us to be able to over-index on the ability for our clients to win NOW.

The Makegood: What prevailing challenge in marketing keeps you up at night and what are you doing to take care of it and sleep peacefully? 

Getting the best people, deepening our commitment to building an unbelievable and unique culture, and making sure we are doing everything to make our client’s brands win.

The Makegood: Now that you have joined the team at Johannes, what are your initial plans to help keep this agency among the industry leaders?

Johannes Leonardo is an insatiable group of talented, ambitious people. As such, I do not think any of us believe we are truly recognized as an industry leader. Yet.

But here’s why we will be: For one of our clients, we received the highest report card amongst all its agencies. For another, we helped win the world’s first Cannes Mobile Grand Prix very recently. And for our newest brand, we met the client of a $50 billion+ market cap company on a Wednesday, was briefed on its major category challenge the following Monday and had a creative platform the client believes perfectly addresses the issues four days later. Beat that.

Speed is a business imperative today and often – it means sacrificing creative excellence. Not at Johannes Leonardo. Our Agency listens to the problem at hand and insatiably seeks to find creative solutions that do involve, but often transcend, just advertising.

Johannes Leonardo aims to be the world’s most creatively ambitious agency that solves the toughest business challenges.  As such, my plan is to galvanize each and every teammate and continue to build a culture that clients aspire to work with and brands believe they need. If I do that, we win even bigger. If I don’t, I look forward to what the next CEO writes in this column because it’s on me.

The Makegood: Thank you, Michael

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