Ignited’s Eric Johnson Builds the Entrepreneurial Agency

Eric Johnson is the founder and CEO of Ignited, the full service ad agency based in Los Angeles, California. As a former SVP of Marketing at Activision, Eric left to found a company that would re-imagine the ad agency model. The result is Ignited, a 120+ person agency that has expanded its remit well beyond standard creative and media services.

The Makegood: Eric, you’re reinventing the agency from the inside out by allowing staffers to be more entrepreneurial and develop their own businesses. Can you tell us about that program?

Ignited Labs was conceived as a way for us to identify and invest in emerging marketing technology ideas. Initially, we invested in outside start-ups.  But we realized that some of the best ideas come from challenges our clients are facing, and that our own team could come up with innovative ideas that could be breakthrough business ideas. So we created our internal labs program to help encourage and surface those ideas. The program has a number of elements:

a.) Money: We provide incentive compensation and ultimately equity, if the ideas become businesses. We modeled the structure the way universities compensate professors who develop business ideas. The basic model is $500 bonus for an idea that advances to proof of concept: $5,000 for a concept we put into production, 5% of the production budget if we sell the execution to a client, and 5% equity if we turn it in to a business.

b.) Inspiration: We regularly bring in speakers who share their stories. We recently hosted Tim Westergren, who founded Pandora. We are hosting the author Simon Sinek this week, who became famous from a TED talk he did about leadership and purpose.

The Makegood: Ignited also makes outside investments in marketing and technology startups. Can you tell us about a couple of the investments that are particularly exciting right now?

We have made investments in 6 ventures so far. Here are a few of them:

Pixelmags. It’s a digital magazine publishing platform that distributes digital magazines. It exists on the Apple Newstand, and currently has deals with over 700 publications and has 22 million unique users. Digital magazines are taking off, and we are learning how consumers are behaving with this new media type.

Illuminare Labs is a venture we are doing with 3 UCLA neuroscientists that is looking to understand how humans make decisions by analyzing their brains in fMRI scanners.

Each of the investments we are involved with provide us an opportunity to get a high return on our capital, but also to inspire us to help our clients in new, innovative ways.

The Makegood: Ignited has both creative and digital media planning and buying capabilities. Why did you decide to provide a full service offering?

In the digital age, we have found that being well versed in digital media is critical to delivering powerful creative ideas. We buy from over 400 digital media properties. By meeting with these companies all of the time, we surface understanding about consumer behavior and how emerging media properties are creating new opportunities. We don’t believe creative agencies living in a silo are the optimal way to make advertising.

The Makegood: You have said that “Los Angeles has a chance to replace New York as the world capital of advertising.” Why do you believe that?

LA has some unique advantages:

  • Over 50% of all TV spots are shot in LA
  • Emerging tech heavily weighted in California- North and South: we’re closer to emerging Tech
  • LA is the world capital of creativity: Between movies, TV, music, videogames and youth culture- we are at the epicenter of creativity.  As marketing and content become more intertwined, LA is uniquely positioned to take advantage of it.
  • Collaboration: LA is set up as a highly collaborative place.  There is a culture of assembling teams, and then splitting them apart without shame.  We think collaboration is going to be critical to the future of marketing.

The Makegood: Thanks, Eric.