Wednesday 27 March 2019

“We have to champion instinct once more” – Leo Premutico, co- Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Johannes Leonardo

Ahead of his brief return to Australian adland, creative export Leo Premutico took some time to chat with TCC about his AWARD tour, his thoughts on Australian creative and its biggest strengths, and the one thing that the industry has neglected. Read the full interview below.

You’ve been announced as the Chair of Judges at this year’s AWARD Awards. In your opinion, what does the impact of winning an award have on an agency?

The best thing about awards isn’t what happens when we win them, it’s what happens prior. How awards allow us to set the bar and make us an industry that questions our current approach, and challenges us to raise our game. I’ve seen a lot of agencies do well at award shows but it does not necessarily translate to business success. And vice versa. I’ve also seen the truly avant-garde work be overlooked. So it’s important not to place too much stock in awards.

The most important thing is to create the sort of work you really believe in, and unleash all of your creative energies on the problem you face, regardless of whether or not you feel it’ll garner accolades. More often than not when that part is done well everything else follows. The agency develops new skills. The work impacts culture, is progressive and effective. That’s when, and how, an agency is meaningfully transformed.

You’ll be guest presenting in Sydney at the creative leadership course. Can you give us a flavour of your talk?

Hindsight is a very powerful thing. The unfortunate thing is attaining it requires a lot of time. So first and foremost I’ll want to share my experience and be as honest as possible so that others can benefit from the journey I’ve been on. I’ve never pretended or believed talent is handed down from above. I’ve always believed that passion will ultimately prevail and that people open to learning from their own experiences, as well as the experiences of others will eventually get to where they want to be. Basically I want to dismantle any doubts people may have as they start to grow.

What are your thoughts on creativity, its commercial value and its impact on business success?

As an industry we’ve done a brilliant job of eroding our own value. Largely by chasing short-term trends and revenue. Our honeymoon with digital media is coming to an end and we’re now about to see what we’ve neglected – creative ideas with substance.

We have to champion instinct once more. Instinct allows us to operate from a place of emotion rather than theory. It frees us to back ideas that are right, not on-trend. It forces us to re-orient our creative energies around our client’s needs not pre-existing models.

And our work only ever becomes more courageous and effective as a result. If we truly understand and get behind that, and we all can, we will be able to create work that provides true, commercial value once more.

In your opinion, what are the biggest strengths among Australian creatives?

I’m very grateful for the upbringing I had as an Australian. Growing up you learn that nothing ever comes to you, that if you want something you have to roll up your sleeves, take the initiative and chase it down. No matter which creative profession you enter, developing grit is imperative if you want to succeed. Ultimately that’s what instills confidence and allows you to remain optimistic and ambitious.

We are often punching above our own weight but it rarely intimidates us. I love that about Australian creatives. We’ve got our fair share in New York, which makes the agency feel even more like a home, especially since I only spent one year in Sydney before leaving for Auckland then London.

So while it’s easy to be full of admiration of what happens in other, big, worldly cities it’s important to remind yourself that you have what it takes to make an impact in any market you choose because you have something different to offer.

Can you single out your finest creative moment to date? And your biggest creative challenge?

Probably seeing the faces of team members when we achieve something that I may have said was possible but deep down questioned whether it actually was. It’s when we overcome doubt together – those are the most fulfilling moments.

In terms of the actual work, I’m very proud of the business impact we’ve had on adidas Originals over the past 5 years. But, as I suspect it is for most creatives, it’s the next challenge that excites me the most. For adidas that means continuing to push the brand to feel as fresh today as when we launched the strikethru campaign a few years ago.

And then there is our recent VW win. This is arguably the brand that invented advertising as we know it today. So for them to turn to us and ask us to re-invent their brand at such a critical moment in their history is a big honor.

These are the opportunities we started an agency for. They don’t happen overnight, but if you persevere and don’t cut any corners the opportunity will come.

Catch Leo at our upcoming AWARD Unplugged event.

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