John St. (DAOY)
John St. (DAOY) Group Photo

Bronze — John St. (DAOY)

John St. has a way of putting itself on the map. For its 10th anniversary in July, the agency created buzz with an official street renaming ceremony. It renamed John Street to…John Street.

It’s an example of the agency putting its mission – “be unignorable” – into action.

In the last decade, John St. has built itself into an unignorable entity, one that survived after opening its doors a few months before 9/11, emerging as an award-winning shop with a homegrown focus on digital.

In spite of its evolution, some things haven’t changed. When partners and co-CDs Stephen Jurisic and Angus Tucker founded the company with president Arthur Fleischmann, director of strategic planning Emily Bain and managing director Jane Tucker, they developed a creative manifesto, The Book of John. The book has fattened over the years to include the agency’s award-winning work, but the guiding principles, including the charge to “be unignorable,” have remained constant.

As the book says, John St. began as “the chance to do it again,” providing the opportunity to “build from the ground up” and be independent without having to answer to New York. Jurisic and Tucker had both come from large multinationals, where they say they were promoted too soon. They missed the creative process, and in starting John St., became self-taught CDs.

It’s that independence and ability to shape the agency that’s allowed them to tackle the challenge presented in The Book of John: “People hate advertising.”

“It’s true and for good reason,” says Tucker. “It’s an un-asked-for we better have something interesting to say or we better say it in an interesting way or we will be despised.”

”Or worse, ignored,” adds Jurisic. Being unignorable is a great filter, he adds, as people hate ads but love ideas.

John St. applied that philosophy to Kruger, its first client, when it literally got ScotTowels into people’s hands by inserting an actual Scot paper towel into each holiday issue of Canadian House & Home in November 2002.

Over the years, developing in-house expertise in specialty areas is what’s given the agency an edge.

In 2006 it partnered with graphic design agency AmoebaCorp., which it partly owns.

“A lot of people don’t bring true design thinking. They just make things look good,” says Jurisic.

It was the decision to develop digital from within instead of buying it that has arguably put the agency ahead of the game. Pharmaceutical client since 2008, AstraZeneca helped direct this course.

“They were fundamental to our growth,” says Tucker. “They totally pushed us into the digital landscape.”

AstraZeneca was converting paper sales materials into tablet-based PCs, and John St. converted the material into interactive electronic documents for over six brands. The project was so successful AstraZeneca adopted the technology throughout Asia and Europe. The agency invested seriously in hiring digital, and as the digital scape expanded, they added to that expertise.

They have an advantage over large agencies who have had to add digital divisions, they say, because they’ve built their expertise from the ground up and integrated digital into everything they do.

The agency recently developed its first app – for Rethink Breast Cancer’s “Your Man Reminder” campaign – which took a year to create. Staying curious, Jurisic and Tucker say, is how they’ll continue to move forward.

A sign tacked to the corkboard in their office, with a saying by Swedish digital school Hyper Island, sums it up: “When it comes to digital there’s not an age problem, only a curiosity problem.”

Let that be written in The Book of John.

The Facts

Staff: 100

New hires: Malin Holmquist, art director; Dhaval Bhatt, copywriter; Hannah Smit, art director;

Keri Zierler, copywriter; Denver Eastman, art director.

New business: Kraft Singles; Economical Insurance; WWF; Mitsubishi; Family Channel