26 Agency Leaders You Should Be Watching

Meet the innovative executives on Adweek's Creative 100

From left, Madwell co-founders Chris Sojka and David Eisenman, Saturday Morning co-founder Jayanta Jenkins and Spark & Riot founder Ana de Diego.
Headshot of David Griner

Leaders of the agency world used to be seen as names on doors, authors of books and fonts of quippy, quotable wisdom. Today’s best leaders, however, can be found operating at the ground level each day, leading by listening so they can stay in tune with the needs of their teams, their clients and the ever-evolving culture around them. Here are 26 names you should know when it comes to excellence in modern agency leadership.

Jayanta Jenkins
Co-founder, Saturday Morning
Based in: San Francisco

Recent work: Procter & Gamble’s “The Look,” created in partnership with Geoff Edwards, Keith Cartwright, Kwame Taylor-Hayford and Deja Cox. “It was an initiative that shines a light on the struggles of Black men and continues Marc Pritchard’s efforts to champion conversations around inclusivity,” says Jenkins. “My specific role in the project was as a creative lead.”

The personal impact of quarantine: “This quarantine period has given me pause to reflect how to ‘be with me’ and place a higher value on compassion,” he says. “I also have a 2-year-old son named Phoenix, and the way he looks at our world is a gift. Phoenix has been teaching me so much about myself during this period, and it is changing the way I think of myself as a creative leader and the brands I want to support.”

Advice for rising creatives: “Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Adrian Belina and Pablo Vio
Founders and global creative directors, Jam3
Based in: Los Angeles (Belina) and Toronto (Vio)

Recent work: “We crashed last year’s Coachella for Adidas Originals to do a super-sneaky product launch for the not-yet-released Donald Glover sneaker collab,” Belina says. “Ahead of his headlining set as Childish Gambino, our producers and creatives were walking the campgrounds with iPhones renamed to ‘Donald Glover’ and AirDropping unsuspecting concertgoers with his unreleased shoes. It was our smallest activation of the year, but the one with the biggest amount of buzz.”

Advice for rising creatives: “Never lose sight of what gets you out of bed every day. Your passion and love for what you do will drive you to your next track and beyond. If the track you’re on is not getting you there, find a new one,” says Vio.

Personal mantras: “There are two sayings we have that you might see plastered on our walls and on our swag,” says Belina. “‘The Relentless Pursuit of Better’ and a not-so-subtle, ‘Give all the fucks.'”

Barney Goldberg
Ecd, Innocean USA
Based in: Huntington Beach, Calif.

Recent work: Hyundai’s “Smaht Pahk” Super Bowl ad. “This year’s spot was a perfect blend of entertainment and actually selling something,” says Goldberg. “It’s pretty much a product demo with movie stars. From the cast to [director and Creative 100 honoree] Bryan Buckley to how it was received, it really was a special spot.”

On the lessons of quarantine: “Now that we’ve all had to work from home, we can see it does work. I can see agencies being more open to it in the future.” But, he adds, “I do think we’re missing out on the culture-building and creativity of being together.”

Personal mantra: “Work hard, and be nice to people. Nice doesn’t mean you lower the standard. The standard is always high. Nice just means people will feel good about the work and themselves when it’s all over.”

Elaine Cox
Ecd, Heat + Deloitte Digital
Based in: San Francisco

Recent work: Let’s Get Consensual, a campaign educating the public about physical and sexual consent. “This was a passion project, start to finish,” she says. “An ACD team brought this idea to me, to use technology to make consent common sense. Consent is a sensitive and stigmatized topic that too many people avoid or run from. So we set out to change the way this conversation was brought up by leveraging familiar tech to deliver ‘ah-ha’ moments in the places where consent awareness matters most. Together, we crafted the ideas and recruited a few other passionate people around the agency to bring these ideas to life. I sold the work through the rest of our leadership team, pushing for funding to bring this to life. After quite a bit of persistence, we got the funding we needed to really make an impact. And it kept growing from there.”

On growing up in San Francisco: “As a child of refugees, I never felt like I was like anyone else. But because the city was so diverse and everyone was so different from one another, our differences never mattered. Growing up with and around so many languages and cultures taught me to connect with all kinds of people.”

Personal mantra: “‘I have my way with words.’ This is meaningful on multiple levels. Whether it’s wrestling with writer’s block, being analytical, looking for creative inspiration, turning negativity into fuel to push oneself, or finding opportunity in everything, I always make my best effort to make my best effort.”

Chris Sojka and David Eisenman
Co-founders, Madwell

Based in: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Recent work: “I’m incredibly proud of a campaign we developed called We Are the Countervirus, which has run now on every continent, with over 35 million impressions in donated media, and all around the U.S. from grocery stores to highway sides to doctors’ offices to Times Square on the big screen,” Sojka says. “It felt good to do something good, and at scale, when I suddenly felt so powerless as an agency owner.”

Eisenman’s side business: “RifRaf is the leading single-serve ricotta cup in the industry. It currently comes in five delicious and unique flavors,” he says. “RifRaf is special to me because I was able to combine two of my favorite things: cheese and business.”

Personal mantra: “Non erit terebravisse,” says Sojka. “Never be bored.”

Shannon Washington
Group ecd, R/GA
Based in: New York

Recent work: “When I can, I love working with smaller businesses that I share a passion with, and last year I connected with Andréa and Robin McBride—aka The McBride Sisters—an unapologetic, black women-owned wine company that is looking to completely upend their industry. My kind of people. After connecting initially with a conversation about a campaign, I unpacked the brand a bit and suggested that they strengthen the brand’s foundation before jumping into a campaign. So together with my strategic partner, Anita, we spent a few months as a two-woman shop and did an accelerated creative x strategy sprint that delivered a clearer brand story, vision, and easily segued into a beautiful campaign that will launch soon.”

On working the (famously secretive) Apple account before joining R/GA: “I, along with some very talented people at Media Arts Lab, made something gorgeous for Apple. I co-led a team of 10-plus amazing creatives on a journey that recontextualized entertainment, culture and community, and made some groundbreaking choices in terms of the directors we collaborated with. A new take on an iconic name. And of course that’s all I can say about it.”

Advice to creatives: “Be brave enough to challenge everything you know to be true and don’t fall victim to your expectations.”

Ana de Diego
Founder, Spark & Riot
Based in: Los Angeles

On launching a production startup in 2018: “The goal was to build a company that produces a variety of projects, all with an ethos of giving back through and after production,” says de Diego. “Since the birth of Spark & Riot, we have produced numerous projects across different industries and have helped dozens of nonprofits and causes by creating content and financing specific projects for them.”

Recent work: Dove’s “Amplified,” featuring four Black women sharing their stories of hair discrimination in the workplace. “Not only is the ethos of the brand and messaging in line with Spark & Riot’s,” she says, “but it allowed us to build a strong nonprofit partnership with the ballerina Ingrid Silva, and we have already started manufacturing ballet pointe shoes for all skin shades.”

Personal mantra: “There will be sleeping enough in the grave. Benjamin Franklin.”

Erica Roberts
Ecd, Publicis NY
Based in: New York

Recent work: “I’m most proud of the work we’ve done this year on Jif, starting with the launch of the ‘That Jif’ing Good’ Campaign, which injected fun, modernity and irreverence into such an iconic brand. Without that total brand refresh, we wouldn’t have had the right to hijack the #JifvsGif debate the way we did. That activation was created in partnership with Giphy and really put the brand front and center culturally. I was the ECD over this new work from Jif, along with all the other consumer and coffee brand relaunches from J.M. Smucker. This includes our new ‘Morning Harmonizers’ campaign for Folgers, ‘Father Nature’ for Smuckers and ‘Quality that’s Criminal’ for 1850 Coffee, to name a few.”

This story first appeared in the June 8, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."
Publish date: June 7, 2020 https://stage.adweek.com/creativity/adweeks-creative-100-2020s-senior-agency-leaders/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT