He’s a renaissance man in the post digital age.
Jason Jercinovic’s career has spanned the marketing, entertainment, and tech industries. He’s been an advertising exec, a musician, a surfer, and an entrepreneur. Now, he’s leading innovation at Havas Worldwide.
We sat down with Jason to discuss some of the key takeaways he’s learned along the way: the importance of humility and authenticity, why togetherness works, and how we can empower consumers with technology.
The Mag: Tell us about your background. How did you end up at Havas?
JJ: This tour of duty is actually my second at Havas. After I sold my first agency to a holding company, the climate changed dramatically. It was after 9/11, I was in New York, not working, and my wife had been accepted to Le Cordon Bleu. So we decided to move down to Australia. After spending some time DJing, reading, and surfing, it was time for me to get a real job again. I joined Euro RSCG, where I was the head of digital for many years. I helped grow what was called Euro4D at the time (the digital guys), working with clients like Sony, Intel, Dell, Tourism Australia, and the Northern Territory Tourist Commision.
I was then recruited by a venture capitalist to be an entrepreneur in resident for a mobile startup. Later, we were acquired and, together with eight other agencies, we IPO’d. I worked with them for quite a bit after – helping buy companies and working on operational efficiencies. They wanted to take the business to North America and needed a managing director to run things. I volunteered, moved back to New York…and timing was rough as it was the day before Lehman Brothers.
I turned to publishing for a bit at Complex Media and started Complex Video, before getting involved with a social media startup called Magnetic.TV. We launched with Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. It was a very Hollywood life…until our business wasn’t. Hard lessons learned. That’s when I landed at R/GA managing the global Nike account.
In 2011, Havas (still called EuroRSCG then) brought me in to run the New York digital business, as well as to be the global lead on the IBM account. I was living on a plane going back and forth to Portland, and this was a chance to be closer to my kids and work on an exciting and different challenge.
At that time at Euro, we merged the “traditional business” and the digital business into one P&L. New York was not the only office, but it later helped push along what we are now all doing under the “Together” Havas-wide mantra.
But you know, my first career was actually in music.
The Mag: No way! Tell us the story.
JJ: So something you don’t see on my LinkedIn profile is that I went to grad school for music composition. I was obsessed with music and focused mostly on playing the bassoon in the symphony. I also play horns and DJ. And for many years, I made more money doing that than anything else. I also had a blast.
I came to New York when I was selected to audition for the Barcelona Opera. By luck, I got the gig. The rehearsals were in New York City, so I visited and subsequently realized that there were other people who were like me. Up until that point, I thought I was the odd one out. So I did the one-way ticket thing to NYC and played music professionally for my first few years here. My favorite story of that time was when I had a residency at Sound Factory Bar on Thursday nights, where David Lee Roth was a regular.
The Mag: What’s your favorite song to drop in when you DJ?
JJ: It depends on the mood. Right now it would be Prince’s “Sexy MF.”
Very sad, the Prince thing. It seems like we are losing too many great artists recently. If you do one thing today, you will be much better if you listen to some Prince:
The Mag: What’s the biggest thing you learned from your failure at the mobile startup?
JJ: If it feels too good to be true then it is. And nothing hurts more than losing your (and your family’s) money. It was a really humbling experience. I also wish I had better advisors and a mentors at the time. But I do feel lucky that two of the three startups I’ve done have had successful exits.
You know, you get caught up in the excitement and the growth. But what I experienced led to me to believe: You have to be yourself—to clients, colleagues, celebrities, friends. You have to be really respectful and honest about what you believe in and why.
You also have to get the ideas out and see if they are capable of making things better. Not all ideas and passions are as good as they seem at the time, but some of them have the potential to be a real game changer. My mantra is: “You are only as good as your next idea.” #neverstop
The Mag: Is that what you do with your team?
JJ: I try to be as transparent as possible with my team. And you’ve gotta put a smile on your face and keep perspective. Sometimes things go off the rails, but you have to maintain a level of realness and be able to crack a joke from time to time. At the end of the day, we’re telling brand stories and building future platforms; we’re not driving ambulances. The Innovation and hard work comes out faster and better if you are having a good time and doing it with good people that you like to work with.
JJ: The biggest priority is having a clear and mutually understood approach to innovation. We’ve defined the pillars of innovation as brand evolution, ways of working (operation and production), and products and services. The next stage is to integrate this approach into our client relationships to systematically scale and repeat excellence.
If we align on these pillars of innovation across creative and media, we can do even more. Togetherness is especially important right now. I’ve been seeing that clients don’t want to deal with various agencies and stakeholders doing many different things; they want alignment. But at the same time, they also want to put a bunch of specialists together in a room to generate the most value. So we need small bodies of specialty that ladder up to a broader company relationship.
When Jason is not hustling to a meeting or helping spread the Havas message, he tries to keep up with his boys Leo and Hugo and his wife’s amazing food skills.