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“I refuse to set agendas or plans”: Beyond the Brief featuring John Sampogna, Wondersauce

John Sampogna, co-founder and managing partner of Wondersauce

When you’re in your mid- to late-20s, one of the worst fears is that you’ll get too “lost in the sauce,” career-wise. Hearing about driven individuals like John Sampogna, co-CEO and founding partner of Wondersauce may also get you there.

At age 27, the Hunter College grad and friend Eric Mayville founded the shop, spending months freelancing to survive, while taking business development gigs for anyone looking for help. Sampogna started off in client services at agency Code and Theory and internet firm Schematic. Five years and four offices (in New York, Columbus, OH, Los Angeles and their newly opened London office) later, it seems as if this grind is paying off. They’ve taken on work for Master and Dynamic, GQ, Derek Jeter’s blog The Players’ Tribune, and DKNY, and welcome all challengers.

To the Wondersauce team who started out by building platforms and products for brands, infrastructure and human behavior has become their calling card. It’s one of the major reasons that (ironically) Sampogna’s digital shop can now claim their stake as a full-service agency. He’ll tell you that none of this was planned, but it’s clear when you read his musings on topics like voice assistants and the agency’s evolution in the past half-decade, Sampogna’s a forward thinker. This way of thinking has gotten him and his co-founder notoriety as some of industry’s best young minds and their agency as one to watch for years to come.

Sampogna gets what’s next and how Wondersauce can be part of the future, and that’s only possible by living a life beyond the brief.

What was your proudest career moment?

Watching employee growth. Seeing people evolve personally and professionally from an intern to managing teams and big clients, and seeing them from afar as they’re leading a discussion and the amount of respect they command, how well-spoken they are. Without that, we couldn’t scale to the next level.

We have a small army that understands Wondersauce, our ethos, how to get the best out of our team and now that first generation that came up below us is finding the next generation and teaching them. I imagine it’s how you feel when you have grandkids.

Best moment in a client presentation? Worst moment? Funniest moment?

We were pitching a large brand couple years back, in the finals and the last agency to pitch that day. Waiting in the lobby, we crossed paths with like, 17 people, from another agency who were noticeably older. There were just three of us and we thought, “Oh well, let’s get to it.”

So we walk into the room and it’s full of people, and swag. Agency swag is literally all over the place. Notebooks, Moleskines, USB’s. All of it. We didn’t have anything. I kicked the meeting off by saying “The children are here to entertain you for 45 minutes, and we don’t have any swag.” Everyone laughed, it broke the ice and led to an amazing discussion. We won the business and are still working with the client a few years later.

What do you believe your legacy in advertising is/will be? Why is that?

I don’t want my legacy to be anything, but I would love Wondersauce to one day be referenced in whatever the equivalent is to a textbook in 2030. If we had one little moment to exist forever in something that teaches the next generation about marketing or advertising. “There was this company Wondersauce and it was, whatever, and it changed something or did something interesting." In this ever-changing flooded and competitive environment, that would mean a lot to me.

Where is your happy place/space?

Greenport, Long Island —it’s like, the non-sexy, anti-Hamptons Montauk. I love it because it’s completely laid back, like a desolate harbor town in Maine, but it’s two hours from the city and the most peaceful place to spend weekends.

What’s a virtue that you live by?

I live by the phrase “nothing in life is easy and if it is, it’s probably not worth pursuing.”

When you take a break from work (i.e. - vacation), what do you like to do most? Why?

I refuse to set agendas or plans. I get anxiety about making plans for dinner. Am I going to want to get off the beach at 7? I don’t care, I’ll find something to eat.

To celebrate its 100th Anniversary, the 4A’s has partnered with us at The Drum to pull back the curtain and look at an industry full of problem solvers, creative types and analytical minds. But what keeps them going once the briefs are written, the campaigns executed, and the pitches won (or lost)? We’re interviewing 100 people at 4A’s member agencies — across all disciplines, levels, regions, and agency types — to get a glimpse into what drives them at work and what fuels them in life.

To pitch someone from a 4A's member agency for Beyond the Brief, please complete this linked form.