Ben Lilley consolidates his agencies under new Hero agency network

Ben Lilley has brought his agencies – McCann, The Red Republic, Smart, JSA Digital and Engine Room Productions – together under a new consolidated group called Hero.

All of the agencies now operate under one profit and loss statement across Australia and New Zealand, based on a single cloud technology platform. Lilley says the new business model reflects the “post-COVID” world in which clients want a “single-service model”.

Lilley’s group of agencies now falls under the name Hero

“When the crisis hit, like every agency we had to rethink our entire operating model, especially in Melbourne where our office building has now been closed for more than half of 2020,” Lilley said.

“We had the benefit though of being an independent, unencumbered by legacy issues or network structures. So we’ve been able to redesign our complete operation and transition to a national model of Borderless Creativity, implementing cloud-based technology and platforms to maintain seamless business delivery no matter where each client or staff member is based.

“We cater to clients who are looking for a single-service model, with creative, media, production, PR, digital and data all under the one roof. Our national group is able to rapidly integrate a complete marketing-services offering that is diverse, creatively inspired and seamless, with a single HERO point of contact. This includes integrating external agencies who are part of a client’s roster, to allow them to also operate within the single integrated HERO group structure.”

Technically, Hero is only the name of the technology platform that has brought the agencies together.

Lilley told Mumbrella that most agencies sit under the holding company, The Hero Corporation Pty Ltd, however through his recent acquisitions, not all do.

“The exact details of the overall corporate structure are a little more complex due to the way that each of the acquisitions in the group have been structured this year,” he said.

“For legal and other financial reasons, some acquisitions have been full company acquisitions, which now sit under the holding company ‘The Hero Corporation Pty Ltd’, however other deals have been brand or asset acquisitions which have had to be structured differently depending on the specifics of each deal.

“So ‘most’ but not ‘all’ of the companies and brands themselves now sit under The Hero Corporation Pty Ltd.”

In response to Mumbrella’s question about client conflicts on the one profit and loss statement, Lilley said: “No accounts have been sacrificed. The creation of single HERO P&L has been enabled by all businesses shifting their accounting systems to the same SAP Business ByDesign system. However this has not changed any of the company or contractual details of the individual businesses in the group, so no individual accounts are affected.”

Lilley also said the new structure is a reflection of client frustration with managing agency rosters.

“Too many clients spend too much time juggling too many agencies,” he added.

“We’ve developed an operational and service model that provides a single point of contact for each client to our integrated group of best-in-class specialists, with a single job management and billing system that removes the layers of agency duplication and costs that can burden traditional agency rosters.”

Despite Hero’s elimination of duplication in clients services and senior talent, no redundancies have come from the formation of the Hero network.

Lilley told Mumbrella: “No redundancies have been made, instead we anticipate HERO will create more work and roles across our group agencies.

“We still have the same teams managing our clients and the work being undertaken by each agency, the only difference is that for clients using more than one business across the group for their integrated campaign work, they now have a single senior lead who can manage and coordinate their integrated services across each agency, as a single point of contact. As more clients use more integrated services across our group agencies, this will create more work and new roles in each.”

The new Hero group has been described as operating on the three principles of simplicity, agility and creative effectiveness. The agency group is now being run by a single management team made up from leaders of each business.

Lilley bought McCann Australia from IPG in February, returning as its leader after two years away. The sale also included The Red Republic and Lilley’s former agency, Smart, which was relaunched in September as a brand innovation consultancy with Cowan’s Dominic Walsh and Bob Price at the helm.

As part of his aggressive acquisition strategy, which aims to diversify and strengthen the business’ offering, Lilley has acquired the assets of creative and content agency Red Engine SCC, production company Engine Room Productions, and Brisbane agency JSA Creative, which was absorbed into McCann Brisbane.

All agencies’ operating systems have been migrated from their localised state-based servers to a national, single cloud-based technology platform, which will give clients a single point of contact for all of their marketing needs. All Hero agency billing and management technologies have also been migrated to a single national SAP data system.

Ben Lilley

The platform has been designed and implemented by cloud services and infrastructure specialist iQ3 and SAP Business ByDesign consultant Acclimation.

Craig Humphrey, CEO of iQ3 said: “Our national Tier-3 DC network, integrated by highly redundant connectivity, means Hero’s businesses receive data sovereignty with private road connection for their sensitive customer data.

“We share Ben’s belief that IT is the key enabler for businesses in the digital world. And with the breadth and depth of Hero’s infrastructure solution and its seamless deployment, we’re proud to have been able to deliver this enterprise class integration and help Hero achieve its ambition of a truly agile and borderless operating system across Australia and New Zealand.”

Lilley added: “The model has been built around integrating and boosting the effectiveness of our creativity. Creativity is the ultimate competitive advantage and the most powerful driver of marketing effectiveness.

“Hero brings together the only agencies in Australia to be recognised with both the Cannes Lions Grand Prix for Creative Effectiveness and as the most awarded in the world. And with Borderless Creativity, our national award-winning talent is available to every brand and client, no matter where they may be based.”

Since his return to McCann, Lilley has hired Caroline McLaughlin as senior business lead, Clemenger BBDO Sydney’s Ben Coulson as chief creative officer in Sydney, and Roshni Hegerman as executive strategy director.

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