McCann boss Ben Lilley says agency has proven itself after ‘not very enjoyable’ transition

McCann's Ben Lilley (centre) with Melbourne ECD Pat Baron and global ECD John Mescall

McCann’s Ben Lilley (centre) with Melbourne ECD Pat Baron and global ECD John Mescall

McCann Australia has finally proven itself as a strong agency three years after the reverse takeover of independent agency Smart,  CEO Ben Lilley, has told Mumbrella

In September 2011 McCann acquired Smart, a move which saw the departure of McCann Australia CEO and chairman Chris Mort who was replaced by Smart CEO Lilley.

“We probably finished the business transformation phase two years ago now. Frankly, it was a difficult six months or so that followed in the work that we had to do in reinventing what had been a very traditionally run and structured agency in Australia that was perhaps more of a global outpost for a lot of the multinational clients,” said Lilley.

“It was not a successful contemporary competitor in the Australian landscape. The agency’s creative record at that time demonstrates that. It was not as strong as it should have been from a strategic point of view or in terms of the digital offering.

“We had a pretty difficult first six months in restructuring the entire business, modernising the structure, dismantling the traditional hierarchical layers of management in the business that were holding it back from being able to move forward and thrive as a much more contemporary agency. That was a pretty difficult and not very enjoyable experience.”

The business transformation saw the team “reinvigorate” the agency’s national structure and national leadership, with Ash Farr operating as national McCann CEO and John Mescall as national ECD.

It has culminated in the agency’s success at the Cannes Lions festival last year with the Dumb Ways to Die campaign and again this year, with the agency picking up a Grand Prix in the effectiveness category for its Guilt Trips for V/Line campaign, and its Effies effectiveness success which sees the agency ranked 14th on the Asia Pacific most effective agencies ranking. In February, the agency tied for first place with Nike’s agency Wieden+Kennedy Portland in The Gunn Report.

“The great thing about what happened both for us in Cannes last year and the Effies effectiveness success that we’ve had and now with again another successful year at Cannes, it’s certainly been the clearest signal and indication to Australian clients that McCann is a world class creative agency once again but we’re also delivering world class effectiveness for our clients,” said Lilley.

“What that has meant,  the doors are finally open for new business interest. And I say finally because it was a slow start when we first took over the business. There was a lot of caution from clients who we were approaching and saying ‘McCann’s changed, we’ve radically reinvented and reinvigorated the business, we’ve now got a first rate creative, strategic and digital offering, let us show you what we can do for your business’ and we had some clients who were receptive to that but we had a lot of clients who said ‘we like you’re story, and we like what it looks like you’re doing but let’s keep the conversation going and wait and see’.

“A lot of the conversations that we started two years ago with the kind of clients McCann want to be working in this market with and grow the business with, they’re finally coming back to us and saying ‘the proof is there to see, let’s talk about what you can do for our business’. As a result, the pitch activity we have now and the general level of new business conversations is really quite frenetic.”

Lilley said the agency is “actively looking”  to bolsters its creative, planning and digital talent across all ranks – junior, mid-level and senior – with the agency expecting rapid growth in the next six months.

“We’ve had a very strong new business conversion rate, over the last 12 months in particular, and if that continues then we expect to see some very rapid growth over the next six months. We’re on the lookout for the best creative, strategic and digital talent as we can find. And the nice thing is, two years ago that wasn’t the easiest task as just as a lot of clients were sceptical about McCann’s offering, a lot of the great talent in the industry weren’t interested in talking about McCann employment opportunities.”

Last month it was announced national ECD John Mescall had taken on a global ECD position with the agency. The news followed on from the appointment of Pat Baron as Melbourne ECD, who with Dejan Rasic, Sydney ECD, will now lead the agency’s creative teams.

“We’ve evolved the creative leadership structure because when we originally came into the business there was a big job to do nationally in terms of reinvigorating McCann’s creative reputation and at that time we felt that John was the best person to take a national ECD role,” Lilley explained.

“So much has changed in the business since then, we’ve had two years of remarkable growth across Sydney and Melbourne and the offices have grown to the stage its both not feasible and practical to try and have a single national ECD and it makes more sense from a business structure point of view to have dedicated ECDs over those offices.”

Miranda Ward


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