McCann’s new CEO Ben Lilley: the traditional agency model is dead

Ben Lilley - SMART mumbrella

New McCann Australia CEO Ben Lilley

The boss of new-look McCann Australia, which merged with Smart last month, has said that “there is no future for traditional agencies in this market” after making sweeping changes to McCann’s management structure.

In a note to staff, Ben Lilley – CEO of Smart until the reverse take-over – said that the management roles of those who have left the agency – which include CEO Chris Mort, business strategy director Helen Karabassis and McCann Melbourne MD James Graham – would be replaced by strategic, digital and creative talent in the coming weeks.

These changes would mean more direct contact between clients and his staff, and a “leaner and faster” operating structure. He said: “We have the leadership, processes, structures and DNA of a creative independent, backed by global resources of the world’s largest agency network.”

He called on members of his team to recommend anyone who should be part of the “new McCann”.

Lilley’s note to staff, obtained by Mumbrella, read:


As you are aware, we have now completed a further and final round of staff structuring changes, following the merging of McCann and SMART earlier thismonth.

We did not originally anticipate these extra changes and I am sorry for the short-term disruption they may cause. Having spent the last 6 to 9 months though getting to know McCann from afar, and now a very intensive month inside the business, these are changes we now see as a necessary part of our reinvention and reinvigoration of McCann.

For too long, this business has continued to operate as a conventional and traditional agency while the advertising and marketing world rapidly evolves around it. This is not a sustainable operating model. There is no future for traditional agencies in this market, or anywhere else in the world. The traditional agency model – and the layers of management, cost and operating inefficiencies that are part of it – is dead.

Globally McCann is reinventing itself as a transformational agency with digital at the core, under the new leadership of CEO Nick Brien and Chief Creative Officer Linus Karlsson (who was also the co-founder Mother New York). Together Nick and Linus are reinvigorating McCann’s tremendous assets: its rich heritage, enviable roster of blue-chip clients, breadth of expert marketingdisciplines and global network of scale and reach. We too have been charged with reinventing McCann’s offering across Australia and New Zealand. And this restructuring is a necessary, if painful, step in helping us proactively transform our business, bringing innovation, creativity and performance to the forefront of all we do.

It is never a pleasant task to have to disrupt our team like this and it is not something we have done lightly. However, we now have a brilliant combined team of McCann and SMART talent across our Sydney, Melbourne, Queensland and Auckland offices, working across an equally brilliant portfolio of blue-chip clients. Indeed, in my career as a creative I would have killed to work in an agency with clients like Coca Cola, Holden, L’Oreal, Mastercard, Nestle, Specsavers, Uncle Tobys and Xbox all under the one roof.

With this change we have effectively removed a layer of middle to senior management that will help you all operate more efficiently and at our full strategic and creative potential. Importantly for our clients, this means more direct contact with the people who are actually working on their business, not just their business heads, and a leaner and faster operating structure. Indeed, while the merging of McCann and SMART has created the scale of a larger agency, we have the leadership, processes, structures and DNA of a creative independent, backed by global resources of the world’s largest agency network. This is a virtually unique proposition across Australia and New Zealand and a major competitive advantage as we take our reinvigorated offering to marketinto the new year.

We will not be replacing any of the middle to senior management roles that have been removed from the business. However over the coming weeks andmonths we will be adding more strategic, creative and digital talent to workdirectly with our clients. If you would like to recommend anyone you think should be part of the new McCann, now is the time to put them forward.

As always, if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions as a result of these changes, please do not hesitate to let me know.

Ben Lilley
Chief Executive Officer


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