Ben Lilley launches 'one stop' agency network Hero

Paige Murphy
By Paige Murphy | 7 October 2020

Ben Lilley launched Hero, a consolidated "one stop" agency network integrating his specialist offerings across Australia and New Zealand.

The Hero network has migrated all agencies to a single cloud technology platform, bringing together Lilley’s independent creative, digital and media businesses.

Designed and implemented by cloud services and infrastructure specialist iQ3 and SAP Business ByDesign consultant Acclimation, the Hero technology platform will offer a single point of contact for every Hero group client.

With more acquisitions due to be announced, Hero now brings together the national Australian and New Zealand offerings of McCann, Smart, The Red Republic, JSA Digital and Engine Room Productions into a consolidated group.

“Hero represents a unique offering across Australia and New Zealand,” says Lilley.

“The agility and spirit of an award-winning independent network, integrated with the scale and intellectual capital of the world’s largest global groups: McCann Worldgroup and IPG. Hero delivers the best of both worlds: local smarts at global scale.”

Lilley says his acquisitions this year and the resulting Hero model are in response to client frustration with the challenges of managing and integrating disparate agency rosters with multiple points of contact and duplication of senior talent and services.

“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," says Lilley.

"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.

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

Lilley says HERO is a post-COVID business model, born out of the challenges of the pandemic.

“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," he says.

"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."

Under this national consolidated model, all Hero agencies’ operating systems have been migrated from localised state-based office servers to a single cloud based technology platform, designed and implemented by iQ3.

Craig Humphrey, CEO of iQ3, says Hero’s national cloud-based technology and operational consolidation is exactly what iQ3 was set up for.

“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," says Humphrey.

“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.”

All Hero agency billing and management technologies have also been migrated to a single national SAP data system implemented by Acclimation, for single-source client management, job costing and invoicing across all Hero agencies.

“All our agencies now operate under a single profit and loss across Australia and New Zealand, to ensure seamless collaboration without siloed decision-making or revenue tussles. And we now run the total business with a single management team, made up of the leaders from each business offering. Our cloud technology is critical to delivering this model,” says Lilley.

“But this does not represent a shift from our creative core. 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.”

Lilley says the Hero network will continue to grow its Australian and New Zealand capabilities, with a number of acquisitions still underway.

Hero’s agency group has grown on the back of a number of strategic acquisitions, including Lilley’s first independent agency Smart, which IPG acquired in 2011 installing Lilley as McCann chairman and CEO and then as McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific creative leadership chair.

Smart itself undertook a number of acquisitions, starting with digital agency M4 Interactive and followed by creative boutique VCD/Kindred, retail specialist The Foundry, design agency Illuminati and Queensland specialists Turner Sands and Logan Meo Walters.

At McCann, Lilley completed further acquisitions including The Red Republic in 2016 and design agency Studio Woo in 2017.

In February this year Lilley acquired McCann Australia from IPG and with it Smart and The Red Republic.

Further acquisitions this year have included Red Engine SCC, Engine Room Productions and digital design agency JSA Creative.

Lilley has also undertaken a string of high-profile hires, including Ben Coulson as chief creative officer and Roshni Hegerman who returned McCann Sydney as executive strategy director, from her APAC role at McCann China, where she was regional strategic lead for Coca-Cola.

McCANN has also signed Caroline McLaughlin as senior business lead and Simon Gawn as client services director.

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