Ben Lilley reboots SMART as a new brand innovation consultancy

Paige Murphy
By Paige Murphy | 1 September 2020

McCann creative chairman Ben Lilley has rebooted his original independent agency SMART as a new brand innovation consultancy.

SMART will offer business strategy, digital transformation and ‘Big D’ design principles to help C-suite clients drive innovative commercial outcomes.

Lilley purchased SMART back from IPG in February this year, with his acquisition of McCann Australia’s Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane operations and its PR business, The Red Republic.

Launching across Australia today, SMART’s reboot will be spearheaded by newly appointed SMART managing partners and consulting specialists, Dominic Walsh and Bob Price, who join from global brand strategy specialist Cowan where they were formerly CEO and chief creative officer respectively.

“We have been listening to the market and have honed an offering that joins the dots for agency groups, to provide a high-end, integrated innovations and consultancy model," Walsh says.

“SMART will facilitate the use of technology to develop meaningful customer experiences and apply ‘Big D’ design principles to create innovative business solutions for outstanding commercial outcomes, including product design, service design and experience design.”

The launch comes on the back of several further acquisitions made by Lilley this year, including creative and content agency Red Engine SSC, which was merged with The Red Republic, and the purchase of integrated brand digital and technology specialist JSA Creative in August.

"By integrating business strategy, innovation and technology, SMART will allow us not only to assist clients in accelerating the rate of change for their business, but to also support businesses in providing seamless customer experiences and achieving better commercial outcomes," Lilley says.

"Right now especially is the perfect climate for us to be able to help clients design distinctive experiences for brands that are undergoing major transformations."

Walsh and Price will lead SMART’s strategic consulting and brand innovation services, with the agency’s technology, digital and design services drawn from McCann, The Red Republic and JSA Creative’s national capabilities.

Together, Walsh and Price bring a combined 50 years’ experience in marketing, branding, and communications across Australia, America and Europe.

Prior to joining Cowan, Walsh oversaw re-brandings for The Australian Open Tennis, IAG Insurance, City of Melbourne, Coca-Cola, P&G and Arnott’s in his role as managing director of Landor Australia.

Price has led the creative output at agencies including Leo Burnett and M&C Saatchi for a vast range of global clients including Samsung, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Disney, Diageo and ANZ Bank.

"We’re both incredibly excited about being part of a network that values creativity and commercial imperatives with equal passion and is delivering highly innovative work to clients across the region," Price says.

"We see an amazing opportunity to build on that foundation, for the benefit of our clients here in Australia. Our focus is large blue chip corporations who will benefit the most from the 50 years of strategy and design experience that SMART brings, to help them achieve successful transformations and business outcomes."

The move marks the third iteration of SMART, a business originally launched by Lilley with partners Paul Findlay, John Mescall and Ashely Farr as an integrated creative independent in Melbourne in 2000.

Opening offices in Sydney, Queensland and Auckland, SMART worked with brands including adidas, ANZ Bank, Coca Cola, Ferrero, Levi’s, McDonald’s, News Limited, Unilever and Vodafone.

SMART was acquired by McCann in 2011, seeing Lilley assume the role of McCann Australia CEO, while Farr moved to Detroit as global head of strategy and research for Commonwealth//McCann and Mescall to New York as global executive creative director at McCann Worldgroup after creating the globally acclaimed Dumb Ways to Die, the most awarded campaign in advertising history.

SMART was integrated into McCann’s national Australian operations and transitioned into a complementary creative boutique, which it has operated as for the past decade. 

“This is perhaps SMART’s most exciting iteration as a business very much of its time," Lilley says.

"At a point when so many brands and companies are questioning so much about how they must evolve to meet these challenging times, I couldn’t be more excited to be partnering with Dom and Bob to help meet this opportunity head on.”

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