Interpublic Dumps McCann Australia; Why?

By - CTL
February 28, 2020

By Dorothy Thompson.

Any way you cut it; this is a very strange move for Interpublic. If McCann Australia was such a plum, why would they opt out?

I remember when WPP announced the merger of George Patterson (in by gone years, the biggest and best of all Advertising Agency’s in this country) with Y&R. The joint agency was to be known as GPY&R. Only a couple of years later it was gone.

In a short Public Relations announcement at that time Phil MacDonald, CEO at that the time of the Y&R Group, the change that the George Patts name will remain part of the agencies DNA saying: “While in Australia the alignment will see the George Patterson name go from our external branding it will remain an important part of our agency’s DNA. It has played an important role in Australian advertising history and we will maintain its legacy by continuing to attract the best talent and producing the world-class work our clients have come to expect from us.”

But back to McCann today.


Former agency CEO Ben Lilley is assuming ownership of the Interpublic Group’s McCann Australia – part of McCann Worldgroup. No price for this acquisition has been revealed. Apparently, they would have us believe that the agency will still have access to the parent company but will operate independently in Australia. Whatever that means. I suppose it is an effort to placate International clients who demand a presence of some description in this country.

Lilley quit as CEO and Chairman of McCann in early 2018. He joined the agency in 2011 following the sale of his agency SMART to McCann.

2016 saw him becoming the chair of Creative Leadership Asia Pacific.

Under the terms of the sale he will acquire SMART, McCann Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast and its PR business The Red Republic.

Lilley said, “the agency will continue to have access to the McCann Worldgroup network and global clients but will operate as an independent in Australia”. What this means is anyone’s guess.

Lilley said “Creativity has been the driving force throughout my career, and I believe that is what empowers successful entrepreneurial businesses. Australia is one of the world’s leading creative hubs and I’m very excited to now be able to take over ownership of McCann’s full suite of integrated agency businesses in this key market”.

I had a great experience working with McCann and I am keen to have all the advantage of being a part of the McCann network with its global resources, working for McCann global clients, but also having the opportunity of being flexible and fast moving to meet local market demands as an Australian independent.”

Lilley’s time at McCann saw the agency produce the lauded and highly-awarded Dumb Ways To Die.

In 2018 Lilley relocated to France for “family reasons”. At the time his statement said he was ready for a break. “Having run SMART for 12 years and now McCann for six years, I’m ready for a proper break. I’m grateful to the many awesome people I’ve worked with in this time who’ve made our businesses such great successes. I’m also grateful for the many equally awesome opportunities I’ve been able to enjoy with McCann, especially in my APAC creative role”.

I’m pleased to be able to hand over to our incoming CEO an agency that’s in such great shape, with a talented management team across our four Australian offices. McCann’s momentum here and across the globe is clear to see and I know our business will continue to go from strength to strength. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

In May 2019, it was revealed that Lilley had bought into Cavalry Freelance. One wonders if this might present a conflict of interest in the future? 

Harris Diamond, Chairman and CEO of McCann Worldgroup, said Lilley will help the agency succeed in Australia.

Diamond said, “Ben’s deep knowledge of the Australian market combined with his experience in working closely with the McCann network positions this new partnership very well to succeed in Australia’s evolving market. We look forward to the creative energy and vision that he will be bringing back to the agency and its clients.”

Alex Lubar

Alex Lubar, president of McCann Worldgroup APAC, welcomed Lilley back into the McCann family.

He went on to say, “The change of ownership will help the operation to better tap into local expertise, talent and creativity while still leveraging McCann Worldgroup’s integrated creative and strategic capabilities. We are pleased to be welcoming Ben back to the McCann family and know that he’s absolutely the right person to partner with us in taking forward the business for McCann and our clients in Australia”.

One could be forgiven for thinking that McCann Australia could not deliver the revenue demands that the Worldwide Group required. Rather than persevere, they, to use an old sailing term to, “cut the painter”, (An expression meaning, in terms of a ship in harbour, making a clandestine departure).

I suppose only time will tell.


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