“Never let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed” — CEO Q&A with Mark McCann of OLIVER

By Business & Finance
11 May 2022
Pictured: Mark McCann, CEO, OLIVER Ireland

Mark McCann is the CEO of OLIVER Ireland, who design, build, and run bespoke in-house agencies and marketing systems for brands.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role? 

My main priority is to continue to focus on maintaining the strong growth we have been experiencing for the past 10 years in the Irish market. We are a people business, so my focus remains on driving a strong culture of inclusion and attracting the best talent to support the great brands we service which is key to our continued success. Our clients cover every industry sector from FMCG, retail, financial services, insurance, pharma, hospitality, tourism and travel. This allows our talented teams the opportunity to experience multiple brands across all industry sectors. My goal has never changed. It is about becoming the leading marketing services business in Ireland, continuing to promote our brand, support the incredible talent team who work with OLIVER and to deliver a wide variety of marketing service for great clients.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO? 

OLIVER is unique. We are the only company in the world to focus exclusively on building and running dedicated in-house agency ecosystems for brands, combining great talent, teamwork and technology. 

As a marketing services business, it is imperative that we have a strong emphasis on communication with our teams and clients. Over the past two years, like all businesses, we have had to pivot to working from home. Maintaining a strong sense of purpose and culture across the business has been vital. Our clients have been incredibly supportive during this period, and this has allowed us to further enhance our relationships. Our business saw growth of 40% last year with over 35 new talent people joining our team and a number of significant new clients on board. This, during a disruptive two years for our industry sector, acknowledges the value of our model and the talented people who drive the creative and technological expertise for our clients.

The great resignation has significantly impacted our industry sector during 2021. The Advertising industry has seen 25% + churn across its businesses. At OLIVER we have seen around 12% which has been really encouraging for us.  We will continue to put our people first and invest in additional benefits for employees, both through encouraging and supporting access to further education, learning and wellbeing supports. 

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

It’s not too difficult in a growing business to keep staff motivated. Growth drives opportunity for people to develop and learn. My passion is to ensure people who join our business have full access to the best learning and development platforms. We encourage everyone to upskill during their time with OLIVER and we support this through additional financial supports for industry specific education. We have invested significantly in our central agency office and designed a modern collaborative and fun space to work in.  Maintaining flexibility for people to ensure they have a positive work life balance is key. We have an agreed hybrid model in place for all staff to encourage them to come together regularly to collaborate and create great work for our clients and their brands.

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward

Whilst most of the industry has bounced back to pre-pandemic levels quicker than anticipated, we still see the holding company’s revenues declining historically, while the new model companies are (which OLIVER is part of) growing at 40-50%.  Many challenges remain still with those agency group models, from transparency through to in-housing. Staff retention and managing salary inflation will be key as we see significant inflationary growth continue through 2022 and beyond.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Acceleration of digital investment still remains a key priority for our business. With brands and clients beginning to focus on the future trends around the Metaverse, the potential value of NFTs and the future of Web 3.0 is starting to gain traction. Future focus needs to be on the right talent and expertise that can ensure our clients, and their brands, are at the forefront and we are driving real value and return on investment in these new growth areas.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Several required changes thankfully have already happened or are at least past the point of no return. OLIVER clients seek a partnership, one that is collaborative, agile, honest and delivers on time, every time. The days of subservient agency relationships are thankfully over for us, with clients actively seeking our honest opinion, even if it is one that they may not like or agree with.  This era of openness and mutual respect is transformational and allows the creative boundaries to be pushed, especially when validated by data led customer insight.  Equally the days of “agency jumping” every two years appears to be over for both clients and employees. Clients seek long term partnership and employees seek a rewarding environment that allows them to thrive and also have fun at the same time. In OLIVER Ireland we have redefined “work, Life balance” with hybrid ways of working and an enhanced employee “life package”, delivering for us.  As always we look to the data to validate this and staff retention KPIs are double the industry average. 

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market? 

Global brands have accelerated their investments in ecommerce on the back of consumers moving online at unprecedented scale due to the pandemic.  The significant acceleration of digital, ecommerce and technology automation has offered many opportunities over the past two years. This will continue to put pressure on the locally available talent and skillsets to support our clients requirements. Ultimately this will affect the considerable growth opportunities in our sector. The lack of available talent is mainly due to the presence of a considerable number of global tech companies EMEA operations headquartered out of Ireland. It leads to significant wage inflation within the digital and technology sectors which has the potential to push this work to more competitive cost effective employment markets outside of Ireland. Significant government support is required to retain the development of local skills in these areas to ensure our local industry sector can compete with other markets and grow our market share in this space.

However, when the agency is growing as fast as OLIVER Ireland, then attracting the best talent has become a global search.  In the past few months we have “returning Irish” from New York, Amsterdam and London all joining OLIVER. For me it is one of the best compliments, and one that I take great pride in, as we are as only as good as our people, and we are attracting the very best. 

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis? 

OLIVER Ireland was founded in 2011. The OLIVER model provides carefully balanced teams at a point of need in-house, project teams, central teams-whatever works best for our clients. It allows for the seamless augmentation of existing structures, and has the absolute flexibility and scale at its heart.  The successful growth of our business was borne out of the economic crisis and the fundamentals of our business haven’t changed and continue to deliver for our global and local clients.

How has Brexit affected you?

Our business has seen significant year on year growth throughout the Brexit negotiations. Ireland remains a key gateway to Europe for most of the largest global tech and pharma businesses. OLIVER Ireland has played a key role in developing these relationships locally and has delivered successful global wins for the wider global business. This strategy will continue into 2022/23. 

The UKs exit from Europe has had the potential to open further opportunities for Ireland to play a key role in supporting EMEA businesses.  Our geographic location still provides a key gateway to Europe and as the only English-speaking country we are a significant market.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector?

Our business has delivered 40% growth during this period and allowed us to employ another 35 staff members. This is down to a number of key factors. Prior to the pandemic we had secured new business contracts, these were in implementation prior to the start of the pandemic. The flexibility of our model enabled us to pivot seamlessly to support our clients’ brands as consumers focus changed during this time. Many focused on accelerated investment in online advertising and ecommerce growth supported by targeted social content campaigns. 

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success equals happy clients and happy staff.  I’m driven by my firm belief that our business model, and the global leadership, have a passion for change in how we communicate and interact with brands into the future. OLIVER and The Brandtech Group are leading this change in all the key global markets.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Never let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed. Always believe in your own capabilities and never under estimate the value of having a strong team around you. Always share your successes with your team.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

There are a few highlights. One was how our business and employees were able to pivot to WFH during the early stages on the pandemic, and continue still, to deliver a seamless service to our clients. Also, I have huge appreciation of the continued support we received over the past 12 months from our clients. Finally, it’s the significant growth and support from new clients our business has enjoyed.  

What’s next for your company?

The acceleration of ecommerce and digital transformation globally underpins our strategy for next year and beyond. We will focus on developing our core competencies in this area through continued investment in digital talent.  This will allow us to deliver digital transformation and customer experience solutions quickly and efficiently to support organic growth within our existing clients and sales pipeline. A focus on potential acquisitions to support our growth strategy will be prioritised.

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We want to continue to be the leaders in In-housing and as part of The Brandtech Group continue to challenge the traditional model inefficiencies, and champion the incredible talent and creative people who work for our business.