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    Kenny Hill chose an acquisition with Howatson+Co so as not to ‘shortchange’ clients

    “I’ve always had a bit of a sixth sense for what’s going on in the industry, and I very much rely on my intuition,” says Kenny Hill.

    10 years ago, Hill left his post as managing director at M&C Saatchi to launch the Melbourne-based creative agency, Akkomplice.

    After a fateful morning coffee meeting which formally introduced the pair, Hill sold Akkomplice to Chris Howatson‘s three-year-old indie, Howatson+Co in April.

    Speaking to Mediaweek, Hill said the decision was made to stay ahead of the changes he sensed emerging in the industry.

    “More and more, the new businesses that we were going after were looking at integrated solutions.

    “I could see that whilst Akkomplice was very successful, and we had some tremendous clients, I could see the future coming, it’s here. The need for an agency to be able to offer so much more than 10 years ago, in terms of martech solutions, even as simple as we didn’t have any media offering.”

    It was the same intuition, Hill says, that inspired him to create Akkomplice a decade ago when he sensed a moving tide from the domination of the holdcos to “the rise of the independents.”

    “I wanted to be able to service this industry in a more agile way,” he reflects.

    I could sense the shifts that were coming in how big clients’ needs were evolving. The ground was shifting, and I could see that agencies offering deep skills coupled with more agility and genuine client focus would get ahead.

    “When you’re talking to an agency founder like myself or Chris, actually things are easier because you don’t need to check in with New York or London or Paris.”

    Prospecting his options, Hill considered whether to buy the capability and bring it in-house or “look to find a home where that already exists,” which he says “felt like the right choice for me.”

    For Hill, maintaining that independent agility was one of the key considerations that saw the acquisition go to Howatson. He says he couldn’t undermine the reason his clients sought him in the first place.

    “The clients came Akkomplice looking for what we offer. If I was to have done something like this with one of the big global networks – and that was certainly an option on the table – I don’t think that would have suited them as well as this.

    “I care deeply about them and the legacy that I built up in my reputation. If I was to do something that wasn’t that they weren’t comfortable with, I think I would be shortchanging them.”

    When the Akkomplice team joined Howatson+Co in Melbourne’s Chapel Street, it brought a client roster including Sorbent, Slater & Gordon, and Totally Workwear.

    “I heard Andrew Drougas [managing director of Howatson+Co, Melbourne] say to a client recently ‘you can buy capability, but you can’t buy passion,'” Hill explains. 

    “I love that belief and I know that the focus and passion I was able to bring to each of our clients at Akkomplice over the last 10 years is absolutely one of the crucial factors in our success. We rarely had to chase new business, with so much of ours coming from referrals from clients and even other agency leaders, which is something I’m very proud of.”

    Looking back, Hill sees one of the pivotal markers of burgeoning success for Akkomplice as its work for the Australian confectionery institution, Darrell Lea, by Hill’s then creative partner, Sara Oteri, now the executive creative director of 303 MullenLowe Perth.

     

    “That made headlines not just once, but two years running. Having your work talked about on virtually all current affairs show and described by Mark Ritson as ‘genius’ in The Australian was really something,” Hill recalls.

    But as turning points go, he continues, rather than one single campaign, “I can vividly remember a period three years in, where suddenly I was making huge campaigns for Plush Sofas, Aussie Farmers Direct, Sirena, and Choice Hotels all within weeks of each other.

    “It took Heathrow-like coordination and that was when I realised that I probably needed to hire some staff.”

     

    It was Akkomplice’s final work prior to the acquisition – for law firm Slater & Gordon – that particularly captured its core philosophy: “that logic makes people think, emotion makes people act.”

    Hill elaborates: “We make sure we get all the technical side of the brief right and understand all the data points and everything, but you never lose the human story at the heart of it.”

    Depicting the difficult aftermath of a road vehicle accident and the search for a solution that is “fair” rather than just “what’s offered,” he describes managing the client’s nervousness leading up to the work, given the sensitive and trepidatious nature of personal injury cases.

     

    “You have to walk that balance between the commercial imperative and being sensitive to the subject matter that you’re dealing with and showing people having horrific accidents. You have to be very careful not to seem to be exploitative.”

    We’re very proud of this work,” he continues. “Not only did the clients see it as some of the best work they’ve had for the brand, but they are also seeing their best results for many years off the back of it.”

    “I think that’s incumbent on agencies, we can’t just always give clients what they want. We have to give them what we think they need, and respectfully stretch the boundaries of what’s possible and take them into new places. Otherwise, what’s the point of being an agency?”

    Hill explains that much of what made Howatson fit the bill when it came time to become part of an integrated offering was a shared philosophy.

    He lists their shared openness and compatibility, praising Howaton’s leadership, energy, and ability to build a great team.

    “Chris and I share a lot of the same values. We’re both very open people. We wear our hearts on our sleeves,” says Hill.

    “Chris has hand-picked some brilliant people who are the best going around, and it shows. I think the trust that he puts in his people is remarkable, and he’s rewarded for that trust that he puts in them with enthusiasm and commitment, and remarkable loyalty and commitment.

    “The client-first mindset that comes at Howatson really fits well with my own ideology, as well. Fantastic creative, great strategic thinking, flawless delivery. They’re all things that I care about.

    “You can get that capability in lots of places, but to find it packaged up with an ethos and a culture that also met mine.”

    Three months since the move into the Howatson office, Hill is thankful for the “commercial reality” of the acquisition; the ability to relinquish admin like payroll, and in turn “focus on my craft, working with the clients, working with the team, and all of the, shall we say, fun stuff that comes with running a business.”

    Which is why he started Akkomplice in the first place. “By 2004, I was managing director of M&C Saatchi here in Melbourne, and I was becoming too removed from my craft skills and all the things I loved about being in advertising. I wanted to get back to the front lines of strategy and creativity.

    “As the son of a Scottish tax inspector, I must have something in my DNA for the analytical, business side of the equation. But art and creativity has always flowed through my blood too.”

    And when it comes to the slew of indies that have emerged on the scene since his proven hunch those years ago, Hill says he enjoys the cordial competition.

    “If you look for it, there’s a good sense of camaraderie. We are competitors. But that doesn’t make us enemies.”

    See also:
    Howatson+Co acquires Akkomplice: ‘It was a natural fit’
    Allianz and Howatson+Co launch ‘Go Australiaahhh’ Olympics campaign

    Top image: Kenny Hill

    The post Kenny Hill chose an acquisition with Howatson+Co so as not to ‘shortchange’ clients appeared first on Mediaweek.

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