Oliver – an agency like no other

Michael Cullen talks to Oliver Ireland founder and chief executive Mark McCann on how his business model has paid dividends for agency and client alike

Ask Mark McCann what Oliver stands for and he responds matter-of-factly with the two E’s – effective and efficient. Effective in marketing communications and efficient in how it executes professional services for its clients. Oliver is not your normal, common-or-garden advertising agency. It pioneered a new way of doing agency business with clients in Ireland 11 years ago.

The Irish business came about after McCann had discussions with Oliver founder Simon Martin. Martin devised an agency model in the UK providing teams to work with clients on site. At the time, there was a perceived lack of transparency in adland around cost and productivity. Martin felt that his new model could help build more trust and bring clients and agency closer.

McCann claims Oliver is the only integrated, full-service business that designs, builds and runs agencies and “marketing ecosystems”. The shareholding in the Irish operation is made up of the Inside Ideas Group, the holding company of Oliver, and McCann himself. In 2018, David Jones’s Brandtech in New York – formerly You & Mr Jones – took a majority stake in the Irish set-up.

“Our business model is unique,” McCann says, “we scope out client requirements and form a team, which operates either in-house at client offices or from our premises. We provide marketing solutions better, faster and for less. We also have a list of major clients that we work with on retained projects. The process is built on collaboration and creativity, with a digital-first focus.”

Having a table tennis table and free lunches is no longer enough to attract talent’Mark McCann

Oliver’s HQ is in Glasnevin on the site where the clicking, beeping and whirring noise of printing presses sounded for decades. McCann was MD of Goodson Print for seven years. Long ties with Goodson are also held through Rory O’Neill, who services the Tifco account. Oliver’s work is evident from the client meeting room where examples of recent campaigns grace the wall.

McCann says Ireland’s adland was no different to other business sectors by the demands imposed on the industry by Covid-19, the explosion of digital and e-commerce developments. “We’re seeing an ever-evolving situation in tech where severe job cuts are being implemented,” he says. “Having a table tennis table and free lunches is no longer enough to attract talent.”

Having witnessed the uncertainly – and some having experienced being out of a job – people are now placing more value on joining a business that provides the best opportunities and a path for career advancement. They recognise that being given a chance to develop in a job is more attractive today than it would have been two or three years ago, before the pandemic got going.


“As a business,” McCann says, “we’d like to attract more talent from diverse backgrounds. ‘Creativity’ doesn’t just apply to design and strategy; it has a much wider meaning. How young people approach creativity today is a whole lot different to how it would have been 10 or 15 years ago. We need to understand what the future of creativity will look like and hire the talent to do it.”

Being a member of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) has helped Oliver. McCann believes that IAPI works hard on behalf of adland and in keeping members connected. “Our industry has incredibly talented people numbering in the thousands,” he says. “Advertising generates important tax revenue for the Government and supports local economies.”

McCann insists that as an industry collective, IAPI must look at how Government supports will allow agencies to grow, attract talent and global business. Oliver Ireland now has a turnover of €10 million, which McCann is quick to point out is fee income. It employs 90 people. Oliver’s international arm employs 7,000 people globally and the group turns over in or around $1 billion.

Tech advances: Mark McCann sees the pace of tech advancements as a major challenge for Irish marketers. AI could radically change how agencies interact with clients and brands. It is another tool the industry needs to understand and it’s still in the early stages of regulation. Pictured are Oliver agency staff  back row, from left: Paul Ryan, Gemma Galligan, Eamon Whyte, Serena Lawlor, Eileen Cooney, Anne Ilic, Lena Opera. Front row: Pete Conneely, José Cancela, Aidan Connolly, Leanne Dunne, Paul Walshe, Jessica Fitzgerald and Gareth Irvine.

Several of Oliver’s senior employees have backgrounds in advertising. Gareth Irvine joined from the marketing department in Bank of Ireland, having spent several years working with Jonathan Forrest at below the line agency Cybercom – now FCB Huskies. Head of projects Ruth Allen, who operated in-house at Bank of Ireland, formerly worked at AFA O’Meara, McConnells and Havas.

Oliver Ireland’s in-house teams can be found supporting Aer Rianta International (ARI), Axa, Bank of Ireland, Britvic, Mark Anthony Brands, Mediahuis, Novartis and Unilever. Add to that list the likes of Diageo, McDonald’s, Credit Union, BMW-Mini, Aramark, Davy, New Ireland Assurance, Virgin Media, BWG Foods, the Dalata hotel group and it shows Oliver’s considerable reach.

On top of that, Oliver Ireland is retained for projects by Adidas, Dublin Business School (DBS), Malta Tourism, PepsiCo, Tifco, Divilly Brothers, O’Donnell Crisps, St Patrick’s Health Services, Rubrics, IQEQ, Mediolanum international funds and Peroptyx. Working across many industry sectors allowed Oliver support clients that were seriously impacted by the pandemic.


McCann has enjoyed “the buzz” since his transfer from print and design to advertising and digital. He says he’s no expert in marketing, but he knows his business and how to make things work. He is noticeably proud of some recent projects Oliver has done for Dublin Business School (DBS). As well as data analysis and optimisation, they also handled the media buying.

McCann says Oliver Ireland’s headcount increased by 22 during Covid-19. The flexibility of the model allowed them move people to other clients. Being part of a worldwide operation, the company supported clients such as Adidas, Durex, Danone and Unilever. Brandtech’s client list may not be household names in Ireland but their value makes the group a global tech force.

Brandtech’s client portfolio includes 55, Mofilm, Collectively, Gravity Road, Brandtech Consulting and Mobkoi. It holds “strategic investments” in leading technology businesses including, Niantic, AI Foundation, VidMob, Jivox, Zappar, Evrythng, Automat, Blacktag and Beeswax. McCann says that the deal allowed Oliver access to a broader range of tech-led marketing tools.

Growth beckons across digital and media, buoyed by the Brandtech’s takeover strategy, including the recent acquisition of Jellyfish and their 2,200 employees. Oliver now works for eight out of 10 of the world’s leading advertisers and 498 of the top 100 – as McCann says – by driving effectiveness and efficiency and adding value for clients through a ‘one-door’ agency system.

Oliver won four Sockies at this year’s social media awards, including the grand prix award. Marketing.ie readers may have noticed their PML Impact financial award win for Bank of Ireland in the April magazine’s centre pages gallery for the ‘Bank breaking up with you? Time to find someone new’ poster fronted by Baz Ashmawy. Oliver worked with Grey and Carat on the campaign.

The agency also took home two gold gongs for their work for O’Donnell Crisps and a bronze for Britvic’s Ballygowan Hint of Fruit campaign from this year’s APMC awards night, which is staged annually by the Promotional Marketing Association. The Ballygowan work is one of a host of campaigns created at the Oliver Live video, photography and podcast content studio in Glasnevin.

McCann continues to tap on his laptop showcasing the Oliver slide show presentation.

The work is high definition: clean, sharp and at times slick. He proudly points out the fact they still handle Britvic and the Credit Union – Oliver’s first two clients when they launched the business 11 years ago. Business has grown over that period of time by an average of 25 per cent year-on-year. During Covid-19, the business saw growth jump to 30 per cent year-on-year for the last three years, right up to the end of 2022.




Share with friends:

Privacy Policy | Cookies Policy