Acquired and breaking off again: how One North Interactive changed the course of its business

by Doug Pitorak
April 13, 2015


To say One North Interactive has a rich history is an understatement. The Chicago-based agency, which specializes in creating digital solutions for its clients, started as Hubbard One in 1997. After rapid growth from 2000-2004, Hubbard One was acquired by Thomson Reuters for an undisclosed amount. For about the next eight years, Hubbard One expanded and scaled as a brand within Thomson Reuters. However, some employees felt Hubbard One was getting away from its roots as an agency, and thus, on Aug. 8, 2012, Jeff Hirner and John Simpson — two employees who joined Hubbard One before the acquisition — bought back the company they started with in the early 2000s and separated from Thomson Reuters.

One North Interactive was born.

According to Hirner, One North’s co-founder and COO, the company separated in order to better serve client needs. Thomson Reuters, he explained, moved more and more into the information products and software space after acquiring Hubbard One. 

“What our agency clients were looking for was creative, strategic and digital consulting,” Hirner said, who added that One North works with relationship-based businesses, or as Hirner defines them, large global professional service-based businesses that sell knowledge. “They were really looking for an agency to help their interactive experience for their audiences.”

And that is what One North does. Creative, strategy, technology, and brand planning teams work together to create digital solutions that help their clients better engage their audiences. The brand planning team was officially established with the hiring of Ryan Schulz as director of brand planning. Schulz has led brand and marketing strategy for a number of companies, including Sea Ray, CME Group, Google, Northstar Lottery Group and Vosges-Haut Chocolat. 

Examples of One North's work include a site for DLA Piper, one of the world’s largest law firms, and it added tools to and redesigned Goodwin Procter LLP’s Founders Workbench, a suite of free digital resources for entrepreneurs. One such tool is the Capital Calculator, a web app that enables founders to assess pending offers from venture capitalists and to calculate, in the event of a sale, the payout owed to employees who hold shares.

Essentially, One North helps their clients sell knowledge.

“That knowledge is sold by developing relationships,” Hirner said. “And we help them foster deep relationships with their clients and customers and audiences through the digital world.”

According to Hirner, One North works with 130 clients worldwide, including Reed Smith LLP, West Monroe Partners, NEC Display Solutions, Foley & Lardner LLP, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. Hirner said One North can work in week-long engagements with their clients or could work in 12-15 month enterprise technology engagements. The cost to clients varies by project and ranges from $15,000 to seven figures, Hirner said, adding that One North exists to handle all of their clients’ digital needs — big and small.

Separating was for the best

Hirner emphasized that the separation was collaborative and Thomson Reuters supported the move. In fact, Hirner said One North was able to retain most clients it had garnered and continues to work with them in areas of their business that aren’t strategic to Thomson Reuters. Of the separation, Hirner said it was ultimately a “collaboration to do that was best for clients.”

Also, he said the split was “100 percent the right move”, noting that One North has grown year-over-year in 2013 and 2014. Additionally, he said the company has started 2015 strong.

A key sign of growth came March 3, when Savills Studley, a leading commercial real estate services firm, announced that One North will be moving to a new office space at 222 N. LaSalle, leaving its offices at One North Dearborn (Hirner said the company will be keeping its name).

The move is scheduled to take place June 1, and Hirner said the more than 17,000-square-foot office will help absorb the extensive hiring One North plans to do. In the next three to five years, One North expects to grow from the 80 employees it has now to a team of more than 130, Hirner said.

Aside from increasing capacity, the new spacious office — which has river views, indoor parking and a fitness center — will boost creativity and collaboration throughout One North’s talented team, he said.

According to Hirner, One North’s future will be fueled by the new hires, which will consist mostly of talented, “client-focused” technologists, UI and UX professionals, and creatives.

“Those roles, in addition to expanding our newly established brand practice, are really what will propel us going forward,” he said.

Check out the video below for an inside look at One North’s culture.

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