Havas Worldwide and Host Singapore boss Dan Gibson on culture, conflict and building two brands at once

Dan GibsonDan Gibson is a rare ad agency boss in that he runs two companies – Havas Worldwide and its sibling Host. He took on the role as group MD just before Christmas, as Naomi Troni left Singapore to move back to New York.

In this interview, Gibson tells Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks about the challenges of his role and his ambitions for the future.

Not long ago you were appointed to lead both Host Singapore, which you already run, and Havas Worldwide, which majority owns Host. How are you finding managing both brands at the same time?

Great actually. Enjoying it. On the Host side, I’m seriously excited by our new creative leadership of Ross and Greg. It’s a real coup for us, and I know they share our ambition for the agency.

Havas CEO, Yannick Bolloré (centre, suited) visits Host Singapore offices this month

Havas CEO, Yannick Bolloré (centre, suited) visited the Singapore office this month

And at the same time, I’ve really enjoyed partnering with the new management team at Havas Worldwide. It was great having our global CEO [Yannick Bolloré] with us for a week so soon after his appointment – I think it’s a real statement of intent for growth in the region.

And, with two wins already, we’ve begun the year with fantastic new business momentum too.

Which of Host Singapore’s work are you most proud of since launching a year ago?

I tend to be proudest of our most recent work. In this case, the #CalmComebacks campaign for Heaven and Earth over Chinese New Year.

We also have several other pieces in the pipeline I’m excited about, for example our upcoming work for Lux.

While we can understand the reasons to bring Host Singapore closer within the Havas family, to be better integrated within the group, this hasn’t happened in Australia where Host was born. What do you feel the impact will be on Host’s nascent culture to be subsumed within Havas just a year after launching?

Host's old front door in Chinatown

Host’s old front door in Chinatown

I think culture is a big strength right across the wider Havas Village – especially judging by the parties at Christmas and at Chinese New Year. We don’t want a monoculture – each agency has its own distinct culture, but with access to shared services.

Specific to Host Singapore, although we’re no longer in a shophouse, the team still has very much its own space within the Village. So there’s been no dramatic shift in culture – we’re just sitting at our desks in a different building.

Host is well known for its culture in Australia. How can you ensure that culture bears out in Singapore?

We remain very plugged into the Host Sydney mothership, and there’s lots of traffic between the two agencies – Anthony [Freedman, Host’s regional CEO] is here about seven or eight times a year, Olly Taylor [chief strategy officer] even more often, and Greg and Ross will spend a lot of time in Sydney, as will I.

The great thing about the move is that it gives Host access to all the shared services within the Havas Creative Group and the wider Havas Village – production, traffic, digital, operations, etc. So Host is effectively scaling up and is now even better set up to deliver for its clients.

How will you manage conflict with two agencies in the same space?

We don’t have any conflicting clients at the moment, but we have separate IT systems to resolve that issue should it arise.

There’s been some talk in the market of Host being folded into Havas completely and being rebadged to Havas? Any truth to this?

If there’s speculation, we haven’t heard it! No, there’s no plans of this kind. Mainly because our clients prefer the current set-up. And so does the Havas Group, who invested in the Host brand in order to further develop it beyond Australia.

Host started out really well in Singapore, but there have been a few staff changes lately (ECD Noah Regan and COO Paul Ward both left). Did you think that launching Host in Singapore would turn out the way it has?

There were no fixed expectations at launch – and of course the first year for any agency is a year of learning. A beta phase, if you like.

What I can say is that we’re very happy with the way the first year has gone. Host is working with several great clients (Coke, Unilever, Google, SMRT, Topshop, Citi and Tourism Western Australia). And structurally we are now better set up than ever to deliver great work for them. Especially with the arrival of Ross and Greg as our Creative leadership.

What are your ambitions for both Host and Havas Worldwide Singapore over the next 12 months?

Great work for our clients’ businesses, within a great agency culture. I’m also especially excited to see us all reap the benefits of the great collaborations that are already cooking within the Havas Village.


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