Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.
Anthony Freedman is Chairman of Havas, ANZ, Founder and CEO of One Green Bean and Founder and Chairman of HOST. Located in London, Anthony talks about his career in advertising and public relations and how his experience allowed him to embrace opportunities to innovate, not for the sake of being different, but by being unencumbered by industry tradition, he was able to apply logic and common sense to create an innovative creative agency with an outsourced creative department (HOST) and a public relations company that thought of owned, earned and shared media as a way to extend paid media, before POES was even a thing.
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Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast, where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising, with industry thought leaders and practitioners.
Today, I’m sitting down and talking with Anthony Freedman, Chairman of Havas Australia and New Zealand, Founder and CEO of One Green Bean Australia, and the UK, and Founder and Chairman of Host. Welcome, Anthony.
Thank you very much. Very nice to see you, Darren.
Well, this is great. I mean you’re in the UK, I’m in Australia. The world is slowly recovering or learning to live with COVID as we speak. But I’m really interested in talking to you because you have such a, from my perspective, unique perspective on the world of advertising and PR. Your career was actually a mixture of both, wasn’t it?
It was, and it very much remains so. I definitely started my career in creative agencies. But it expanded when I came to Australia in the mid-nineties and was looking to work in an environment that was just a bit different to the stuff that I’d been doing in the UK, which was very business-to-business oriented.
I found myself in an agency that specialised in youth and fashion brands only, and it was a business that had been born of PR that was seeing more and more opportunities in the advertising space. And so, they wanted to try and bolster their advertising experience, and that’s how I ended up there.
But what it did, was it gave me a really interesting insight into how PR companies think. And it was from that point, I guess, that I have sort of jumped between the two; both in terms of the businesses that I’ve been involved with and have operated, but also constantly looking at how the best of PR can be infused into an advertising agency in order to make it work in a different and hopefully better way. And conversely, the same with PR agencies.
Now, that was Spin Communications, wasn’t it, that you’re talking about?
Yes, it was. So, I joined Spin at the very beginning of 1996, it was a small Sydney-based business. And as I said, focused solely on youth and fashion brands with some very good clients. It was working with CUB, Lee Jeans, Coca-Cola amongst others, and then some local brands like SABA.
And it was a business that had been born of PR as I said, but was seeing more and more opportunity with brands looking to capitalise on its understanding of youth culture and fashion, which was something that at that time, most advertising agencies didn’t understand particularly well.
And so, we were seeing clients who had particular needs to target young audiences or support fashion businesses saying, “Well, you understand our market or our customer base better than an ad agency. You may not have the same advertising experience, but actually, what we want to do is leverage your insight into the sector we work in, or the audience that we focus on. And you can build the capability to be able to help us more broadly beyond the PR services that we initially engaged you with.”
And that’s how I ended up working in the business. I had been in ad agencies, they wanted a senior account director that understood advertising. And I went in and joined them and spent over four years there with the business growing phenomenally during that time.
It went from 20 people in Sydney to I’m sure, 50, 60 plus. We opened an office in Melbourne. We opened a small office in New York and Australian Fashion Week was launched as a separate business, but really with Spin as the architect and owner of that endeavour. Which was, again, something new that hadn’t existed in Australia. At that time, the only Fashion Weeks were well-established in Milan, Paris, and New York and London.
But the opportunity to bring one to the Southern hemisphere and attract international media and buyers was quite an ambitious undertaking, and we were all very involved in that. And it gave another insight into the fashion world, I suppose, and also, lent quite a lot of credibility.
So, the reason I said unique Anthony, is that I still hear advertising agency people refer to PR as if it’s sort of either a poor cousin or it’s tricks, stunts and novelties. You very early on were willing to jump from agencies; to use your own words, you wanted to try something different. You wanted to have a different experience was there ever a sense of “PR is not quite right for me, or was it just really embracing that sort of new opportunity?”
I had observed some very compelling attributes that PR agencies had in abundance that I admired greatly and really wanted to bring to advertising agencies. And obviously, in my case, the creation of Host. And those sorts of things were the resourcefulness that the PR agencies have, the almost expertise that they have in doing things that haven’t been done before.
A group of people who are very multi-faceted in terms of what they’re capable of doing. Certainly, in the mid-nineties, PR agencies were far less departmental (than advertising agencies). You had people that were thinking strategically about the work that they were undertaking for clients. They were thinking about the creative concepts that would underpin it. They were involved in the production, they were looking after the costs and obviously, they were also managing the relationship and quantifying the success.
And if you think about that, I mean, that’s essentially all of the facets that you would find in an agency being delivered by individuals as opposed to a series of departments who were kind of handing the baton backwards and forwards. So, I liked the multifaceted aspect of it, but as I said, I really liked the fact that there was an imperative for PR companies to do things that were new and different because that was an important part of how they would be able to have social and news currency.
And I felt that most ad agencies were trying to be very creative but within a fairly narrow window of executional areas. So, again, we have to remember at this point, most ad agencies were producing advertising on TV, radio, posters, magazines, and newspapers, and that was about it.
As soon as you tried to push an ad agency to deliver something outside of that, the machine that had been created to be incredibly efficient at delivering those things would start to creak. It was almost an inertia within the organisation that prevented those sorts of things from materialising.
Whereas PR companies had almost the opposite way of working. They were designed to deliver things that were new and different, and they had the ability to find a way to make stuff happen. However, formidable and unattainable, it might have appeared at the outset.
And so, I really admired that. And I really wanted to try and build that into Host, that it was less departmentalised and had this expertise in doing things that hadn’t been done before. And then I think the other thing that started to emerge with Host was a type of work, which, which was very reliant and very much looking to benefit from word of mouth, buzz if you like.
And it was partly because we were excited about doing the work that was being talked about. And I don’t mean within the industry; I mean, by the audience for whom it was intended. But it was also partly because many of the clients that we had, and I guess Host was probably most notable for its work with Virgin Mobile, particularly in the early days, were so massively outspent by the competitive set that if we didn’t find a way to get our campaigns heard beyond the paid media that we could put behind them, we were going to be out-shouted by the competitors. And so, PR was very important from the beginning.
Yeah, absolutely. But what I got there when you said paid media, in many ways, the term “paid, owned, earned, and shared” in media, didn’t really pop up until around 2014. You’re almost like more than a decade early on that idea, because you were embracing this idea that paid media has a role, but the idea of earned and shared and owned is even more important.
Yes. I mean, I don’t think that we were using that language. We were doing things that just felt inherently sensible based on circumstance. And as I said, if you are the distant number four player in terms of spending, you have to think laterally about how you can outsmart because you know you’re going to be outspent.
And so, we were using the tools at our disposal, which were broadly creativity and common sense, and the notion of trying to create campaigns that people would talk about. And remember, there were no social media at this point. So, it wasn’t that we were going to have people talk about it in a social media perspective, commenting and sharing. It with literally that people would say, “Did you see this or did you see that?”
And that we would also find ways to get people to participate. And I’ll come back to that in a second because we felt that that would enable engagement that would breed conversation. We had to think about media being everything.
I mean, we literally had to say, well, where would someone potentially have an opportunity to interact with this piece of work? Because if we only think about the media that we can buy, we’re going to get far less progressed than if we think about how we can use the stores and how we can use the packaging, and how we can do something at a live event. And is there an opportunity for us to do a sponsorship, which we might be able to get for less money because we’re a more interesting brand for certain audiences than some of our competitive set.
So, we were just thinking about how we could stretch the money as far as possible, and that took us to earned, shared and owned. But we weren’t thinking about it in exactly that way. We weren’t thinking about ticking boxes and we weren’t using that language. We were just trying to think, how do we get this campaign to go everywhere?
And that subsequently, I mean, this sounds very, very dated, but I can remember having a conversation with Matthew Melhuish, who I admired a lot, as I did with BMF, because they were sort of five years further forward than us. They were the independent agency we aspired to become in terms of success and profile.
And him saying, “You guys have really cottoned onto this idea of integrated, haven’t you?” And I mean, that sounds dated, but that’s what it subsequently became referred to — campaigns that were about ideas exploited everywhere and anywhere that you could make them connect with the desired audience as opposed to advertising, which by definition at that time, was largely defined by media that you were going to buy.
Yeah, absolutely. And look, you wouldn’t have been using paid, owned, earned and shared because it wasn’t until 2014 that it actually entered the industry vernacular. So, that’s what I said; you’re an innovator by a decade with that idea.
Thank you. I’m not sure if I can really take that compliment but I will never the less.
Well, and it’s funny you brought up integrated, because I remember around that early 21st century, that first decade; integrated was sort of what lifted us out of the 20th century into the 21st century. Everyone wanted to be integrated. It was this idea of the multiple channel mix and making sure you tick all the boxes.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that it did become that. It did become we want an integrated campaign because we believe that that’s what modern marketing looks like, and show me how you’re going to tick these various areas.
But as I said, for us, it was born out of necessity. And so, we weren’t thinking about trying to be in step with the current trends. We were just simply trying to get our work noticed. And as we talked about it then, outsmart rather than outspend, because outspending absolutely wasn’t an option.
Yeah. And then One Green Bean sort of rose out of Host, is that right? That’s the way I feel, is that Host was doing a lot of this stuff. And then it sort of created its own entity. This One Green Bean.
That’s exactly what happened. As I said, the sort of work that we were doing was very much created in order to have people talk about it. And once we really recognised that that was an essential part of how the campaign was going to perform, we needed to do that more consciously. And that meant we really needed to use PR as an important part of the overall campaign mix, particularly at launch.
And so, we would look for PR partners, or we would inherit a PR relationship that the client had. And there were great successes, but some were not as successful as we hoped they would be, because perhaps there was a misalignment around the priority of PR in support of the campaign versus PR in something else, or because there was a different understanding or interpretation of the creative idea and how it needed to work.
And so, I found that we were in a position where the true success of the campaign was increasingly reliant on how strong our PR partner would be. And I felt that it might be more sensible for us to build a PR business that we could put alongside Host that would share many of the sensibilities, but that would be able to deliver that component of the campaign if a client would allow us to, or if there was a feeling that the existing PR relationships if they existed, were not going to be able to fulfil it.
And so, One Green Bean was born somewhat in order to facilitate what I felt Host clients and campaigns required. But also, because the more I followed that line of thinking, the more I recognised that progressive PR as I was considering it, was probably as unavailable in Australia as progressive marketing was when I was considering the idea of creating Host.
So, the inspiration came from a need that Host had, but the opportunity then stood on its own two feet in terms of recognising that there was a real need from our many clients. And I think probably concurrent with that, I had had two or three clients say to us, “Can you recommend a good PR company?” Which probably made me think, well, hold on a second, this could be very straightforward. If we had one, then we could say yes.
And then in full transparency, we had a couple of clients who asked that question exactly at the point when we were conceiving it and who pretty much said if you build this thing, we will come and join you from the outset. And so, One Green Bean was sort of born out of Host, but was always a separate business. Although, the first couple of clients that we had within One Green Bean were clients that Host was already working with, and they were Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Mobile.
And one of the things I remember very clearly was how quickly One Green Bean established itself as seen as being very different to what was available in PR. In fact, I remember a couple of PR agency owners saying, “Well, it’s not really PR, is it? Because they act more like an advertising agency, all those ideas and things that they have.”
I thought it was actually quite ironic because they were almost saying, our business isn’t idea-driven, and yet you would absolutely hope that they were strategic and idea-driven.
I think that PR companies to be fair to them, in the period that we’re talking about prior to the early noughties, were strategic and creative, but it was being applied in a different way.
I think at the beginning of this conversation, you said to me, is there more to PR than sort of tricks and stunts, or something to that effect? And in my view actually tricks and stunts, although I probably wouldn’t like to call them that, came much later. In reality, the early origins of PR were really about publicity and media relations to support ‘real news’, and I use that term in inverted commas, that existed within the product, the business or the brand.
So, they would be looking to get editorial coverage around the intrinsics that are related to the business brand or product. And I feel that what happened was that in order to increase the frequency of coverage beyond the sort of newsworthiness of a new formula or a new product or whatever it ended up being that was inherently worth PR-ing, PR companies started to create newsworthy moments.
And that’s where you started to see trick stunts and novelties, I think, as you called them. But what I would call it is … the application of creative thinking in order to come up with an idea that would confer the desired effects across the brand or business, but that would also have a social and news currency that you could leverage in order to generate column inches.
So, I think that that came later, but I think that One Green Bean was a business that saw the opportunity to do that very, very quickly. And that’s why I think at the time that you’re talking about when PR companies were really still very much focused on media relations and publicity, One Green Bean was standing out as a company that was really leveraging creativity in order to come up with ideas that would generate earned media as opposed to thinking that the earned media would emerge from the intrinsics of the brand product or business.
And now, we see almost every agency putting forward an Effie entry or an award entry that has a significant component of earned media. One of the ironies being is that we’ve got two agency people; Adam Ferrier and Dee Madigan who are very high profile as industry commentators on television. So, almost every agency, when they show their case study, ends up having either Adam or Dee, a competitor commenting on it in the videotape that they run as part of the promotion. I think it’s become almost the standard way of showing how you’ve earned extra value for your clients. Hasn’t it?
I think it’s partly that every campaign now aspires to generate a degree of earned media. I think it’s partly the exposure, but I think it’s partly the endorsement that what they’ve managed to do is puncture popular culture for a period.
I mean, I think that’s actually what they’re really looking to do, is to say so successful is this campaign that it’s actually become part of popular culture rather than beyond the investment we made in paid media, we’ve now managed to get this amount of earned media, therefore adding the overall value of its reach.
And I guess, yes, you’re right. If you looked at case studies, that will be part of every case study, the quick edit of the ‘and finally…’ moment on news broadcasts and the amount of views and social media commentary — and yes, it’s sort of the standard practice in any campaign case study now.
But I think that it is genuinely important to find a way now for campaigns to exist in all aspects of people’s lives. And that does mean within the media that they consume or within the social media feed that they are engaging with. I think it is an important part of it.
But you’re right, it’s an irony that PR was very much seen as a poor relation. And I think it’s a bit disparaging to say, but I still think that there are some very, very senior advertising agency leaders who don’t really understand it.
Yeah, I would absolutely agree with that. And especially when they come to apply it to their own clients or even their own business, a lot of them really struggle. Innovation and disruption is not something that you’ve shied away from though, Anthony, is it? Because one of the other things I wanted to talk to you about was when you formed Host, you made what appeared to be a very deliberate decision to outsource creativity of the agency?
It absolutely was a deliberate decision. I mean, it was the fundamental principle on which that business was built. I feel this is a slightly indulgent trip down memory lane, so, if you’ll indulge me again, to cast my mind back a bit to the way that I entered the industry because I think that that was in part how a structural change in Host which was seen as very radical, came to exist.
And it was simply this; I started my career in advertising, an industry that I absolutely was passionate about whilst still in full-time education. It was the only job that I really wanted because I loved the idea of being able to work in what I now would call commercial creativity, which was really a creative endeavour that would at least pay me a salary I could live on.
So, I really wanted to do that. And I actually had a great experience working for a relatively small independent agency for a number of years in London, from which I learned an enormous amount about running businesses and being independent and entrepreneurial. But I guess what I didn’t have was an early experience, a formative experience in an agency that taught me best practices.
I wasn’t working in a Saatchi & Saatchi if you like, where I would have observed how great advertising really was created. And so, because I didn’t have that training, I was a bit of an autodidact. I kind of had learned myself how you got stuff done, how campaigns got created, and maybe that gave me a more common-sense approach to how things could be done differently, how things could be changed.
Maybe there was slightly less respect for the established way of doing things, but maybe I just didn’t really know the established best practice way of doing things. So, I was always thinking about how we could do things differently. And as I said to you before, I also learned quite a lot from being in a PR agency about different operational, but also philosophical cultural benefits that I observed there that I thought could make an ad agency a more interesting place to be.
So, yes, ultimately, I made a decision that we would create Host with a different structure, and there was also a different mindset and all other manners of things that went with that. But the most significant thing was a decision to replace the conventionally employed creative department with a panel, I suppose, of creative independents that we would use based on their suitability to a brand or brief.
And I think it was very interesting because I thought that was a sensible answer to the question that all agencies were asking themselves at that point in time, which was how do we keep in step with the changing media landscape and the changing consumer behaviour?
At that time, in 2000, there was this kind of moment of doubt and introspection that existed in agencies all over the world, so, I thought that it was perfectly acceptable to say, well, the answer in this instance is this. I had seen Mother, for example, a UK agency says, “we’re not going to have any account service people. We’re going to be creatives that work directly to client”.
And I thought, well, that’s interesting because they’re disrupting the established structures: “Oh, I think I could do something like that too.” And my observation was that there were really good creative people who were frustrated by the restrictions of that machine that I talked about a few minutes ago, which just made me a TV ad, a radio ad, a press ad, a poster. And anytime they tried to push outside of that, they were being pulled back into line. And some of the best ones that had enough confidence started to say, “Well, we’re going to leave and we’re going to do this independently.”
And my thinking was, well, these are the best and most progressive creative thinkers, I should try and find a way to work with them, rather than only thinking about an agency that can employ people on my terms in a full-time kind of 9 to 5 capacity. But I hadn’t really anticipated what kind of heresy that would be seen as.
And I can remember headlines, some of which I revelled in where Host was referred to as an “anti-agency”. But the thing that I thought was most interesting was the accusation that I heard a lot, which was, “how creative can an agency be that doesn’t have a creative department?”. And I thought there was a real irony in that statement because my feeling was, “surely we’ve applied creativity in the first instance, by developing a business that is radically different to anyone else’s”, but that was completely overlooked. “You haven’t got a creative department, you can’t be a creative agency”.
And I think that actually, my thought process was almost the complete opposite of that. I would say that such value did I attribute to creativity that I was prepared to completely reorient the way that a business operated in order to give me access to the best creative minds that I thought were in the market and would continue to emerge into the marketplace.
And if you’ll allow me to wax lyrical for a minute longer; if I think about the creative department that I had in the early years of Host, it included the Glue Society, who I think would now be considered a really important part of the creative community in Australia for now more than two decades.
But whilst we were very well-known for our relationship with the Glue Society, we also worked with Three Drunk Monkeys, which was what they were called then before Mark Green joined and they became an agency. I was working with Justin and Scott. I was working with Happy Soldiers, which was John Kane, which again, latterly became an ad agency. Sadly, no longer with us. But before Lindsay joined John Kane, and that became an ad agency, they were a creative independent that we worked with.
I was working with Matty Burton and Dave Bowman, who are very well-known and very well-awarded. And they’ve gone on to do all sorts of fantastic things. They actually went and joined the Glue Society, but we started working with them as independents.
I was working with a guy called John McKelvey, who at that time had a business called Southpaw, but he subsequently has been very, very successful at Droga 5 in the US. And then he had a business called JohnXHannes, which was a very successful business. And now, he’s running something called Miramar.
And the list went on. But the reality is, if you think about what that creative department looks like now, we would never have been able to employ all of those people. But because of the way we worked, we had this access to a talent bank that I think was the envy of many agencies. And I feel the vindication really came in terms of the people that we’re saying, “well, how creative could you be…” when within three years of starting Host, we won a Grand Prix at Cannes, which is for many people, the pinnacle of creative achievement, it certainly was in those days.
And by five years old, we had one of only five Titanium Lions in the world alongside our Grand Prix and a swag of golds at Cannes and pencils from D&AD and Best in Show. And we also had … this is going to date me again. But we had, I think it was called the Gold Pinnacle Award at the AFA Effectiveness Awards, which was essentially the precursor to the Effies.
So, we were developing work that was widely applauded and awarded by the people that had called us heretics, but the work was also working and we were seeing Effectiveness Awards too.
And look, Anthony, this is exactly why I wanted to sit down and have this conversation with you because as a pitch consultant during this time, I loved the fact and it reinforced to me that it was possible for agencies and entrepreneurs to actually totally challenge and reinvent the industry.
The fact that we had so many people in PR complaining about One Green Bean and how it really wasn’t PR, the fact that so many of your competitors at the time were complaining about how can they be creative when they don’t have a creative department — whenever you disrupt an industry and you disrupted the Australian industry, it creates a whole lot of bad feeling. People get really uncomfortable. How aware of this were you at the time?
I don’t think I was aware of it during the initial thinking that gave rise to those businesses. I definitely didn’t do it in order to be provocative. I also really didn’t do it in order to have a kind of marketing hook that would stand us apart. I genuinely just applied some common sense thinking as I considered it, to… how I felt we could get better work produced for clients. How could we do things differently in order that the outcome was better?
And there were no sacred cows. And I said, partly, that was because I didn’t know any better. And partly, it was perhaps because I hadn’t been trained in what would be considered best practice. So, I was prepared to just deviate from the established way of doing things more so, because I just thought that there might be different ways that could be just as valid.
So, it wasn’t born of being provocative or having something different to say, but of course, over a period of time, once the businesses were running, I became increasingly aware that there was some provocation and some people that were questioning … and I’d like to think perhaps that that was because of the success that we were having… that we’re questioning whether or not it was right or not.
And I guess it also did start to create distinction. And in the context of pitch consultants, as you mentioned, I think that both businesses, but Host in particular, was quite a polarising agency for clients. We were very right for some clients and we would be an absolute non-starter for a bunch of others.
But if you consider that new business is an investment of time and resources that you hope will deliver you a return, and ultimately, what that return is or that you would like it to be, is as many wins from a few pictures as you can possibly have — then being polarising is actually a good thing, because you’re never going to be a makeweight or just making up numbers. You’re going to be knocked out before you get anywhere, which is fine, or you’re going to go forward being perhaps the most interesting of the agencies there.
And it doesn’t mean that you’re going to win it. Of course, you’ve got to fulfil that expectation, but it means that you don’t participate in as many pitches, but the ones that you do go forward with hope, you’re a real contender. And I found that to be a valuable learning that I accumulated over a number of years of participating in pitches, and now more than ever I recognise the value in that now.
I used to be disheartened when there was an opportunity that I really was excited by, that we would get knocked out from, but actually, I came to realise it’s best to hear that at the very, very beginning rather than when you’re two-thirds of the way through.
Absolutely, your comment about being distinctive, it’s far better to have people that passionately want to work with you than trying to be everything to everyone, and then ending up being nothing to anyone.
This is the one thing that I really struggle with, is so many agencies, and there are more and more agencies all the time. Apart from all the big networks, there are more and more independent agencies starting up and they often start wanting to be quite distinctive. No one can be different in this industry, but you can certainly be distinctive.
And I just see that as they grow, they often lose what it was that made them distinctive because often it’s based on the principles that started the agency. Principles as in the PL, the individuals and their values. But as they grow and they bring more people in, that gets diluted.
One of the things that I loved was, as you said, Host had a sort of a philosophy and a culture about it, that just made it feel like it was a challenger brand to the industry, even though to your point, you didn’t necessarily sit down and have that as a distinct strategy.
I think that the business was a challenger, although, as I said, that wasn’t the business imperative that underpinned it. But I think it was also that because it was something of a challenger brand in the sector that we operated in, but that also had a strong association with Virgin Mobile at its inception, which was absolutely the poster child for challenger brands, it sort of added to its challenger brand status.
And it also meant that we started to attract other businesses that had the aspiration to challenge the status quo within the sector that they operated in. So, it all became somewhat self-fulfilling. I think a certain type of what I would consider good work, begets more work of that nature.
So, it was a bit self-fulfilling. If I think about what you were just saying in relation to different and distinctive, I think most agencies are very, very much more similar than they are different. And I think they don’t necessarily recognise it. Generally, the way that you separate agencies will be the reputation which is closely connected to the clients they have and the work that they do and the profile that they generate off the back of that.
So, an agency that a client likes, or doesn’t like, yeah, there’ll be some hygiene factors around, well, are they in the locations I think they need to be and do they have the scale I think they need? And will I be too big or too small?
And those things are of course very important, but they’re somewhat mechanical elements. But generally, it will be, “Do I admire the work they do? Do I feel that I would be in good brand company?”. And then I guess there’s an important part; the agency’s leadership team.
But as you say, as an organisation grows and evolves, the personalities of the people that found it are somewhat diluted by the number of other people around them. But when you have a very different way of doing things. And I mean, for example, as we’ve been talking, you don’t have a conventional creative department; it’s a constant reminder of the different philosophy and culture that emerges from it that exists within a business.
It’s harder to erode it. And I think that it did preserve the culture of the business for a very long period, despite the fact that it grew to 130 people, I think at one point. So, for an Australian independent agency, a good-sized business.
Well, I’m just wondering if you remember you and me, having a conversation at Host. You’d opened in Singapore only recently. And we were talking about your Pacific Rim Strategy. Do you remember that conversation?
Yeah, absolutely. It was not long after we announced our partnership with Havas.
So, was Sydney, Singapore, Shanghai, Seattle, and then-
San Francisco and then Santiago, I suggested because that way you would complete the whole Pacific Rim.
That’s exactly right. Yeah.
And it didn’t quite come to fruition, did it?
No, it didn’t. And I’m sure it’s not the only grand plan that I had that hasn’t come to fruition. It’s just the one that you happened to recall. And I’m amazed that you do remember that because it’s absolutely spot on.
The idea that I had with Havas’s backing was to create a Pan Pacific micro-network, I suppose, with creative centres of excellence in key locations, that would all be one flight from one another. And with a relatively narrow time zone between them all, or certainly a workable time zone.
So, we would have a foothold in North America with San Francisco, maybe partly because it began with an “S” which made it more consistent with all the other locations. But also, because … this is in 2012 — I really felt that San Francisco was the innovation hub of North America. It was where all of the most interesting businesses in technology were emerging from, and it just felt like a vibrant place to locate a creative and innovative business.
So, it would go from San Francisco across to Sydney, obviously, where we were established. We had set up Singapore with some very exciting founding clients. And then it felt to me that we would go to Shanghai because China was absolutely on everyone’s wish list at that point, and Shanghai felt again the most accessible entry point.
And I spent quite a bit of time in Shanghai. And I think that I had underestimated one, how competitive it would be, and two, how complicated it is to establish a business there. So, that, I suppose just didn’t progress as quickly as Singapore, because I didn’t land an anchor piece of business. And as I said, the complexity of setting up in China versus Singapore was night and day.
And then in San Francisco, we were really progressed with local leadership that was going to be the founding team in that market. And we had a creative leader and a commercial leader, a CEO if you like. And at the point where we were pretty much ready to push the button on it, one of them was made a job offer, which was just so phenomenal that they had no choice but to take it.
And so, with one of the two founding elements no longer part of it, it just lost momentum. And we didn’t go back to it. And I think at that point, I realised that I had my hands full with Singapore already. And it was also I think recognising that we could probably grow the business more effectively by continuing to pitch and win work in Australia, where we were already a very well-established business that could contend credibly, quite large clients.
Whereas in some of these other markets where you are just starting and you are a handful of people, the nature of work that you’re eligible for tends to be smaller and more project-based. And I just had to make a pragmatic call on how best to use my time. So, that’s to a degree how it stalled.
And then I think not long after that, we said, well, actually, there’s an opportunity here for us to do something with One Green Bean in the Northern hemisphere, which began with London. And so, One Green Bean in London set up or began the process of setting up. And I suppose that became more of my international expansion route rather than Host.
And One Green Bean has now gone on to exist in London, but also in Doha and in Amsterdam. So, we’ve now got four offices around the world; in the UK and Europe and one in the Middle East, which is an increasingly important market. And then, of course, our starting point in Sydney.
Yeah, fantastic. Look, it’s been absolutely fantastic catching up and taking a little walk down memory lane, but I thought it was really important to have this conversation just to capture from my perspective, one of the things that I loved about seeing the work that you’ve done in the Australian market, and now that you’ve taken to the world with Havas. So, Anthony Freedman, thank you very much for taking the time and having a chat on Managing Marketing.
Well, it’s an absolute pleasure. It’s lovely to have the opportunity to chat. The fact that it’s recorded and that someone else might hear it and think something of interest within it is an absolute bonus, but it’s just lovely to catch up with an old friend I haven’t seen for a while.
Thank you very much. Now, before you go, you’re now living sort of trans-globe Northern Southern hemisphere, the beautiful beaches and great weather of Sydney, the central cosmopolitan world of London, which one’s your favourite at the moment?
Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media, and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here