Gosper, an Aussie, was co-chairman of Havas' Euro RSCG group in London, and Howell, a founding "H" of London's iconoclastic HHCL & Partners, was CEO of Chime Communications, working for Margaret Thatcher's favorite adman, Lord (Tim) Bell.
Why a surprise? McCann is that increasingly rare agency in advertising: big and diverse enough to develop an executive's career for decades at one company, if not in one physical location. The late regional director for North America, Mark Gault, was a good example. Before moving to New York, Gault, a Brit, had worked at McCann for most of his career, including stints as managing director in London and Tokyo, director of worldwide accounts and area director of Asia Pacific. Dooner has been at McCann for 19 years (save for three tumultuous years as Interpublic CEO); Marcio Moreira, vice chairman, McCann WorldGroup, joined in his native Brazil in 1967.
McCann was always known as a tough culture in which to work-"bullying" according to some recent reports. The schmoozer Howell's predecessor was Ben Langdon, renowned as one of London's more abrasive managers. The double hiring is a step change in tone as well as in personnel.
Gosper left Sydney and Ogilvy & Mather to work in Paris for BDDP when it was still Boulet Dru Dupuy Petit and "the" French agency. A serious rugby player, he became a minor celebrity in Paris before leaving to join creative partner Mark Wnek and forging a successful London agency out of what had been a ragbag of old Eurocom and Roux Seguela Cayzac Goudard shops.
He is a real "suit", attuned to international accounts. The politics of maintaining two competing car brands, Peugeot and Citroen, in one agency make even the shenanigans that surround Coca-Cola here palatable. It may stick in the throat of the parochial London market, but it is now inevitable that such a career path will bring an ad executive to New York. Running McCann New York, given its client base, is effectively an international job.
Howell was new-business director at Young & Rubicam London before becoming the public face of HHCL, the agency everyone loved to hate. HHCL styled itself "professional radicals," professing to disdain job titles and awards (among many industry sacred cows).
Inevitably, HHCL (once anointed "the agency of the decade") sold to that pillar of the advertising establishment, Lord Bell, who was in turn eaten up by Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP. Now Howell joins McCann, the network that represented everything HHCL stood opposed to in the creative-obsessed London market.
Will McCann chew up and spit out its outsiders, or will they blend into the machine? The question is answered in the asking. But, in the meantime, there is a trans-Atlantic breath of fresh air about the appointments.
Stefano Hatfield is contributing editor to Advertising Age and Creativity.