John Singleton

27 November 2012

If money is the measure, John Singleton is the most successful person in Australian advertising by a mile. Make that ten miles. And a few hundred million dollars.

Starting as a despatch boy at J Walter Thompson, 'Singo' landed a job as copywriter at Berry Currie Advertising before starting his own agency, SPASM, in 1968, said to be the first Australian agency started by creatives.

Brash, anti-authoritarian and fiercely Australian, Singo and his ocker advertising stood out from the crowd at a time when Australian advertising could easily be mistaken for English or American. Fortunately, Australian society was changing at that time, as people searched for an Australian identity.

The agency flourished for five years until an offer from New York agency DDB was too good to refuse. A clash of cultures, however, meant the relationship could not last and he left DDB and advertising in 1978. His contract required him to stay out of advertising for five years.

He returned from the wilderness in 1985 to start John Singleton Advertising. His wit, charm and unfailingly direct approach worked wonders and the agency grew at a spectacular rate.

Unwilling to repeat the DDB experience, he floated the agency in 1994, and success followed success.

JSA merged with a troubled Ogilvy & Mather in 1998 and made it profitable. STW Communications was formed and later bought 49% of JWT. It continued relentlessly on the acquisition trail, finally becoming Australia's largest communications group.

Along the way Singleton acquired interests in Network Ten, Macquarie Radio and Lonely Planet Publications.

While Singo is a natural adman with a gift for distilling advertising campaigns into simple messages, he is also a natural businessman with brilliant contacts at the highest level in business and politics. A close friend of former PM Bob Hawke, his agency campaigns played key roles in the election defeats of John Howard and John Hewson.