Neal Travis, “How to revel in hard times, by John Singleton,”
The Bulletin, September 4, 1990, pp. 126-27.

While many in the advertising industry are trying to hang on to their jobs and their BMWs, its most distinctive voice, John Singleton, tells NEAL TRAVIS that he relishes the prospect of hard times and stiff competition.

He looks and sounds like an Australian airline pilot (well, a pre-dispute pilot). At 49, tall and a few kilos overweight, John Singleton in his laconic drawl could be announcing that we’re in a holding pattern over Sydney Airport rather than commenting on the “archaic Pommie smart-arses” who, he says, infest the local advertising industry.

The pilot image in appropriate. John Singleton Advertising has just scored the Ansett Airlines account and he will be in the cockpit for the dogfight the deregulation of Australia’s skies will bring.

The Ansett account is worth about $7 million but, come deregulation in November, “we’ll spend whatever it takes to come out on top”. Singleton, a sports nut, says the airline scene is now “boots and all — there’s no referee on the paddock so there are no rules any more”.

Singleton, naturally, is all for deregulation. “The more airlines the better. A country this size has to have efficient airline systems and the only way to get them is through competition.” Yes, but the object of the exercise is to ensure that Ansett is the big winner from deregulation. “Sure, I’ve been meeting with Sir Peter (Abeles) every Saturday, informally, on strategy. Look, after deregulation we’ll be able to discount rates without seeking anyone’s approval. We’ll be able to move instantly and independently to satisfy customers.”

Singleton thinks one campaign theme will be to portray Ansett as the free enterprise airline and Australian as the one run by the bureaucracy. But when Australian is privatised? “I’ve got a beaut idea for then. They’ll be owned by Singapore Airlines or someone like that. We’ll start calling them UnAustralian Airlines.”

It gets a bit confusing. Here is Singleton, friend of Bob Hawke and holder of the federal ALP account, slagging the Government airline and planning to do it as much financial harm as possible. But advertising people are adept at wearing more than one hat. “Just because I’ve done the past two ALP campaigns doesn’t mean I have to support the idea of a government airline. I’ve always been a private enterprise person. But, yes, working for a political party has a few pitfalls. Some of the older Establishment businesses won’t come near you if you work for Labor.”

Singleton says a political campaign is the most intellectually stimulating work an advertising person can do. “You’ve got 35 days to produce 70 commercials, plus print material, how-to-vote cards, the works. I think of an election as a Massive One-Day Sale!” Expensive, too. The ALP spent about $9 million on this year’s campaign and Singleton would have grossed about 20% of that figure. That’s the equivalent of two major clients’ spending in a year.

He doesn’t know what Hawke’s plans are but he is confident Hawke would win another term. “Australia is divided into people who love Bob Hawke and people who wish they did.” Paul Keating? “If he was running for Prime Minister I’d tell him to just be himself. No need to try for an image change.” The Leader of the Opposition, John Hewson? “Hewson’s doing well. He seems to know when to shut up, which is important in politics.”

The notorious advertisement depicting an octopus with then Opposition leader Nick Greiner’s head “was a mistake,” Singleton admits. “Mind you, it tested well.” Another mistake to which he admits is a “mate’s deal” that cost him a fortune.

“Fifteen years ago I got the idea for this record of Peter and the Wolf translated into Australian and narrated by Paul Hogan. Even then, pre Crocodile Dundee, it sold 100,000 copies. So, after the film, I decided to re-release it. It would have sold a million in the US. But Hoges and John Cornell were in here having a few VBs and they reckoned it wasn’t the right thing to do. I had the legal rights to it and everything but they asked me not to.

“They said what they’d do was give me the soundtrack rights to Crocodile Dundee in return for not re-releasing Peter and the Wolf. Well, the soundtrack didn’t contain the Midnight Oil tracks: just a lot of didgeridoo music. It sold three copies.”

The idea of Hoges and Singo sharing a few tinnies and arguing about money is very ocker. “I have to live with the ocker image.” Singleton shrugs. “It’s years since I did those ocker commercials but I’m still tagged with them. I don’t care. The people who use ocker as a term of denigration are the people who hate being Australians.”

Singleton reckons agencies such as his come into their own when the economy is down, with lean, no-frills advertising that sells a product rather than winning the agency an award. “Awards are a wank: just expensive job applications. Your clients don’t want awards — they want money. If you keep your eye on the ball everyone can do OK in hard times.”

The state of the economy, he believes, will result in a shakeout of the advertising industry. “There has to be a massive rationalisation. Like in the Saatchi group, J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy and Mather — there are too many bosses, too much duplication. And too many agencies aren’t owned by ad people but by paper shufflers.”

A long-time admirer of the other ocker agency, MOJO, Singleton is sad about the changes that have taken place since it went through a series of mergers. “And now they’ve sacked all the wrong people. When the ship sinks, it’s the captain you should sack.” He is also scathing about the state of business morality in Australia. “I’ve been in the US twice this year and I tell you this, they don’t love us any more. They think we’re a nation of scoundrels.”

So how would he repair Australia’s image abroad? “It’s not a matter of advertising, of image. It’s gone too far for that. The only thing that will repair the damage is a new set of rules that ensure some of these bloody cowboys are punished. Until you do that, Australia will go on looking a bit suspect to the rest of the world.”

For all his connections, Singleton hasn’t had any joy in getting government advertising placed in the hands of Australian-owned agencies. “It’s all with international agencies, which seems pretty stupid.”

John Singleton Advertising hasn’t needed to tighten the ship for the rough times ahead. “We have fun here in Hunter’s Hill but we’re not doing it for fun. Every Monday morning at 8:30 we have general assembly, so everyone (37 staff) knows what is happening. We don’t take lunch hours and we don’t drink during the day. But there’s free grog at 5.30pm and every Friday night is party night.”

Singleton likes to party, although he says he has slowed down a bit since the legendary days of his SPASM agency. He sold that and walked away from advertising at the age of 35. “I felt I’d done it all then. I wanted to try new things.” He did. In the ensuing years he owned a circus, was de facto owner of a rugby league club, promoted rodeo, ran his own television and radio shows and wrote newspaper columns.

In the end, he says, it was all just training for his return to advertising, to the agency he and stockbroker Rennie Rivkin each half own.

Singleton has always said he would get out of advertising after five years at JSA and on turning 50 — two events that will occur in the next five months. Now, perhaps because of the Ansett account, he has changed his tune. “Look, I reckon (managing director) Bill Currie and I in 10 years will still be saying we’re about to retire.” It keeps the staff jockeying for position.”

But Singleton has stuck to other credos. Recently he lectured the Sydney Ad Club about the rules of running a successful agency. One rule was not to open branch offices. “No office in Melbourne or Brisbane or anywhere else. A second office in a tiny market like Australia only doubles your management costs and halves your new business opportunities in each office.”

Then, prophetically: “If you do get a significant piece of business which happens to be in, say, Melbourne, buy a fax and an aeroplane ticket.”

Singleton already has the fax and now has that significant piece of business in Melbourne. He also has all the aeroplane tickets he’ll ever need.

(in order of appearance on
  1. Governments Consume Wealth — They Don't Create It
  2. Singo and Howard Propose Privatising Bondi Beach
  3. Singo and Howard Speak Out Against the Crackpot Realism of the CIS and IPA
  4. Singo and Howard on Compromise
  5. Singo and Howard on Monopolies
  6. Singo and Howard Support Sydney Harbour Bridge Restructure
  7. Singo and Howard on Striking at the Root, and the Failure of Howard, the CIS and the IPA
  8. Singo and Howard Explain Why Australia is Not a Capitalist Country
  9. Singo and Howard Call Democracy Tyrannical
  10. Singo and Howard on Drugs!
  11. Simpleton sells his poll philosophy
  12. Singo and Howard Decry Australia Day
  13. Singo and Howard Endorse the Workers Party
  14. Singo and Howard Oppose the Liberal Party
  15. Singo and Howard Admit that Liberals Advocate and Commit Crime
  16. Up the Workers! Bob Howard's 1979 Workers Party Reflection in Playboy
  17. John Whiting's Inaugural Workers Party Presidential Address
  18. John Singleton and Bob Howard 1975 Monday Conference TV Interview on the Workers Party
  19. Singo and Howard on Aborigines
  20. Singo and Howard on Conservatism
  21. Singo and Howard on the Labor Party
  22. Singo, Howard and Hancock Want to Secede
  23. John Singleton changes his name
  24. Lang Hancock's Foreword to Rip Van Australia
  25. New party will not tolerate bludgers: Radical party against welfare state
  26. Singo and Howard introduce Rip Van Australia
  27. Singo and Howard on Knee-Jerks
  28. Singo and Howard on Tax Hunts (Lobbying)
  29. Singo and Howard on Rights
  30. Singo and Howard on Crime
  31. Singo and Howard on Justice
  32. Singo and Howard on Unemployment
  33. John Singleton on 1972 cigarette legislation
  34. Singo and Howard: Gambling Should Neither Be Illegal Nor Taxed
  35. Holed up, hold-up and holdout
  36. The libertarian alternative vs the socialist status quo
  37. Workers Party Platform
  38. Singo and Howard Join Forces to Dismantle Welfare State
  39. Singo and Howard on Business
  40. Singo and Howard on Discrimination
  41. Singo and Howard on the Greens
  42. Singo and Howard on Xenophobia
  43. Singo and Howard on Murdoch, Packer and Monopolistic Media
  44. Singo and Howard Explain that Pure Capitalism Solves Pollution
  45. Singo and Howard Defend Miners Against Government
  46. Singo and Howard on Bureaucracy
  47. Singo and Howard on Corporate Capitalism
  48. The last words of Charles Russell
  49. Ted Noffs' Preface to Rip Van Australia
  50. Right-wing anarchists revamping libertarian ideology
  51. Giving a chukka to the Workers Party
  52. Govt "villain" in eyes of new party
  53. "A beautiful time to be starting a new party": Rand fans believe in every man for himself
  54. Introducing the new Workers' Party
  55. Paul Rackemann 1980 Progress Party Election Speech
  56. Lang Hancock 1978 George Negus Interview
  57. Voices of frustration
  58. Policies of Workers Party
  59. Party Promises to Abolish Tax
  60. AAA Tow Truck Co.
  61. Singo and Howard on Context
  62. Singo and Howard Blame Roosevelt for Pearl Harbour
  63. Singo and Howard on Apathy
  64. Workers Party is "not just a funny flash in the pan"
  65. Singo and Howard on Decency
  66. John Singleton in 1971 on the 2010 Federal Election
  67. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John Pty. Ltd. Advertising Agents
  68. Viv Forbes Wins 1986 Adam Smith Award
  69. The writing of the Workers Party platform and the differences between the 1975 Australian and American libertarian movements
  70. Who's Who in the Workers Party
  71. Bob Howard interviewed by Merilyn Giesekam on the Workers Party
  72. A Farewell to Armchair Critics
  73. Sukrit Sabhlok interviews Mark Tier
  74. David Russell Leads 1975 Workers Party Queensland Senate Team
  75. David Russell Workers Party Policy Speech on Brisbane TV
  76. Bludgers need not apply
  77. New party formed "to slash controls"
  78. The Workers Party
  79. Malcolm Turnbull says "the Workers party is a force to be reckoned with"
  80. The great consumer protection trick
  81. The "Workers" speak out
  82. How the whores pretend to be nuns
  83. The Workers Party is a Political Party
  84. Shit State Subsidised Socialist Schooling Should Cease Says Singo
  85. My Journey to Anarchy:
    From political and economic agnostic to anarchocapitalist
  86. Workers Party Reunion Intro
  87. Singo and Howard on Freedom from Government and Other Criminals
  88. Singo and Howard on Young People
  89. Singo and Howard Expose how Government Healthcare Controls Legislate Doctors into Slavery
  90. Singo and Howard Engage with Homosexuality
  91. Singo and Howard Demand Repeal of Libel and Slander Laws
  92. Singo and Howard on Consumer Protection
  93. Singo and Howard on Consistency
  94. Workers Party is born as foe of government
  95. Political branch formed
  96. Government seen by new party as evil
  97. Singo and Howard on Non-Interference
  98. Singo and Howard on Women's Lib
  99. Singo and Howard on Licences
  100. Singo and Howard on Gun Control
  101. Singo and Howard on Human Nature
  102. Singo and Howard on Voting
  103. Singo and Howard on
    Inherited Wealth
  104. Singo and Howard on Education
  105. Singo and Howard on Qualifications
  106. Ron Manners on the Workers Party
  107. Singo and Howard Hate Politicians
  108. Undeserved handouts make Australia the lucky country
  109. A happy story about Aborigines
  110. John Singleton on Political Advertising
  111. Richard Hall, Mike Stanton and Judith James on the Workers Party
  112. Singo Incites Civil Disobedience
  113. How John Singleton Would Make Tony Abbott Prime Minister
  114. The Discipline of Necessity
  115. John Singleton on the first election the Workers Party contested
  116. Libertarians: Radicals on the right
  117. The Bulletin on Maxwell Newton as Workers Party national spokesman on economics and politics
  118. Singo and Howard: Australia Should Pull Out of the Olympics
  119. Singo and Howard Like Foreign Investment
  120. Mark Tier corrects Nation Review on the Workers Party
  121. The impossible dream
  122. Why can't I get away with it?
  123. The bold and boring Lib/Lab shuffle
  124. Time for progress
  125. The loonie right implodes
  126. Max Newton: Maverick in Exile
  127. John Singleton on refusing to do business with criminals and economic illiterates
  128. Censorship should be banned
  129. "Listen, mate, a socialist is a bum"
  130. John Singleton on Advertising
  131. John Singleton on why he did the Hawke re-election campaign
  132. Sinclair Hill calls for dropping a neutron bomb on Canberra
  133. Bob Howard in Reason 1974-77
  134. John Singleton defends ockerism
  135. Singo and Howard talk Civil Disobedience
  136. The Census Con
  137. Singo and Howard Oppose Australian Participation in the Vietnam War
  138. Did John Singleton oppose the mining industry and privatising healthcare in 1990?
  139. Bob Carr in 1981 on John Singleton's political bent
  140. John Singleton-Ita Buttrose interview (1977)
  141. John Singleton on elections: "a Massive One-Day Sale!"
  142. John Hyde's Progress Party praise
  143. King Leonard of Hutt River Declares Defensive Just War Against Australia the Aggressor
  144. Singo says Lang Hancock violated Australia's 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Succeed
  145. Singleton: the White Knight of Ockerdom
  146. John Singleton bites into Sinclair Hill's beef
  147. Save Parramatta Road
  148. 1979 news item on new TV show John Singleton With a Lot of Help From His Friends
  149. Smoking, Health and Freedom
  150. Singo and Howard on Unions
  151. Singo and Howard Smash the State
  152. Singo and Howard on the big issue of Daylight Saving
  153. Come back Bob - It was all in fun!
  154. A few "chukkas" in the Senate for polo ace?
  155. Country Rejuvenation - Towards a Better Future
  156. Singo and Howard on Profits, Super Profits and Natural Disasters
  157. John Singleton's 1977 pitch that he be on a committee of one to run the Sydney 1988 Olympics for profit
  158. Thoughts on Land Ownership
  159. 1975 Max Newton-Ash Long interview on the Workers Party
  160. The Electoral Act should allow voters to choose "none of the above"
  161. The great Labor Party platform: first or last, everybody wins a prize
  162. The politics of marketing - laugh now, pay later
  163. Singo and Howard call Australia fascist and worse
  164. The mouse will roar
  165. Viv Forbes and Jim Fryar vs Malcolm Fraser in 1979
  166. Quip, Quote, Rant and Rave: four of Viv Forbes' letters to the editor in The Australian in 1979
  167. Australia's First Official Political Party Poet Laureate: The Progress Party's Ken Hood in 1979
  168. Hancock's playing very hard to get
  169. Harry M. Miller and The Australian disgrace themselves
  170. Ocker ad genius takes punt on art
  171. John Singleton 1976 ocker Monday Conference Max Harris debate
  172. John Singleton mocks university students on civil liberties and freedom of choice in 1971
  173. Murray Rothbard championed on Australian television in 1974 (pre-Workers Party!) by Maureen Nathan
  174. John Singleton profile in 1977 Australian MEN Vogue
  175. I think that I shall never see a telegraph pole as lovely as a tree
  176. Ralph Nader vs John Singleton on Consumer Protection
  177. John Singleton's first two "Think" columns in Newspaper News, 1969
  178. Singo and Howard on Ballet
  179. Product innovation comes first
  180. Protect who from a 'mindless' wife?
  181. A party is born
  182. Tiny Workers' Party gives us a hint
  183. John Singleton on the ad industry, consumerism and innovation
  184. Workers Party Economic Policy Statement, December 1975
  185. Lang Hancock on the Workers Party, secession and States Rights
  186. John Singleton and Howard on Government Largesse
  187. Counterculture must exclude government handouts
  188. John Singleton's 1974 Federal Liberal Election Campaign Ads
  189. John Singleton believes in the Workers Party
  190. Write-up of John Singleton's 1978 speech to the Australian Liberal Students Association
  191. Singo in 1987: "Joh doesn't go far enough ... I want absolute deregulation of the economy"
  192. Maxwell Newton chapter of Clyde Packer's No Return Ticket (1984)
  193. Singo and Howard on Totalitarian Socialism and Voluntary Socialism
  194. Rip Van Australia on Ripoff Vandals Taxing Australia
  195. Singo and Howard beg for tolerance
  196. John Singleton's 1985 advertising comeback
  197. Singo and Howard Demand End to Public Transport
  198. John Singleton and Howard on Fred Nile, Festival of Light, FamilyVoice Australia and the Christian Lobby
  199. Capitalism: Survival of the Fittest
  200. Return Australia Post to Sender
  201. Singo and Howard on Public Utilities
  202. John Singleton and Howard say monarchy should be funded by monarchists alone
  203. John Singleton on cigarette advertising
  204. Singo in 1972 on newspapers' demise
  205. John Singleton farewells Bryce Courtenay
  206. John Singleton on Australian political advertising in 1972
  207. Gortlam rides again
  208. Announcement that Lang Hancock will be guest of honour at the Workers Party launch
  209. John Singleton on trading stamps, idiot housewives and government
  210. 1975 John Singleton-Sir Robert Askin Quadrant Interview
  211. Singo asks two prickly questions
  213. Why John Singleton can't keep a straight face
  214. Why John Singleton Defends Smokers Rights
  215. Tony Dear on Paul Krutulis, the Workers Party and murder
  216. An Ode to Busybodies
  217. Progress Party and Workers Party lead The Australian
  218. How many tits in a tangle?
  219. Viv Forbes in 1978 on loss-making government, the Berlin Wall and misdirected blasts of hot-air
  220. John Singleton wants the Post Office sold and anti-discrimination legislation scrapped
  221. A speech from the Titanic
  222. A crime must have a victim
  223. John Singleton vs Australia Post
  224. Minimum wages the killer
  225. Has Fraser got his priorities all wrong?
  226. John Singleton says "the royal family should be flogged off to the U.S."
  227. John Singleton vs Don Chipp and the Australian Democrats
  228. John Singleton vs Don Lane
  229. John Singleton. Horseracing. Why?
  230. John Singleton's 1986 reflection on the Workers Party
  231. Bob Howard in 1978 on libertarianism in Australia
  232. John Singleton on the stupidity of anti-discrimination laws
  233. Thou shalt know the facts ... before thou shoot off thou mouth
  234. Charity: An Aesop Fable
  235. Bob Howard announces the Workers Party in freeEnterprise
  236. New improved moon
  237. Announcing people ... YES, people!
  238. Creativity in advertising must be pointed dead on target
  239. John Singleton on barriers to, and opportunities for, effective communication
  240. Wayne Garland on John Singleton on Advertising
  241. John Singleton schools ad course
  242. John Singleton: advertising awards
  243. Mr Singleton Goes to Canberra for Australian Playboy
  244. John Singleton on his TV career for Australian Playboy
  245. John Singleton sacked for telling the truth about Medicare
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