SINGLETON, JOHN DESMOND (1941– )
Long synonymous with the advertising industry, John Singleton is a media businessman whose expanding portfolio of media interests has seen him emerge as a media proprietor in his own right.
Singleton’s media career began at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in 1958. His standing in creative circles quickly grew, as did his larrikin reputation. The floundering Berry Currie Agency gambled on the unpredictable copywriter when it appointed him creative director in 1963. At Berry Currie, Singleton not only cemented his creative reputation, he also learnt how to run an agency.
In 1968, Singleton formed Singleton, Palmer, Strauss and McAllan—better known as ‘SPASM’—where he pioneered a distinctly Australian type of advertising. Derided as ‘ocker’, this loud and blunt appeal celebrated the Australian accent. His success caught the eye of the American agency Doyle Dane & Bernbach, which bought out SPASM in 1973. However, Singleton struggled to conform to the new owner’s rules, and after five years he left the agency. The non-competition clause in his contract saw him leave advertising altogether.
He then ventured into presenting. After two stints as a television chat show host (1979–80), he moved on to Sydney commercial radio, hosting 2KY’s morning show (1980–85) while assisting with the station’s business operations.
Singleton re-entered advertising in 1985, forming John Singleton Advertising (JSA) the following year. Billings grew quickly, and in 1994 the agency was floated successfully on the stock exchange. Forming a holding company, the Singleton Group (later STW), Singleton acquired an impressive list of advertising and communications firms, including Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson, his first employer. While his 2007 sale of shares suggested another departure from advertising, his backing of the Banjo agency in 2009 indicated that he was not done yet.
Communication acquisitions comprised one part of Singleton’s media empire. In 1992, he briefly held a seat on the board of John Fairfax Holdings before his growing interest in Sydney’s TEN10 placed him in breach of cross-media ownership laws. In 1996, he acquired Sydney’s 2CH and 2GB, which would form the basis of his Macquarie Radio Network. Ventures into other media outlets have included an Indonesian television network and Lonely Planet publications.
As Singleton entered his fifth decade in the media, he was now, as one colleague observed, ‘seen by the Big End of Town as a serious businessman, not just a bloke who does ads’. Singleton was appointed AM in 1994.
REF: G. Stone, Singo (2002).