When he started his first agency, Singleton Palmer Strauss McAllan (also known as SPASM), in 1968, he was criticized for showing unattractive parts of the Australian national character. His ads were regarded as crass, vulgar and offensive to anyone who was not a football-playing, beer-drinking Aussie bloke. He was the first to use broad Australian accents in advertising, the first to revel in the vernacular and the first to talk to consumers the way he talked to his mates.
In 1973, Mr. Singleton sold SPASM to U.S.-based Doyle Dane Bernbach for $1.2 million and agreed to stay on until 1977 as a salaried managing director. After leaving the agency, Mr. Singleton took a nine-year sabbatical, during which he became a TV and radio broadcaster, owned a circus, promoted rodeos, bred racehorses and bought and sold property. His best single investment was becoming a member of the consortium that bought the Ten Group TV network out of receivership.
In 1993, Mr. Singleton owned outright both the Ten investment and an ad agency, John Singleton Advertising, which he founded in 1985. He sold both that year to the public company Singleton Group. In return, he received 35% of the listed company and $7.7 million in cash.
In July 1998, Singleton Group sold a minority interest in John Singleton Advertising to Ogilvy & Mather, a subsidiary of the giant U.K.-based holding company WPP Group. Retaining control was "a prerequisite" for Mr. Singleton, who had built his business with fierce independence.
In November 2000, Mr. Singleton joined a consortium that had taken a $37 million indirect stake in Indonesia's No. 3 TV network, SCTV. Mr. Singleton said he would invest $22 million on behalf of Singleton Group, which he controlled, plus an undisclosed amount of his personal fortune.
Also in on the deal were Singleton Group Chairman Mark Carnegie, his partner John Wylie, their investment fund and Emtec, a medium-size Indonesian telecommunications and information technologies company. Indonesia was a high-growth advertising market with TV ad revenue in 2000 forecasted to increase by more than 60% over the previous year. SCTV posted earnings before interest and tax of $8 million for calendar year 1999 and forecast EBIT of $20 million for calendar year 2000.
Mr. Singleton's ability to sell ads is widely acknowledged in Australia. He has a wide range of contacts in Australian politics, sport and business. Most of all, he is identified with the same rough-diamond image as billionaire media magnate Kerry Packer, former Australian prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, former Australian Sen. Graham Richardson and retail giant Gerry Harvey.
The renamed Singleton Ad Agency's clients include KFC Corp., Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Qantas Airways, brewery Lion Nathan and retailer Harvey Norman. It ranked No. 3 among Australian advertising agencies in 2001, with gross income of $44.7 million, down 11.6% over 2000, on billings of $336.8 million
Born in Sydney, Nov. 9, 1941; started his first agency, Singleton Palmer Strauss McAllan, 1968; sold it to Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1973; founded John Singleton Advertising, 1985; merged with Ogilvy & Mather, 1998.