Jack Singleton is more than a chip off the old block when it comes to creating an industry buzz.
Jack Singleton, the son of larrikin adman John, says that when the Jack Watts advertising agency started up in 1998 it was a small business. "Meaning we didn't have any clients," the 33-year-old laughs. These days it's a very different story, with their billings hitting the $52 million mark.
When Colin Watts suggested they set up an agency together, Singleton realised he was tired of New York winters after three years working there and it seemed like a good time to come back to Australia.
After an anxious initial three months, Jack Watts won its first client - in a pitch against Singleton Snr. "Dad's agency had Conde Nast, but we'd been asked to pitch for [Conde Nast magazine] GQ's Australian launch," says Singleton. I wasn't sure whether to tell him or not but he came in the day before we were due to pitch and said, 'Why are you so busy? You don't have any clients.'"
After the GQ pitch, every time the phone rang the two men hoped it was Conde Nast. "Finally it was GQ telling us we'd got the account," says Singleton. "Dad looked at what we'd done and he was impressed."
Jack Watts picked up a few more clients, including Yahoo! and the Discovery Channel, before deciding that having two creatives in charge was not ideal. Account director Rob Currie soon joined them and since then the agency has worked with some of the biggest brands in Australia, including Kyocera, San Miguel, Wizard Home Loans, Burger King, Vogue and Victa Mowers.
Jack Watts Currie also played a big part in creating Nudie - the hip, somewhat irreverent, freshly squeezed fruit juice brand - with former Looksmart CEO Tim Pethick. The agency now owns two per cent of the Nudie empire.
Not bad considering that Singleton never planned a career in advertising.
"After leaving school I planned to start a plumbing apprenticeship but headed up to the Northern Territory for a season of jackarooing," he says. "While I was up there I did my shoulder in, which stopped me starting my apprenticeship, and Dad said to come and work for him while my shoulder healed." After some time paying his dues parking cars, filling fridges and working in accounts, Singleton ended up copywriting because he thought copywriters were the people having the most fun.
After Singleton had worked for five years at his father's advertising agency, Singleton Snr sat his son down and said, "What are you going to do with your life?" Working for John Singleton Advertising wasn't a path Singleton wanted to follow.
He explains, "I often think about guys like Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer, and in many ways they can't really win. If they do well, people say it's because of their fathers, but if they have a few hiccups then they're incompetent. Everyone backs an occasional loser and they're really just young blokes having a crack. I'd much rather do things the way I've done them. When Jack Watts Currie does well it's partly through my own hard work. If there's any stuff-ups it's me, rather than the family business."
Singleton decided to leave his father's agency to travel a little and then work overseas. Initially New York appealed to him, but he was put off by the difficulties involved in getting a Green Card so he organised a British working visa.
However, before setting off for the UK Singleton spent a holiday driving from San Francisco to New York, then realised he wanted to stay in the Big Apple - despite not having a working visa. After approaching 67 agencies, all of which escorted him off the premises once they found out he only had a tourist visa, he got lucky. One large agency, J. Walter Thompson, neglected to ascertain what his visa status was. "They just didn't ask until I'd been freelancing for about three months," he admits. "That was my big break."