Russel Howcroft on K&J hitting Melbourne, adland’s ‘pure economy’, and Nine’s podcast push

Howcroft’s latest venture is the podcast, AdMission. “The management at 3AW, at Nine, they are very keen to pursue the podcast world. And they wanted me to do one.”

Russel Howcroft doesn’t “know whether there is a more competitive industry than the advertising industry. I doubt it.” But the Melbourne radio market might come close.

With Kyle and Jackie O hitting the Melbourne airwaves from 29 April, the duo will be looking to steal share from somewhere, and are no doubt eyeing up the market’s current breakfast heavyweight: Howcroft and Ross Stevenson‘s 3AW show. In the first radio survey of the year, released last week, it had a 19.6% share, up 1.5 percentage points and more than seven percentage points above the nearest competitor in the slot.

Howcroft isn’t scared. “Competition brings out the best. It brings out the best in the best,” he tells Mediaweek.

“It’s a significant market, the Melbourne market. biggest radio market in the country. Significant revenue on the commercial side. And the 3AW breakfast listener, as I say, they are a huge part of our show.” 

Howcroft says the sheer power of 3AW’s audience is the number one thing he’s learned since starting in radio four years ago. “The audience are active participants in 3AW breakfast, and the show is their show.” Plus the group making the show is “like a creative ensemble.”

‘The management at 3AW, at Nine … they wanted me to do one’: AdMission

Across his career – whether as CEO of ad agency Y&R, at PwC, on Gruen, as one half of 3AW’s breakfast show, or on his new podcast AdMission – Howcroft has aimed to share this love of advertising, not just with the industry but also the broader public.

“I do put advertising at the centre of most things. And I like to talk about it being at the centre of most things. The fact that it subsidises democracy always gets a laugh, but actually, if it wasn’t for advertising, there wouldn’t be media. If it wasn’t for media, you wouldn’t have the fourth estate. I enjoy the conversation about what is advertising?”

The latest platform for that conversation is AdMission. Launched in February, the show sees Howcroft team up with Freddie Young, the co-founder of Good One Creative. Howcroft is a minor shareholder, and so is his son, Charlie Howcroft, who is also the agency’s creative director. That’s how Howcroft knows Young. 

“Freddy is a serious talent. He’s got a nice advertising brain. He’s articulate. And he is a deep thinker.”

The podcast came about because, “the management at 3AW, at Nine, they are very keen to pursue the podcast world. And they wanted me to do one.” So while “the world definitely did not need another podcast, let alone an advertising podcast”, Howcroft set about creating “one which is in my wheelhouse, that’s different.”

The dynamic of Howcroft and Young – “the young and the old,” as Howcroft puts it – felt like something unique. Howcroft was heading into a recording right after his interview with Mediaweek, emphasising what a “joy” it is to work on.

‘Capitalism at its best’: The agencies doing it best

Good One is just one of a litany of small, scrappy agencies to have emerged in recent years. Most indies have been founded by former holding company executives, and Howcroft finds it “hugely exciting” that those with an “entrepreneurial flair” are setting up their own shops.

When he talks about the agencies doing the work he’s most compelled by, he exclusively lists independents: Good One, of course, but also Thinkerbell – the agency Howcroft helped found when he was at PwC, before Thinkerbell bought back the embattled consultancy’s stake – Special Group, Howatson + Co (Howcroft says of Chris Howatson: “You could absolutely see the out of the box talent that he had right from the beginning”), and Half Dome.

“They’re easy to start,” he says of agencies, “you don’t really need a lot of capital to start an advertising agency.” And the demand is there – every business needs advertising, whether it’s “the local mowing service” or global behemoths.

“It’s capitalism at its best, really,” he says. “The advertising industry is almost a pure economy, in that you’ve almost got 100% awareness of the marketplace, you know who the competitors are, you know what the pricing is, give or take.

“There is a ladder of success, and the best win. That’s part of the joy.”

See also: Russel Howcroft on Radio: 4am wakeup worth it for original social media

Top image: Howcroft

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