Three Minute Squiz With… Russel Howcroft

We could spend this entire intro trying to encapsulate Russel Howcroft’s diverse bio but instead we’ll simply say that he is an advertising guru (think Gruen) and corporate exec (he is the Chief Creative Officer with PwC) with an interest in pies (he, wife Kate and her sister Anna run Caspers Pies) and footy (he is a Melbourne Demons fan through and through). He’s also an author who dabbles in flag design. And, most importantly, he’s a Squizer. Please welcome Russel to the Three Minute Squiz. 

How and where do you Squiz?
I listen to the podcast every morning on the tram.

What was it that initially drew you to advertising?
I had a week of work experience at McCann–Erickson. At the end of the week I knew I had found an organisation that suited me and I was fortunately asked if I would like to stay.

Since then you’ve been at the top of agencyland in Australia and abroad. Is there a campaign from those days where on reflection you think “geez I nailed that”.
“I” is a word that has always been banned in advertising. It all goes horribly wrong as soon as people start saying “I”. It’s also important to remember for the advertising creative people reading this, that I was what was called a “suit” and suits have never had a good idea, which is why they always say it’s not about “I”, it’s about “we”.

Tell us a bit about how you ply your trade/offer your expertise in a consultancy like PwC.
Marketing has become so complex that what was once a relatively simple trade, has now become a sophisticated matrix of options and opportunities. Consultancies can bring their might and power to help solve important problems such as this. So, we see marketers of all shapes and sizes and help them through their maze of options.

We Aussies are a pretty untrusting lot and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon. What do you put that down to?
Not enough advertising.

We read you’ve had a go a redesigning the Aussie flag. As the logo for brand Australia, what do you think it should highlight?
That’s true, I have designed a number of flags. I have been on the Australian Flag board and have spoken about, and written about, the need for change quite a few times. On Australia Day, I like to fly my own Australian flag which is very simple; it’s blue, with the Southern Cross (it’s a bit more sophisticated than that, but you get the picture). I think it’s important because ultimately the flag is an ad that the global population attributes to your country. A Swiss cross; a Japanese sun; the Union Jack; the Stars and Stripes; a Hammer and Sickle are all easily attributable images.

We don’t have that. Perhaps the Southern Cross isn’t enough. There were some terrific designs going around the social media world, my favourite one having an Indigenous sun.

As an authority on pies, you can settle this question once and for all – is it ever ok to use a knife and fork?
Definitely. Caspers actively advocates the family pie on a Sunday afternoon with a fully laid out table in the Invogowry style. Preferably with a waiter who sheepishly enters the household dining room and asks; “Will Sir have sauce with that?”

When we retire, we have aspirations of writing daily letters to the editor to complain about whatever gets our goat. You turned your thoughts on the things that irritate you into a book called When It’s Right To Be Wrong*. What’s your top rant at the moment?
The world is nationalising just at the point where the biggest issues require global solutions. In 21 lessons for the 21st century Yuval Noah Harari makes this really clear by pointing out that nuclear proliferation, global warming and the dark side of the data revolution can only be fixed if we act as one planet. If that’s not big enough for you, Melbourne’s injury list has got me concerned.

And (sorry…) we have to ask – ‘Russel’ with one ‘l’. What’s that about?
From day one my father told me to spell it with one L. He was an artist and he said “it looks better like that”.

What’s your guilty TV-watching secret?
I prefer the ads.

Name four people – living or dead – you’d kill to sit down to dinner with.
P King Morrison, Hubert Wilkins, Gurrumul, Daisy Pearce.

Your favourite book?
Marketing Warfare*, Al Ries and Jack Trout.

What skill or talent don’t you have but wish you did?

What’s your worst and best habit?

What would you say is the most currently overlooked news story we should know about?
It’s not overlooked but I believe it’s under-explored, discussed and analysed; the fact that China now has a president for the rest of his life.

*Buy a book using one of the link provided and The Squiz gets a little commission. 

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