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Exclusive interview with Gruen Planet’s Wil Anderson

Steven Tannason

Fri Oct 14 2011

Todd Sampson, Wil Anderson and Russel Howcroft, Gruen Planet, ABC

Following the successful fourth season of celebrated television series The Gruen Transfer, ABC has introduced another extension of the Gruen brand – Gruen Planet.

Still hosted by comedian Wil Anderson and keeping ad men Todd Sampson and Russel Howcroft on the panel, Gruen Planet analyses the world of public relations – spin, branding and image control.

“I think [Executive Producer] Andrew Denton just wants to confuse people,” Anderson jokes.

“For four years, I had to explain to people what The Gruen Transfer meant and just when people were starting to understand it, now he’s changed it to Gruen Planet.”

Three weeks in, and the series is enjoying impressive ratings, with an audience of over 1.1 million tuning in to the first episode.

Gruen Planet has “the earth spins – we don’t” as its motto.

“But everybody is spinning around us all the time now,” Anderson says.

“So I guess with our show, what we’re trying to do – and for people who are new to Australia as well – is to give people the tools to understand the spinning that is going on around us, because I think a lot of the time we don’t actually recognise when we’re being spun to.”

Anderson, who studied journalism at the University of Canberra and topped his class, says it’s important people become engaged in news.

“Many people find news boring. So they are not engaged in it…We’ve our responsibilities as citizens to hold people to account or to read our newspapers and say ‘that’s not the truth’. We’ve a responsibility, as citizens, to hold these people accountable,” he says.

“So I guess, what we’re trying to do with the show is to make that fun. Most people don’t do that because they get bored by it, or they don’t understand it, or it’s not presented to them in a way that they feel is accessible.

“What we’re trying to do with our show is to take some complex ideas but present them in an accessible, fun way.”

The Gruen Transfer revealed plenty of information about the advertising industry, and Planet is set to reveal more about the public relations industry. As audiences become increasingly savvy to the tricks of the communications trade, will advertising and PR students face problems in their careers?

No, according to Anderson.

“I believe that the more we know, the higher quality of work we demand from people. If you understand writing, then you would probably read better books. I think when it comes to communications, if we yearned for better communications, then we would get better communicators,” he says.

He quotes Steve Jobs, who once said he did not believe in market research because it was not the consumer’s job to know what they wanted.

“I think at the moment we’re so obsessed by opinion polls or market research, and what you get in that situation is that you only get the same ideas over and over again. People will only tell you what they’ve heard before,” Anderson says.

“The more we know about these things, the higher standards we hold people accountable to and hopefully that would mean we would get better people in response.”


“For me, the most important thing is to consume as much as possible,” Anderson advises communications students.

“If you’re interested in something, consume it. Take it apart. Look at what someone’s doing.”

According to Anderson, a great way to take a text apart – whether a news story, a piece of comedy or anything you are passionate about – is to write it down. In the process of writing it down, you begin to see how it is structured, how the words are used, and when points are made.

“I think it’s really important to consume as much communications as you can, and then to think about it,” Anderson says.

“We live in a world where we’re being constantly stimulated. You can’t get on a train without seeing people on their iPods, checking their Twitter. But sometimes we do a lot of consuming without taking a lot of time to take it apart.

“When you’re reading a newspaper article or watching a television show or anything like that, watch it and just take 30 seconds to think about what you just saw and how they represented it. Don’t just consume, actively consume.”

Asked about future plans for the Gruen brand, Anderson answers: “We’re trying to get Gruen Planet right. I guess after we’ve done Gruen Planet, maybe it’s Gruen Universe? I’m not sure yet.”

So why should international students tune in?

“When you go somewhere new, the hardest thing is to try to understand the culture,” Anderson says.

“You can consume the culture but the hardest thing is knowing what people’s attitude to that culture is. [Through Gruen Planet] we’re hoping you understand the things that you’re seeing everyday.”

Gruen Planet airs on Wednesdays at 9pm on ABC1, and is repeated on Thursdays at 9:30pm on ABC2. You can catch-up on old episodes on the show’s website.