INTERNATIONAL: THE DECISION MAKERS/PAT FALLON - The driving strength of Pat Fallon and his global ambitions/Fallon McElligott’s UK start-up is part of a global gameplan. Emma Hall meets its original US founder

By EMMA HALL, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 06 November 1998 12:00AM

The global expansion of Fallon McElligott has been a long time coming - and there has been plenty of heartache along the way. Yet Pat Fallon, the agency’s chairman, refuses to let someone else take the strain.

The global expansion of Fallon McElligott has been a long time

coming - and there has been plenty of heartache along the way. Yet Pat

Fallon, the agency’s chairman, refuses to let someone else take the

strain.



A strong competitive urge and loyalty to his clients keeps him

motivated.



’I am involved on a real basis,’ he says, ’and the trust is

reciprocated. We get very far into our clients’ business and the further

we get, the more economic value we contribute.’



Fallon is still full of the enthusiasm that inspired him and his

partners to set up an agency on 20 July 1981. But it has always been a

measured enthusiasm - they spent a whole year planning the start-up in

order to do business properly from day one. Even though the agency had

no clients at the time, a financial officer was already in place because

Fallon and the others wanted their business to have ’backbone’.



Ethics are as important to Fallon as business plans. ’You need talent,

but you need more than that. You need to be working for the same reasons

and aiming at the same quality standards and be sure of how you are

going to treat people,’ he says.



The family element is also important. When Michael Wall and Robert

Senior, the managing partners of the London agency, originally pitched

their views on a London office, Fallon says: ’They killed us with their

first slide.’ It was a picture of their families and was introduced with

the words: ’This is what motivates us.’



Fallon is reluctant to go into details of his own biography. His ego

needs feeding as much as anyone’s he says, but it doesn’t thrive on

personal publicity and he isn’t big on doing lunch either. He was

brought up in Minnesota and has never contemplated settling anywhere

else, although he did venture to Leo Burnett in Chicago when he started

in the business. He completed Burnett’s two-year training programme in

one year and headed straight back to Minnesota to work for Martin

Williams Advertising in Minneapolis.



The roots of Fallon McElligott are strong. Fallon and the co-founder and

copywriter, Tom McElligott, had worked together at their freelance

start-up, called Lunch Hour, for eight years, so they knew the chemistry

worked when they set up shop above Peter’s Grill in Minneapolis. ’We had

no clients and were so driven it was ridiculous. We had no contingency

plan that said ’fail’.’



The agency started during a recession. ’We thought it could work in our

favour - we could help our clients outsmart, not outspend, the

competition.’



Such fierce dedication has made it difficult for Fallon McElligott to

grow. Fallon admits: ’When we expanded from one to two floors I thought

the world was going to fall apart because I couldn’t see what was

happening on the second floor. I have a relentless need to have control

which has served us well, but it has also held us back.’



At the same time, Fallon has a trusting nature which has sometimes

backfired.



The agency’s first attempt at going global was an expensive

disaster.



In 1986, Ogilvy & Mather, through its subsidiary, Scali McCabe Sloves,

bought a majority share in Fallons. ’All our clients were talking about

going global and we were very naive,’ he confesses. ’We sold to someone

who faked global capability and it turned out our clients didn’t really

want it anyway.’ And what made it worse was that SMS had been Fallon

McElligott’s mentor.



It took the agency a year to see the full extent of the mistake. SMS had

lost major clients and hid the fact that one of the partners, Ed McCabe,

had quit the agency 18 months before. Fallon McElligott bought itself

out directly from the WPP chief, Martin Sorrell, in 1994 after long

negotiations.



Now, with clients including Miller Brewing Company, Lee Jeans, United

Airlines, Coca-Cola and BMW, plus a thriving New York agency and a new

London shop, Fallon is feeling more comfortable about growth, although

quality still drives the agency. ’When we are on top of our game, we are

trouble for anyone,’ he warns.



’There had never been a national, creatively-driven agency run out of

Minnesota, but what we sell is disciplined imagination and that has no

geographical boundaries,’ Fallon says, wearing his ambition and vision

on his sleeve.



Fallon says: ’There was every symptom of decay but we didn’t know it -

they embarrassed us.’



It wasn’t the last bad move he made, but, as Fallon says, ’the mistakes

are part of us’.



Not that Fallon has a parochial attitude - he spends enough time in New

York to make it worthwhile owning an apartment there, and is a regular

at the swanky Covent Garden Hotel in London - it’s just that he has

stayed with his roots.



FACT FILE

1968

Graduate trainee, Leo Burnett, Chicago

1969

Account director, Martin Williams, Minneapolis

1975

Promoted to vice-president and director of marketing services

1981

Founded Fallon McElligott Rice with four partners

1986

Sells 51 per cent stake to Scali McCabe Sloves

1993

Buys back the agency in a deal with Martin Sorrell

1996

Opens Fallon McElligott Berlin in New York

1998

Launches Fallon McElligott in London



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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