The World: Fallon imparts 25 years of advertising wisdom

Pat Fallon's book is hitting the shelves just as his network weathers the toughest period in its history, James Hamilton writes.

Advertising books penned by advertising people tend to make heavy reading. More artifice than edifice, they are seldom the kind of read you would want to relax with by the pool.

It could be the authors' reaction to a professional lifetime spent distilling messages into digestible 30-second bites that makes them so verbose. Perhaps the ephemeral nature of advertising makes its creators yearn to leave a more concrete legacy. Who knows, maybe there is still some 24-carat wisdom to be found in the dust on the canyon floor of Madison Avenue.

"We didn't really look at it like that," Pat Fallon, the founder of the agency network that bears his surname, says. He and his long-standing partner, Fred Senn, are the co-authors of Juicing the Orange, the latest "how to ..." advertising tome. "We've been in business 25 years and in that time we've learned some things. We thought this anniversary would be a good time to pass them on in book form."

The book is a refreshing alternative to those that attempt to shoehorn a network's creative output into a chief executive's pet credo. There are neither buzzwords to drop into conversation nor boxes to think outside of. "We purposely avoided that," Fallon says. "We hope it's more than just an advertising book. Some of the thinking could be applied to all sortsof industries."

Subtitled "how to turn creativity into a powerful business advantage", the book takes in not just Fallon's successes - the series of short online films for BMW, the reinvention of Lee jeans in the US and the dramatic rebirth of Skoda in the UK - but also its failures.

It attempts to define a series of principles by which any company can increase its creative leverage. These are: start from scratch; ask for a simple definition of the business problem; find your own emotion (never copy that of another brand); focus on the size of the idea, not the size of the budget; take strategic risks; collaborate or perish; listen to your customers.

"The book allowed us to go back and see a pattern. We've known each of the principles, but we saw that when applied together, they almost always ended up in a successful campaign," Fallon says. "We wanted to put the mistakes in there as well. We have learned from those and they separate us from the conventional industry books."

Fallon has had more hits than misses at the helm of his agency. The mistakes he refers to show what happens when campaigns stray from the principles the book identifies. The writers confess that the agency's series of ads for Miller, one of which featured a man dancing in front of a bottle of the beer after reading the instruction "twist to open", failed to address the brand's business problem: falling market share.

It seems a shame that the book should come out when, in the US, Fallon is weathering the toughest period in its history.

The agency's creative department has been in turmoil since David Lubars, Fallon's president and executive creative director for North America, defected to BBDO Worldwide in June 2004. His replacement, Paul Silburn, exited after less than a year. Fallon now concedes that while he has the utmost respect for Silburn's talent, he was the wrong person for hiring and he should have removed him sooner. "I didn't act as quickly as I might have because I kept thinking he needed to get his feet set in the culture," he says.

The effects of creative upheaval have been compounded by the closure of the New York office in July last year, following the departure of the office's president, Anne Bologna, and its creative director, Ari Merkin. While Fallon says a New York base is not necessary for agency success, it was hard to put any positive spin on what must have been a humiliating failure to crack advertising's US heartland.

Fallon's client list has not emerged unscathed - two of the agency's greatest successes, Lee and BMW, are now former clients.

Fallon is circumspect about Lee's departure - the agency held the account for almost 20 years and had survived nine management changes. The tenth proved fatal. "I'm more sad than angry, based on what we managed to accomplish together," he says. "I'm sad BMW felt the need to have an agency search when the business circumstances went against that. That's why we decided not to compete." In 1992, BMW sold just 54,000 cars in North America. In 2005, after a decade with Fallon, it sold 266,000.

"The past two years have been the most difficult in our history," Fallon says. But, the creative engine room is stable and regenerated and there will be a car client to replace BMW "in the next few months". Meanwhile, he has quite an empire to admire. Fallon's London office is enjoying its most successful year to date and looks set for even greater things now that the five partners - Robert Senior, Michael Wall, Laurence Green, Andy McLeod and Richard Flintham - have agreed new deals.

"We've turned the corner internally, but I'm not sure people in the outside world have accepted that we're back and on top of our game," Fallon says. "We need to let new-business wins and the effectiveness of the work convince them."

And this, is exactly what drives Fallon a quarter of a century on. He argues passionately in the book that a marketing idea isn't creative unless it achieves success for the client.

"If I could have two things come out of the book it would be that, and the fact that we're a company with integrity," he says. "If people came away with that, I'd be happy."