Close-Up: The woman who has to get the Fallon mojo back

Fallon's new chief executive is determined to bring positivity to the shop following the exit of key people.

Oscar Wilde's dictum that "there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about" is one that the current crop of Fallonites can console themselves with. The agency's fate is the industry's topic du jour after last week's turn of events. And there's been much gleeful handrubbing from rivals who believe the one-time creator of industry-changing ads such as Sony's "balls" has been finally neutered by the loss of its founders.

"It's like Bartle and Hegarty leaving BBH, along with Audi," was one senior industry person's assessment of an agency that has yet to replace its dearly departed Sony account and is now down to just one of its original five founders, the Saatchi Saatchi Fallon chief, Robert Senior.

Contrarily, the mood in the Fallon camp is one of relief. Though the internal announcement of the exit of the chairman, Laurence Green (who is often referred to as "the dad" of the agency), and its revered executive creative director, Richard Flintham, was met with tears from many members of staff, it can't have been a shock. Rumours of such a move had been swirling around the industry for a while following a failed attempt at a management buyout of the agency from its parent company Publicis.

"It's like dying after an illness. When you finally die, there is a sense of release," was one Fallon insider's view. A tad melodramatic, perhaps, but it is indicative of the level of anxiety felt by staff.

But as the agency's past exited, its future entered in the form of the new chief executive, Gail Gallie.

Again, this news was greeted with a spot of schadenfreude from rival agencies and doomsayers who dismiss her as a chief executive "no-one has heard of".

However, many who are familiar with Gallie see her appointment as a good move at an extremely testing time for Fallon. The 39-year-old worked with the agency for eight years while she was a marketing director at the BBC and is held in very high esteem at Fallon. Former Fallonites Jonathan Trimble, the 18 Feet & Rising managing partner, and Chris Hirst, the Grey London chief, remember her as a client who was unafraid to her speak her mind. Trimble calls the move as an "astute hire".

Gallie is unquestionably bright (she was accepted into Oxford University at the age of 16), reportedly "takes no crap", has intimate knowledge of the shop's processes and holds strong, long-held relationships with many of its people, including the newly promoted managing director, Magnus Djaba. She also has an ingredient that the agency has previously operated without: warmth. "I think they could probably make Fallon a bit friendlier," Gallie confides. Given the fact that she has never previously been a chief executive and has spent the past couple of years running her own communications consultancy, arguably at a remove from the day-to-day industry whirl, one would expect Gallie to be a little nervous about the gargantuan task ahead. But she couldn't appear more at ease. She says that the support of Senior and Kevin Roberts, the worldwide chief of Saatchi & Saatchi, who she affectionately termed as her "older brothers", made the job very enticing. "I'm not worried at all. I'm excited," she enthuses.

Gallie is, however, mindful of the mood of her staff, noting how much Green and Flintham were loved at the agency: "It's a cultural challenge to make sure the agency feels united and build on its legacy, not its loss." She also hopes to bring a sense of nurture, explaining: "There hasn't been a CEO, so there's a gap. I am deeply led by people and relationships."

The most pressing problem is how the creative department makes up for the loss of Flintham. In the words of one insider: "Richard was Fallon." And Gallie admits that he is irreplaceable. She is therefore considering not hiring a single executive creative director, but instead working with a "strong six-pack stomach" of creative heads operating in a group system, with the creative director and newly made partner Augusto Sola overseeing briefs.

A senior creative hiring from the US is in the offing, with more in the pipeline. Gallie is also keen to bring in creative people from outside the industry, such as music producers and theatre, film and TV directors, to stimulate the team. One could argue that not having a single creative at executive level is perverse, but Gallie is not afraid to upset industry norms. "It strikes me that the old hierarchical traditional pyramid shape is possibly not the most creative one," she reasons.

Senior, though still working across the group, has pledged to focus his efforts on Fallon. He admits that the folding of the agency into Saatchi & Saatchi (already the case with other international branches of Fallon) was discussed, but stresses that the notion was roundly dismissed. "As long as I live and breathe, that won't happen," he says. Gallie says she has been assured about the longevity of her position: "The licence that Fallon has been given by the group to really reinvent itself and go forward for the next ten years is an irresistible opportunity."

Senior, meanwhile, has signalled a "less self-referential" chapter for Fallon. But if Fallon is not selling itself as the agency that made "Gorilla", then what is it? Gallie says Fallon's role in the Publicis network is to be the "wow factory", to stick to its mantra of "unreasonable creativity", but to also look ahead.

"You are only as good as tomorrow's ad," she states. She argues that her job is not about turning the agency around, but getting its people excited and on a mission to "take it up a gear". Not to mention, of course, getting clients on board.

Gallie's recent career history shows she is unafraid of a challenge, with one former colleague describing her as a "big thinker" who has "the balls" to do the job. Indeed, during her time at the BBC, Gallie led the overhaul of the core BBC brand, Radio 1, BBC News and Sport and the launch of BBC Three. But she looks back on the launch of CBeebies as her proudest moment. "Not just because I thought of the name," she says.

The toughest challenge Gallie has ever faced in her life, though, she says, was landing in the hallowed halls of Oxford University as a Geordie teenager surrounded by older, public school types: "It was so daunting. I didn't speak for a year."

But her test now is to ensure that the Fallon brand continues to be talked about for years to come. Fortunately, her faith in the regenerative powers of the agency holds strong. According to Gallie: "Fallon has always been best when it's out of its comfort zone."


1994-1997: BMP DDB account director on the Labour Party. Leads the campaign that takes Tony Blair to power.

1998-2006: BBC head of youth, news, education, sport and online marketing. Leads the marketing launches of CBeebies and BBC Three and strategic overhaul of the core BBC brand, Radio 1, BBC News and BBC Sport.

2008: Founds GallieGodfrey, a strategic communications consultancy, with Jim Godfrey, the former ITV corporate affairs director. Clients include Freeview, ITV, Global Radio and the Arts Council.