Fallon Fights for Relevance

NEW YORK Fallon, which last week replaced ecd Al Kelly with Publicis Mojo’s Darren Spiller, is again betting on a talented creative director with no U.S. experience to restore its flagship Minneapolis office. The question some in the industry are asking is whether the move will pay off.

The once-revered agency has, in recent years, experienced damaging account and talent losses that has left the famous shop a shadow of the creative beacon it once was. Its performance has basically made it an annex to Publicis Groupe sister agency Saatchi & Saatchi.

Fallon, which once held BMW, Citibank and United Airlines as showcase accounts, has suffered from years of creative turmoil at the top. Spiller, CCO, is the third chief to take the top creative mantle since David Lubars, the architect behind BMW Films, left the agency to join BBDO Worldwide in 2004. Paul Silburn, a former cd at TBWA\London, was hired in 2005 as ecd, but fired less than a year into his tenure. And Kelly, a former group cd at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, was brought in as ecd in August 2007 after holding a similar position at StrawberryFrog, Amsterdam.

These days the London office, which has received international attention for its award-winning work on Sony Bravia and Cadbury, outshines Fallon. While Spiller has admirable creative credentials — he won two Cannes gold Promo Lions last year for Speight’s Breweries “Great Beer Delivery” campaign — the decision of the Publicis shop to again hire someone from outside the U.S. market has left many wondering about the direction the agency is taking. “I don’t think Fallon is an easy thing to fix,” said one agency cd, who noted hiring a well-known entity in the U.S. could go a long way in helping Fallon recruit talent in a difficult location such as Minneapolis.

CEO Chris Foster, who joined the shop last March from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, where he was global equity director leading efforts across the agency’s Procter & Gamble global portfolio, said after an exhaustive global search he found the right partner in Spiller. “As our client base grows and as we have a greater need for creativity that extends beyond geography, I needed someone here who had a great international background of work and can think broadly in terms of creativity,” said Foster.

While Foster gave credit to Kelly for creating momentum for the agency, including new business additions like Boston Market and Alpo, the CEO explained Spiller was recruited to “ratchet up our growth and our creative endeavors for the future.”

Spiller, who spent the last 14 years of his career at Publicis Mojo, most recently as regional ecd, said the move to Fallon provides him with an “opportunity for an adventure and a challenge.”

While he said he has entertained interest from overseas companies in the past, none of them “fit like this one fits.” He added that he found attractive similarities between Fallon and Mojo: “There is a real interest in the consumer in creating the work, there is a real sense of family and we’ve always had a similar global outlook. We didn’t want to be a big fish in a small pond and I think Fallon has the same goal.”

Spiller plans to begin his new job at the end of June. Dave Damman, a group ecd who returned to Fallon last November, will act as interim manager of the 35-member creative department until his arrival. -with Andrew McMains