Another creative who's worked for him for some time says: "He has this thing about plastic barf puddles. Clients thought it was pretty funny when this straight guy gets up and leaves these things behind. He has a leprechaun-like devilment to him that's actually very charming. You feel like you're part of his inner circle when he kids with you."
One other characteristic defines Fallon: Almost from the day he and former partners Tom McElligott and Nancy Rice hung out their Fallon, McElligott & Rice shingle in 1981, Fallon has been that rare breed--a management type who understands the kernel of great creative and can judge a storyboard or rough instantly. "I've never met anyone in this business who was as good a judge of a good concept as this guy," marvels one top creative who's known Fallon for over a decade. "He has better instincts than some art directors and creative directors." As a result, creatives love him--and, under his expert tutelage, his agency has been able to withstand a number of traumas that would have overwhelmed lesser managers.
Fallon and his agency made headlines recently, when he and longtime creative director Pat Burnham parted company. And again, when he recruited Bill Westbrook to take Burnham's place. But what was not reported at the time was that around the time Burnham left early this year, and before Westbrook arrived in Minneapolis this summer, the 48-year-old Fallon almost abandoned his agency to move to New York as president of Wells Rich Greene BDDP. It's not clear how far talks between Fallon and WRG's Paris-based parent BDDP progressed, but one source says BDDP, working through a Fallon-designated intermediary, had almost accepted his demand for a $700,000-plus salary and only choked when the intermediary began making extraordinary demands on top of that.
Did Fallon really want to move to New York and take on the challenge of running, as heir apparent to Wells chairman Ken Olshan, a vastly larger enterprise (Fallon bills $125 million whereas Wells bills $1 billion), or did he have another agenda? Hard to say. Fallon was not reachable by press time and BDDP execs declined comment.
What is known is that Fallon has been restless for some time. People speculate on what made him so. Some say it may be that he got bit by the Big Apple bug when he went to New York in 1991 to help Marvin Sloves reorganize Scali McCabe Sloves, Fallon McElligott's parent agency. Others say he's been unhappy with the way SMS owner Martin Sorrell, of the WPP Group in London, has dragged out attempts to sell Scali to a variety of parties over the last three years.
"As difficult as it is for me to imagine (Fallon) leaving Minneapolis, he's never been the same since his year running Scali," says a former agency associate. "He got an apartment in New York and spent enough time there to feel like he was as good as or better than all the other ad guys in New York. It's one thing to say you're good in Minneapolis, and who cares what the big boys do, but it's another to realize you're really their equal."
He's always sought new challenges, says one longtime friend. "As much as he found the problems in Scali maddening, he loved the challenge. Also he might have been tempted (to move back to New York) by a ton of money," this source says.
Another traces his restlessness back further, to the time Fallon flew to Paris to negotiate with Eurocom executives when they were poised to buy Scali in the early days of its being shopped.
Whatever it was--Fallon now seems committed to buying back Fallon McElligott from Scali (read: WPP Group) and staying in Minneapolis, and Sorrell seems ready to oblige. Certainly, Sorrell must have had an uneasy moment when he contemplated owning Fallon McElligott without Pat FalIon, Tom McElligott, Nancy Rice or Pat Burnham. Agencies are fragile affairs made mostly of people. Without the right people and chemistry, clients drift off and your investment dwindles to nothing-such as is happening with Dentsu's Collett Dickinson Pearce & Partners in London.
This way Pat stays home in Minneapolis with his agency family. It's sort of a Lake Woebegone story with a happy ending.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)