Creative: Fallon’s

Designing
Ad Man
Duffy Design Imparts Style And Substance
By Eleftheria Parpis
Preparing for an upcoming retrospective opening this week at the New York Art Directors Club, Joe Duffy, the 49-year-old president of Fallon McElligott’s Duffy Design, is having a “this is your life” moment. He and his New York-based design director, Neil Powell, have spent the last few weeks sifting through brochures, posters, packaging and products from Duffy Design’s 14-year history to select items for the show. Kaleidoscopic bottles of Fruitopia, a lime-green mouth guard called “ShockDoctor” and a sneakerlike Rollerblade are a few of the many pieces cluttering a desk in Fallon’s New York office, waiting to be moved to the club for display.
“It’s been fun putting the exhibit together. It brings back a lot of memories,” says Duffy, a fine-arts student who began his career as an illustrator and designer before moving into advertising as an art director. “Looking back 14 years, I’ve found things I’ve blocked from my memory and things I’ll never forget, the failures and successes. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long.”
Headquartered on the 30th floor of Fallon’s building in downtown Minneapolis, Duffy Design, with a staff of 33 in Minnesota and eight in New York, not only creates identity programs for clients but collaborates on new-business pitches, advertising creative and interactive work. Though Duffy Design was formed in 1984 as a separate design boutique inside the then
3-year-old Fallon McElligott, it is now a potent weapon in the agency’s brand-building arsenal, a fully integrated brand-identity unit.
Though its business mix has barely fluctuated from the start–50/50 Fallon and non-Fallon projects–the design group’s role within the agency has changed. As proof, Duffy now serves on Fallon’s board of directors, and he’s president and creative director of both Duffy Design and Revolv, Fallon’s interactive arm.
Through the years, non-Fallon projects include the introduction of Fruitopia, which Duffy helped develop with Chiat/Day, New York, and redesigns for Diet Coke and Minute Maid through Lowe & Partners/SMS. Among the numerous projects for
Fallon clients: designs for Classico pasta sauces and the logo for McDonald’s ill-fated Arch Deluxe. Recent Duffy work includes a package design for Kellogg’s Smart Start cereal with J. Walter Thompson and a brand-identity program for FIFA’s 1999 Women’s World Cup.
“Now we’re being hired not only for our design excellence but for our strategic thinking,” says Neil Powell, who came to Duffy Design in 1991. “We want our strategic thinking and our design aesthetic to go hand-in-hand.”
The catalyst for change came from Fallon’s concerted effort to transform itself from an ad shop to an integrated marketing firm. Duffy is now brought into almost every new-business pitch. Its designers are involved in the early stages of brand development and contribute to the process of developing a communications program, including advertising and promotion pieces.
“After realizing how quickly our business was changing, we decided to go at brand building in an integrated way,” says Duffy of the agency’s redirection. Design has been an important part of the integration plan.
Pat Fallon, chairman of Fallon McElligott, admits Duffy Design offers the agency a powerful new-business edge. “At the very least, Duffy is a huge tie-breaker,” he says. “Very often, he’s a lot more than that.”
Fallon is just one of many agencies that have sought to provide a full range of marketing services to their clients, though most have not meshed the disciplines as closely as Fallon and Duffy.
“When we sit down to do campaigns here, there is a lot of upfront discussion. Everything is mapped out so that it works across all the touchpoints. That’s why you see a lot of consistency,” says creative director David Lubars, who recently joined Fallon from BBDO West. “The teams all work together. It seems obvious, but it is a unique approach.”
Many agencies are now seeking closer alliances with design talent. Some are hiring on-staff design directors, while others look to independent design consultants. Still others are opening their own on-site design units. San Francisco’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners has been operating Goodby, Silverstein & Partners Design since 1993. Like Fallon’s design group, it pursues an autonomous client base, as well as work for agency roster clients. Both compete with design firms such as Pentagram and Siegel & Gale for business.
“A lot of agencies [believe] that once they do the campaign, once they’ve mixed a color of paint, they can hand it over to the designer to paint all over the place,” says Paul Curtain, co-director of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners Design. “That’s just making noise.” What differentiates Fallon and Goodby’s approach, Curtain claims, is the strength of the services offered and the level of interaction between disciplines.
Nothing happens overnight, of course. Building a symbiotic relationship between advertising and design takes time. “At first, we had to struggle to get our culture to adjust,” says Fallon. “We were prideful of doing only one thing. We didn’t know whether the organ would take or not. Our mainstream art directors were leery of working with Joe’s people. Today, they can’t wait.”
The agency’s planning department helps bring the two together. Creative teams from the advertising and design groups join the planners to study and develop the brand identity. Designers are often later paired with a copywriter and art director to help carry a unified voice throughout the advertising and promotional executions. Says Duffy, “We’re coming up with ideas that lend themselves to every point of contact with the consumer.”
Duffy created the retro Miller Time logo in Miller Lite’s “Dick” campaign, along with the scratch-and-sniff print ads and promo material. The design group is also heavily involved in work for BMW, Lee Jeans and Nordstrom, a new Fallon client. In a perfect world, says Fallon, “100 percent of our clients would use Duffy.”
“Ultimately, it makes the expenditure of the client’s dollars smarter,” adds art director Bob Barrie, who has worked with the design group many times. “The solution to a client’s problem isn’t always a magazine ad. It might be a PR program or a new package design. We work on projects in much broader terms now, and it never hurts to have more smart people on your side.”
Does Duffy miss the days when design and advertising were mutually exclusive? “We were like that for a long time,” he says. “This is so much better.