Fallon Writes The Book On Success And Creativity

When the agency currently known as Fallon Worldwide opened on July 20, 1981, as Fallon McElligott Rice, the five founders took out a newspaper ad looking for clients that would “rather outsmart than outspend.” Now, on the eve of the shop’s 25th anniversary, two of those founders, Pat Fallon and Fred Senn, have put that ethos into a book, Juicing the Orange: How to Turn Creativity Into a Powerful Business Advantage (Harvard Business School Press), outlining the creative principles behind their success (illustrated by client case histories ranging from BMW Films to EDS’ cat-herding Super Bowl spot). Fallon, 60, answered questions about the book, the agency and his future.

Adweek: Why write a book now?

Pat Fallon: It’s our 25th anniversary and we felt like, over 25 years, we’ve learned something … that just maybe could be of value for others and the organization as well.

AW: Why might it be hard for companies to be creative and strategic?

PF: Well there’s all sorts of things that get in the way. Sometimes the systems that prevent creativity are found in the carpeting and the heating and air-conditioning system, and they’re part of the company’s culture. Part of it is just complexity, the layers of management that ideas have to go through. And there’s the “We’ve always done it this way before, why would we do it any differently?”

AW: Have you ever found yourself or your agency falling into that trap?

PF: We have tried to keep it so simple that we don’t complicate things very much. … There’s times in running your own business that you feel so close to it that we literally have to take a time-out and start over. I have a mission statement and we have value statements, and when I’m confused as a manager or leader of this company, I look back at that mission statement. If the decision I’m thinking about furthers the mission statement, then I generally do it.

AW: The book mentions Miller Lite, the Holiday Inn Super Bowl spot, “Bob,” and Subway as examples of unsuccessful work. Why do that?

PF: Well, we’ve learned from [those mistakes], and we’ve tried to highlight the major things that went wrong. We’ve been pretty transparent and we feel in each mistake there’s a learning process. You’re not an agency that tries to be on the cutting edge without making mistakes. Generally those mistakes are big-ass public mistakes.

AW: You also write about the importance of having “culture players” that are a cross between Ed Keller and Jon Barry’s Influentials and Malcolm Gladwell’s “Connectors.” Is Bill Westbrook one of those people for Fallon?

PF: Yes. If he didn’t have a belief in our culture and the place, he wouldn’t have returned. He drank the Kool-Aid. He understands where we’re coming from and where we’re going.

AW: In the book, you write about the decision in the early 1990s to resign Northwest Airlines, which was your largest account. You said it turned believers in the agency into zealots. Was last year’s decision to quit BMW a similar case?

PF: No. Northwest was very different. We weren’t allowed to do work we were capable of doing. It was contentious, and [there was] a lack of respect. BMW was quite another thing. We had a remarkable relationship and had a lot of respect. They decided to look around and we couldn’t find a business reason for doing that. It was going to be a four- month, highly competitive death march that we couldn’t win. That was a sad decision, but it was a right decision. Northwest was almost a joyful decision, and a right decision.

AW: If you were to apply the principles in your book to the agency, what would your recommendations be?

PF: The recommendation would be: Pay great attention to your current account base. Do great work, do challenging work, don’t let anyone else get self-satisfied, and then add two or three new pieces of business. Keep pushing boundaries, be a pioneer. Do the things that are part of your heritage.

AW: How would you characterize 2005 for the agency?

PF: Disappointing. We need to get back on the growth track again. We had a year of cultural dysfunction and having a new creative leader that didn’t work out. It was a very trying year. We have [a creative leader] in Kerry [Feuerman] now. I should have hired Kerry in the first place and I didn’t. He was going to be someone I was going to talk to, and then I saw [Paul] Silburn’s reel, and I decided I was going to pursue this guy until I get a yes or a no.

AW: How do you see 2006?

PF: We’ve stabilized our culture. We have two strong leaders, with Bill coming back and Kerry in for the first time. We need to get revenue in, and that’s what we’re going to be focusing on. It’s a really simple business: You do great work and you win new business and things go well. We have some strong work in the pipeline and we have strong work in the marketplace. So the work part has taken its part and the new business will follow. I suspect with Westbrook’s leadership and Kerry’s leadership and my involvement, we’re going to have a very strong year.

AW: Do you wish you could sit back and count your money?

PF: I don’t want to be depressed, so no. That’s not what I want to do. I’m not the type to sit on the beach and grow a ponytail. I love the business, and I love to compete, so I love who I work with and who I work for. We’re in pretty good shape. I’m happier when we’re moving forward.

AW: How is the search for a successor going?

PF: It’s a family decision. This high-level recruitment is tough because we want the people to be in Minneapolis. We have great candidates who are interested and we want to make sure the whole [agency] family is interested. It’s too early to name anyone, but we do have some very strong candidates.

Go to Adweek.com to read the full interview.