The One Club Spotlights The Fallon McElligott Style: Retrospective Examines Shop’s Creative Past

NEW YORK – While Fallon McElligott was preparing for its future with Bill Westbrook as new creative steward, The One Club here was opening a retrospective of the agency’s creative past.
It’s unusual to mount such a show honoring an agency little more than a decade old. But it has taken only that long for Fallon McElligott to grow from an upstart shop that kept winning creative awards with its borrowed art and arresting headlines to the established and respected – but still creatively driven – agency it has become. The One Club’s show, which opened last week, includes more than 180 print ads and a half-hour-long reel of TV spots.
Fallon McElligott has accomplished what many have tried but few have achieved. The agency started in 1981 doing highly creative work for small, local and regional accounts like the Episcopal Church, Knox Lumber, Golden Plump Poultry and 7 South 8th For Hair. But unlike many creative boutiques, the agency made the transition from local to national accounts without abandoning its creative standards.
Some of the accounts instrumental in the agency’s transition to national prominence, according to a number of agency staffers, were ITT Life Insurance, Rolling Stone, US West, The Wall Street Journal, Continental Bank, Hush Puppies, Lee Apparel Co. and Penn.
Despite the recognition and attention the agency has received, chairman Pat Fallon candidly describes the agency as ‘remarkably small and unsuccessful for our size,’ but adds with characteristic confidence that ‘we’ve never been better poised to win new accounts.’
The key to its rapid ascent, said Fallon, lies in the way the agency perceived itself and how it treated its clients from the very start.
‘We never saw ourselves as a regional agency like a number of other shops did,’ he said. ‘From day one we considered ourselves a national agency.’
For each client, Fallon said the agency looks for what it calls the ‘essential truth’ about the brand. Once found, the agency sticks to it. For example, Lee Jeans are about fit, Fallon said, and although the agency may have talked about fit in a number of ways creatively, ‘fit is it.’
‘I think when I look at the body of work, the thing I’m the most proud of is that now we do wonderful campaigns and in the beginning we did wonderful one shots,’ Fallon said.
‘We’ve been pegged as having a certain look . . . you know, bold audacious headlines and an ironic visual,’ said writer Bruce Bildsten. ‘But I think this retrospective really demonstrates that we are far from a one-trick pony. You see everything from humor to gut-wrenching emotion to elegant, classy work to thought-provoking ads.’
Fallon said that clients often ‘look at our creative work and miss the fact that strong strategic thinking is what’s gotten us to that creative product.
‘We’re not entertainers and we’re not artists. We’re business people.’
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)