The Ad Man Cometh

Pat Fallon, the man who put the Minneapolis advertising scene on the map, looks back at it all.

By David Gee

Emotion in business: I'm emotional. I have rigor, but this an emotional business, this is an emotional company, and I deal with emotional people, both on the client side and on the agency side. This place in general, and me in particular, isn't for everybody. 

Loyalty: I am very loyal. Sometimes to a fault. Which I am very aware of. To a fault. 

Being an entrepreneur: It's just what I am. I didn't know what the characteristics of an entrepreneur were necessarily when I entered the workplace, but I certainly was restless, felt as if I could do things better and bristled under the supervision of people who I felt didn't work as hard as I did or whatever.  


The ethics of going it alone when starting Fallon: We made a pact that we would not take any of our clients with us, another unusual thing in the ad world. If at the end of a year a client still wanted to work with us, then that was okay. So we did things ethically and we did things with a lot of passion and started to recruit and grow. We started in a recession with a strong point of view and did well.  There are a number of people who have been with us for 25 years and we work hard to maintain the same culture and the same values. Businesses need to change and evolve and reflect their client's needs, so we have had transitional things that have changed over time, but the bedrock values and the cultural imperatives are in place.          


Being named Agency of the Year in 1983: It felt like a mistake! We didn't believe it. Up until then, literally without exception, the winners of those awards were the Ogilvys and the Burnetts; the international agencies. So I think it really said as much about Advertising Age wanting to shake the industry up as it said about us.  We just happened to be there. They obviously made a decision to take people's breath away and they felt we were worthy of that. What it did was legitimize people coming to Minneapolis for creative.     


Knowing what works: I want to say something that I really hope doesn't sound arrogant, because I truly don't mean it to be. But I don't need the affirmation of outsiders. I have a very solid sense of creative and know when we do well and when we don't do well. We've won a tremendous amount of recognition for things we shouldn't have and conversely didn't receive recognition for things we should have. Awards are good for clients and they are good for our parents and our families, but I never lived and died by them. 


The pleasure in business: I would say my biggest pleasure in the business has been winning people's trust. My legacy also includes employees and people who have chosen to follow me, which is the greatest compliment you can have, and clients who have been willing to believe in me.


How to build trust: Passion and alignment between what you say and what you do. That's what builds trust. The gasbags get found out, although sometimes it takes a while. I've never read a single leadership book, though I feel I do know a something about it. 


Paying credit where credit is due: I grew up in a little apartment and went to grade school at 14th and LaSalle. Being in a place like this, an office like the one I have been lucky enough to work in, is not anything I would ever have dared to imagine. I was basically raised by the Minneapolis downtown public library. But somewhere along the line, around the late 1970s, a wonderful guy by the name of Gordy Ritz put his arm around me and said, "You can be something special." I don't really know why he believed that, but he did. And in turn, he introduced me to his friends Wheelock Whitney and Walter Bush. Those three were an inspiration and my mentors into a life I never knew. As I look back and think about all of the articles that have been written about me somehow I forget to mention them. Their role in my life has never been publicly acknowledged.

The future of advertising: The industry is remaking itself and the best people will see that as a huge opportunity. And others will fight it and eventually lose because that train has left the station. I see media as the future of the business. And this is a tremendous time for that because you can invent your own media. You can do things that are wildly creative and yet have the rigor of monetizing ideas. The future won't be my future, but somebody like me, who will embrace this and it will be exciting. The future is, of course, about creative people and entrepreneurs and I hope people wanting to do the right thing with the right values and character. The web has invited charlatans unfortunately and you don't have to be real anymore. So you have to weed that out somehow.