Fallon London – a model for the future?

Having created one of the best ads of 2005 in Sony “Balls”, Fallon London is on a roll. The agency won &£75m-worth of new business last month with the combined Orange/Wanadoo account, following France Telecom’s pan-European advertising review. The win takes Fallon to a new level and, while the decision was labelled a “French stitch-up” by some, because Fallon is owned by Publicis Groupe (MW March 9), few in the industry appear to begrudge the agency its success.

Launched almost eight years ago, Fallon London is a joint venture between managing partners Robert Senior, Laurence Green, Michael Wall, Andy McLeod and Richard Flintham, and Fallon Minneapolis, the US advertising giant set up by Pat Fallon in 1981. But it is widely regarded as a standalone agency, rather than the London outpost of Fallon in the US. One industry source says: “Fallon London feels very independent. It took the name to add weight and credibility but it’s basically just a franchise.”

Skoda was one of Fallon’s first major wins, and is one of its biggest success stories to date. The agency helped transform the brand with the “It’s a Skoda. Honest” campaign, and the company’s head of marketing Mary Newcombe says: “It gets under the skin of your brand and you always feel it really cares about you. It’s extremely strong on the planning side and passionate about creative.”

As well as “Balls”, Fallon produced strong work last year for Bacardi and the BBC. It finished 2005 strongly by winning the &£25m More Th>n account and the &£6m Ask.com business. It subsequently lost Bacardi in the UK in a global review, and resigned BT, which accounted for 15% of the agency’s income.

But that decision looked inspired when France Telecom chose Fallon and Paris-based hotshop Marcel to handle its pan-European consumer business. The win means Fallon will have to increase its headcount by up to 20% but, while Senior admits it has been a “seminal moment” for the agency, he adds it is business as usual.

“It has meant a growth spurt, but it would be dangerous to start restructuring the entire business on the basis of one win,” he says. “We’re already enjoying a fruitful partnership with Orange and that will show in the work.”

Debbie Morrison, director of membership services at the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, thinks the fact that Fallon looks for like-minded clients will help it build long-term relationships. “The Fallon business model is the model of the future,” she says. “Traditional agencies need to learn lessons from it, and the likes of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Mother. They’re the future of the business.”

Although Fallon has taken its foot off the new business pedal since Orange, it is believed to be on the shortlist for The Guardian’s &£5m ad account. Inevitably, the founding partners have been linked with some of the industry’s most high-profile roles. Senior says: “It’s a compliment, but it’s undignified when competitors use it in new business scenarios to undermine us.”

Some observers think the agency’s biggest problem this year will be its underperforming parent in the US. “I have to acknowledge that it hasn’t been the best few years for Fallon in the US but it’s still a brilliant agency,” adds Senior. “Our job is to remind the market that Fallon stands for great work. We’ve got to deliver against that brand promise.”

Robert Lester