Those Were The Days, My Friend.

When I joined Fallon McElligott, I would tell my friends how intimidated I was by all the smart people already on staff there. I used to say, “Okay, the office arrangement on my side of the building goes like this: Genius… genius… genius… Luke’s office… genius… genius.” That’s when my friend Rod Kilpatrick (already a staff member) would correct me and say “No, no, no, Luke. The layout goes: Genius… genius… genius…  STAIRWELL… Luke’s office… genius… genius.”

These were my thoughts as I was looking through a collection of photos taken at a recent gathering of creatives from the old days at Fallon. The thing is, I still think of them as geniuses. Because they were. The proof was in the work, work which for years was the high-water mark of the industry. The get-together was held to observe and honor the resignation of one of Fallon’s creative stalwarts and cultural icons, Dean Hanson.

Dean, for those of you who don’t know him, is one of the best advertising people of all time. Somewhere he’s blushing at that grand statement but this is my blog and he’ll just have to get over it. One of the very first creatives hired when the shop opened in 1981, Dean has been doing gold One Show work for twenty-eight stinkin’ years, all at one agency. Twenty-eight years of gold One Show work and it never mattered who his partner was, or which client he was working on, Dean’s work was always amazing.

His abrupt departure from the once-storied agency had many people wondering exactly what happened at the famous final scene. But Dean is a class act and those details remain his business.

I was unable to make it to Minneapolis for the famous Dean Party and so had to settle for a  wistful click-through of photos several people had posted on Facebook. And as I clicked through, I was reminded anew of how many amazing creative people worked at that agency over the years.

For instance, this picture (a very small one, I apologize):

Dean Hanson and Tom Lichtenheld

That’s Dean Hanson on the left, and on the right, Tom Lichtenheld, another incredible art director.

Tom’s last name is German for “lighthouse” but we mostly asked him, “Hey Tom? Do you need to be Licked-and-Held?” He rarely took us up on this. Tom is the only person I know who can get inebriated on a half a glass of beer. At a creative retreat in the ’90s, with a half a glass of beer in his belly, Tom spent the night making a horrible little “art film” full of feelings and bullshit and gave it the Windham Hill name of “Parallel Ironies.” He went on to be a CD at Cramer-Krassalt in his home state of Illinois. But nowadays you’ll find his name listed in the New York Times Best Sellers list, where you’ll see his sixth children’s book selling like hotcakes. Click here to see his “Shark vs. Train.”

This guy in the middle is the famous Bob Barrie, now of Barrie D’Rozario Murphy. Bob is the single most award-winning creative in advertising history and probably the space-time continuum. Last time I sat in Bob’s office at Fallon, the weight of the 40 or so One Show pencils on his shelf actually bent the shelf making it sag like a donkey’s back. Bob was also famous for spilling coffee. I’m serious, it was legendary his inability to keep coffee in a cup. In fact, when the building got new carpeting we had a contest to see when Bob would ruin the carpet in his office. Like a fool, I put my bet at 10:00 am. The winning bet was 8:30, several minutes after the office opened.

To the left of Bob (we called him “Baub”) is Ellen Steinberg. She was one of the first women to break into the ranks (yeah, it was kind of a boys club, but just for a while). I’m sure privately she worried like I did, “Man, can we hold our own in this crowd?” But did she ever. Just look up her name in the annuals that Fallon pretty much dominated from about 1984 to ’96. And now she’s a big shot at McKinney where they just finished that cool campaign for Sherwin-Williams. Bless you, Ellen.

To the right, Bruce Bildsten. People …. this is the guy who brought to life what was pretty much the very first internet marketing smash, BMW Films. (Along with about 58,000 other great things.) He, too, was one of the very first creatives hired at what was then called Fallon McElligott. I always thought Bruce looked like Clint Eastwood.

This is the lovely Julie Ruddy with Dion Hughes (also lovely). Julie was there forever as the creative coordinator, and she’d likely say  she was Mom to a whole bunch of babies. She could out-foul-mouth any one of us and was never at any time impressed with how cool and talented we all thought we were. Dion was one of the first out-of-towners brought into the fold and was my direct report for a long time. I used to give him shit for trashing most of my concepts. I openly called him the “Chipper” because presenting work to Dion was like feeding stuff into one of those wood chippers.

Left to right, here’s Dean Buckhorn, John Liegy, and good ol’ Dean Hanson again. Jumpin’ Jesus, all these people are so so good. (Buckhorn is one of the single funniest people in captivity.) The bench depth at this one agency went down for fathoms. I regret I do not have pictures of everyone. I know I’m missing all kinds of brilliant mo-fo’s, like Mark Johnson and Mike Lescarbeau, Mike Gibbs and Jarl Olsen, Judy Brink and Joe Paprocki, Bob Brihn and Doug DeGrood, and … jesus for what seemed like an elite group of extraordinary creatives, the list seems to go on.

I suppose we all have places we hold dear in our hearts. Times and places where everything seemed to be firing on all cylinders, where nothing was more important than the work, where every department was aligned to one purpose, where every person you met in the hallways was someone you can learn from, where politics didn’t exist, and everyone rooted for everyone else. That’s what it was like at Fallon McElligott. Those were the days, my friend.

23 Comments

  1. Luke this is just awesome. Thank you. Dean

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  2. Allow me to blow a little smoke up my friend Luke’s ass (although preferably when he’s not lighting his farts, which like it or not is one of my last crystal memories of our infamous creative retreats): alongside privileged advertising copywriting skills that’d make fellow writers go weak in the knees, he’s capable of something as beautiful as this. Thank you, Luke. I popped a tear. x Ellen

    Reply
    • Wow, Ellen. Thank you dear.

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      • Addendum Ellen: Luke was (and hopefully still is) also one of the most exciting & energized presenters of work I ever had the privilege to witness. I’d find myself snort-laughing and almost forgetting I had a role in the meetings. Rock on Luke Sullivan!

        Reply
  3. so jealous of this post. it has occurred to me many times that your formative agency experience is like your college experience. the connections made there last a a lifetime. you guys were the Animal House of agencies. it almost seems fictional now. and you did it from Minneapolis? no you didn’t!!!

    Reply
    • Yo Vinny: I think you are right about that. And it’s not necessarily your first agency that becomes, as you say, your “formative agency.”

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  4. I don’t know Dean, although I’ve met a few other party attendees in the course of showing my portfolio around as a young punk. But I do know that I saw the work he did for 7th South 8th for Hair and Minnesota Federal on transtops around the U of M when I was in law school and it convinced me to change careers. I’ve spent twenty-five years trying to hit that standard.

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    • Wow, Kevin: That is so cool. That you actually changed careers. Man, you must have this stuff in your blood, dude. That is happenin’.

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      • I’ve also never regretted the decision, except in the odd three-hour meeting. And, in my contacts with Fallon, I was always impressed with how everyone put craft above ego. Bill Miller was especially generous.

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  5. Luke, well done.

    I always felt like you all were “creative cousins”, due to the fact that so many early people had come from M/W. I am proud to say that a lot of the people you mentioned are still my friends to this day. And a warm thanks to all for what you did to put Mpls. on the map and setting a high standard for the rest of us.

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    • You guys WERE in fact cousins. And so were the people at Carmichael, another reeeeeally good agency. Man, Minneapolis, pound for pound one of the best agency towns in the world.

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  6. I wanted to work at Fallon McElligott in the worst way. I remember driving from Cheteck Wisconsin where I was vacationing. Dean met with me and looked at my book while my wife and one year old sat in the reception area. So sorry I never got to be one of the many “Geniuses” there.

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    • That’s a neat story, about you coming in to see the Deanster, your wife and child in the car. I met your child Dylan at the VCU Brandcenter recruitment day and he had a REALLY smart book. So maybe the Dean-Dust filtered down and out to the car. (Nah, that makes short shrift of your talents, dude. I am sorry we JUST missed each other at The Martin Agency. We…..we coulda been STARS together, man.) 🙂

      Reply
  7. Luke, can’t tell you how perfectly you captured how it feels to me to be a Fallon creative and how lucky I was to work next to the likes of dean and bob and lichtenheld and lescarbeau and dozens of other amazing talents. The incredible combination of humility and talent will never be matched again. Nor will the seething sexual tension.

    Reply
    • Frankly Ryan, sexual tension is why I left Fallon. I was SO SICK AND TIRED of walking up and down the hallways and having every woman there mentally undress me, like I was some little piece of their “MAN CANDY.” It just made me sick.

      Reply
  8. Nicely done, Luke. It sounds corny as hell, but someone at Fallon decided to set the standard high, then replace internal competitiveness with generosity. To this day, Bob Barrie is the best example of this spirit. I was in his office last week and he gave me a 2GB thumb drive with his agency’s logo printed on it — a generous little tchotchke. Yesterday, I loaded it with a couple of lame ideas to be transferred to my laptop. I half-expected that when I opened them on the laptop, they would have been transformed into brilliant concepts. Such is the Power of Bob.

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    • Yep. I brag that I was one of Baub’s very first partners. Not quite the first, but very early, when we were both over at Bozell & Jacobs, when Anderson & McElligott ran the place.

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      • I brag that I slept with him. Call me cheap.

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        • Me, too.

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  9. Nice article, Luke. What I find most rewarding is watching how everyone has spread out and thrived in their own unique way with cool new challenges, always bringing a bit of the halcyon days of Fallon with them. I can’t wait to witness Dean’s next chapter. Gotta go now… just spilled a cup of coffee in my lap. Bob.

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  10. I brag that I was one of the first to skinny dip with Bob.

    Truly, I am so sorry I missed Dean’s gathering. But I continue to feel lucky to have had the brief exposure I did to you all during that rare time.

    (Pesto.)

    Reply
  11. Very nice, Luke. Thanks for taking such great notes.

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  12. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Luke. All best to you and yours.

    Reply

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Luke Sullivan

Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.

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