The Creative Agency, Fallon

Richard Flintham explains Fallon’s role in attracting new audiences to Tate and giving it an appropriate tone of voice

“It can be a scary thing for an institution like Tate to employ an advertising agency,” says Fallon’s executive creative director Richard Flintham. “Traditionally, when an agency works for a gallery they treat it as an opportunity to do a nice print campaign that will win them some awards.”

Fallon’s pitch for the account took a different approach. “Originally, we were just given Tate Britain,” Flintham explains. “We spent a lot of time investigating it but, being heavy users already, we were also responding as visitors. We felt that they had fantastic things and were doing great stuff but were not getting the credit for them. For instance, people thought the Turner Prize was wonderful but Tate Britain wasn’t getting credit for it. It was Tate Modern against Tate Old.”

“Tate Britain is quite an imposing building, quite institutional,” continues Flintham. “There are all these people sitting in chairs watching you as you fail to appreciate the art properly – you end up wondering ‘am I qualified to go there?’”

The other point for Flintham to address was that while Wolff Olins’ landmark identity programme, introduced in 2000, had given Tate a very strong visual identity, this was not being translated into an appropriate tone of voice for the institution. “They had a fantastic body and face, but no mouth,” says Flintham.

“We had a very paternalistic tone of voice, almost civil service,” concedes Will Gompertz. “What is so difficult for advertising agencies in particular when dealing with an institution like us is that they are intimidated by the subject, therefore the only way that they can think of to communicate to a broader audience is from an infantile or laddish perspective. But Fallon created a tone of voice to fit the visual identity provided by Wolff Olins.”

“It was more a creative strategy than some­thing purely based around execution,” says Flintham of the original pitch document that he presented to Gompertz. “We didn’t want to do a headline or put anything in an ad construct, we felt we had to get out of the way and not put a layer on it. Our approach was very much designed to have come from Tate – it would feel false if it was coming from us on Tate’s behalf.”

Fallon’s strategy was that people should feel free to enjoy the art at Tate on their own terms. “We had this idea that it’s yours anyway, you own it so you should use it,” says Flintham. The strategy came through strongly in Fallon’s Tate Tours campaign – a way of communicating that there were all kinds of different ways to appreciate what was on offer at Tate Britain depending on your mood or interests. A series of leaflets was made available at the entrance to Tate Britain, each suggesting a different, themed, tour of the gallery. Some of these were flippant – the I’m Hungover Collection for example – but all (there were around 20) were insightful and successful in freshening up the public perception of the gallery.

However, says Flintham, “trying to do Tate Britain on its own was a problem.” The ‘it’s yours, use it’ strategy could, he felt, have become a creative dead-end. “But Will opened up the brief to be Tate generally which helped – we could frame Britain against Modern and treat it as a family.”

And all the time, Fallon concentrated on strategic ideas rather than the “nice print campaigns” that Flintham cites as the norm. Thus came Tate Tracks, whereby musicians were invited to create new pieces in response to works in Tate Modern. Visitors could then listen to the tracks on headphones while looking at the works in the gallery. “It was about targeting a younger, very creative group for whom perhaps art wasn’t on their radar,” explains Flintham. “We didn’t want it to be ‘hey kids, art is for you too’, but to be very much on their terms again.”

Flintham and his team are now applying themselves to the relationship between Tate Britain and Tate Modern. The public, he believes, would “benefit from understanding what the real difference is between Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Is there a line where one ends and the other begins? Should there be? Should it blur? Should I understand why Tracey Emin is in Britain not Modern? There is something to solve with regards to Tate Britain but it’s only a matter of perception.” Visitor figures point to an overwhelming imbalance between the two, with Tate Modern attracting around three times the number of visitors as its older sibling.

Working to solve such issues with Gompertz and the designers used by Tate sounds like an unusually pleasurable experience. “It really feels like a family,” Flintham says. “There are an awful lot of very competent people around Tate.”

Flintham says that, when he goes in to Tate for meetings, his time will often overlap with that of designer James Goggin so that the two catch up and discuss what they are doing. It seems as though there is a great deal of interaction between the different creative ‘suppliers’ involved, with Gompertz at the centre, directing matters.

“I really don’t feel a distinction between us and James or the other designers,” says Flintham. “There are no squabbles about who does what, everything is very open-ended. We’re not banned from doing posters but it makes sense for James to do them. Nobody feels starved of opportunity.”

“This might sound a bit gushy but I feel very protected by Will,” he continues. “He’s a champion of Fallon and a champion of the others who work for Tate, which makes you feel very appreciated. He’s very good at briefing, which isn’t like a conventional briefing at all, but he’s very good at communicating the tone of his intentions. He’s never dictatorial, it’s always ‘what do you think?’ which very much reminds me of how my first creative director, Tony Cox at BMP, worked. And you don’t have to go through loads of different layers.”

The emphasis is on collaboration: “Will muses on something, then gets the rest of us to muse on it and then when someone has something to say we all listen and then muse again – it’s self-generating and just a great way to work because you are never worried to say what you feel or share something that isn’t completely finished.”

Gompertz and Tate, he says, are also “brilliant at owning my free time. When I’m on a tube, I’m thinking about Tate. We don’t work for Tate in a conventional advertising way. I’m sure our financial partner here at Fallon would describe it as financial suicide, but he also recognises how invigorating it is and how it translates beyond what we do for Tate and benefits the agency in general. When you go there, you always leave full. You come out thinking ‘I can do anything I want and I’m responsible’. You just walk out giggling.”


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