Creative personalities who are so talented that they can disregard other aspects of living are familiar figures—the recluse composer, the single-minded scientist. Medical advertising, being an interpersonal process at an agency and between agency and client, would seem a difficult venue for such extreme individualism, but John Lally not only comes close to the stereotype, his career points out that such creative and intellectual dedication can lead to success.
Lally’s education was diverse with only partial preparation for a career in medical advertising. He obtained a BS in chemistry from Colgate and an advanced degree in mathematics from Syracuse. Then, indicative of the remarkable breadth of his talents and interests, he studied concert piano at Juilliard.
He began in medical advertising as a copywriter at William Douglas McAdams and then at the Robert A. Becker agency. Next, in what was a defining career move, he joined Sudler & Hennessey where he worked under an agency leader, Matt Hennessey, who put a premium on the agency’s creative product. At S&H, he was allowed to concentrate on what he liked to do best—create effective market positioning for products and the creative expressions of those directions—to the exclusion of other business concerns. (For example, Lally’s working hours were unpredictable and time sheets an anathema.) His approach to a product was to immerse himself in its clinical and technical literature, analyze the competition, the market and clinical practice in depth and then, using his considerable capacity for retaining detail and his scientific background, bring all the factual threads together into a product positioning. Next, he would dominate the agency’s creative work on the product, always insisting that the positioning be expressed in the simplest terms and in emotionally compelling copy and graphics. At S&H, where he became creative director, his analytical and creative thinking helped such products as Premarin and Inderal achieve record sales.
In 1980, he left Sudler & Hennessey with James McFarland and Ron Pantello to found Lally McFarland & Pantello. There he continued to serve as marketing strategist and creative director for such clients as Ayerst, Norwich, Procter & Gamble, and Wyeth. He led the agency through the example he set as an uncompromising creator of product positioning and advertising. His presentations to clients were memorable for marketing insights and a facile, erudite delivery. His strongly expressed opinions were valued by those who respected his knowledge and creativity, but as with forceful personalities his manner could be intimidating. For all his inflexibility on his creative judgment, Lally was known for his easygoing wit and ready humor. At S&H, his comic memos reporting on agency events were read with delight by the staff. To further illustrate the many facets of this complex, talented man, he is a devoted baseball fan capable of reciting reams of statistics to prove his point. He is also a scholar of the Civil War at such a level as to have taught courses on the subject.
Lally McFarland & Pantello was acquired by EURO RSCG in 1989. Lally retired in 1993.