Without a single client on its books, Pat Fallon's fledgling company ran a full-page ad in the local newspapers announcing itself as a national ad agency. It was a risky — and expensive — move that launched the business on a global scale, attracting trophy accounts and proving that Minnesotans could compete with the big-city firms out East.

Fallon, a Minneapolis ad man who co-founded the Fallon agency and became one of three Minnesotans inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame, died unexpectedly of a stroke Friday. He was 70.

For more than three decades, Fallon stood at the helm of the agency whose mantra called for "clients who would rather outsmart the competition than outspend them." Unconventionally witty and eloquently phrased ads would come to define their campaigns.

He proved "you didn't have to be in New York or on Madison Avenue to be creative, to be successful in the industry," said Kevin Fallon, his oldest child. "Geography didn't have to limit them at all."

The agency, originally called Fallon McElligott Rice, was founded by five ambitious 30-somethings during the 1981 recession. Within a few years, they landed the Wall Street Journal as a client, signaling their legitimacy to the rest of the world, said co-founder and longtime friend Fred Senn.

By 1983, Fallon was named Ad Age's ad agency of the year. As a reward, heavyweights like Rolling Stone, Porsche and BMW would soon come calling.

Fallon retired as CEO in 2008 but remained as the company's chairman emeritus.

"We are devastated by the loss of our iconic leader. He was our inspiration, our fire in the belly, our eternal conscience and the head of our Fallon family," said CEO Mike Buchner, who spent his entire career working under Fallon's direction.

Fallon grew up poor in north Minneapolis and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a philosophy degree in 1967. He often joked that he changed from pursuing teaching to becoming an ad man because he was "sick of being broke."

His relationships were first-rate, and Fallon stayed at the center of his ever-growing network of friends, loved ones said.

"He's got an effortless charm and an ability to connect with people. If you enter his orbit, you're sort of swept along with his Washburn High School gang and his University of Minnesota gang," Senn said.

In addition to his love of hunting, boxing and literature, Fallon had an affinity for hijinks. When they traveled together for work, Senn said he had to be on guard. If he fell asleep, there was always the chance that Fallon would place a sex-oriented magazine on his lap and leave it open to the centerfold.

"He was on the Olympic team of practical jokes," Senn said.

The antics continued at home, where Fallon would occasionally leave fake vomit on his children's beds or stick raisins up his nose, then pretend to sneeze them out at the dinner table.

He is survived my his five children, Kevin, Megan, Duffy, Reilly and Tressa; grandson Leo and girlfriend Maggie Romens.

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648