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Jay Chiat


Although he repeatedly asked me to call him Bill, in all the years I worked for him, I could never call him anything but Mr. Bernbach. After six years of working for Jay Chiat, I wouldn’t think of calling him anything but Jay.

Other than that, working for both men has been remarkably similar.

Far more than leaders who simply understood and supported creativity, both created agencies that threw out all the rules, turned their backs on linear thinking and thumbed their noses at conventional advertising wisdom.

If Bill Bernbach started the “Creative Revolution” in the sixties, Jay Chiat not only brought it back from near death in the business recession of the seventies, but made it grow and flourish in the eighties and nineties.

He and Guy Day founded an agency in 1968 that went from virtually nothing to one billion dollars in billings in less than twenty years.

And in so doing, reminded an advertising industry, which at the time seemed to have lost its way, that it was actually possible for an agency to grow and prosper and attract better and better clients over the years – not in spite of doing consistently great work, but precisely because of it.

And by doing it in Los Angeles, Jay changed the view that if you were a client, the only place to get great advertising was in New York or Chicago.

He proved you didn’t need to be on Madison Avenue to continually spot whatever was new, fresh, vital, sexy and exciting in American life-and to create extraordinary commercials out of that understanding.

Now we think nothing of finding some of the most creative agencies in the country in cities such as Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, Richmond, Raleigh and San Francisco. They all owe a debt of gratitude of Jay Chiat.

At the same time that Jay was championing the creative side of the business, his was the first agency to introduce a research-based discipline called Account Planning in the U.S. Planning’s function was to establish a dialogue with the consumer to ensure that the work his people produced was grounded in something truly relevant to its target audience.

That understanding could then be combined with superb execution to create breakthrough campaigns. Perhaps more than anyone else, Jay understood Bernbach’s well-known axiom, “The trick isn’t knowing what to say. What makes all the difference is the way you say it.”

He helped bring our craft, both print and TV production, to a new level of excellence. TV production was never the same after Apple’s “1984” spot. It proved, beyond a doubt, the power of “the way you say it.”

Being around Jay is probably a lot like being one of Fred Astaire’s dance partners. It’s hard to keep up because you’re dancing with Dance itself, the essence of it. Jay Chiat is the essence of Creativity. He embodies all its characteristics.

It’s his nature to be dissatisfied, to be restless, to be impatient. These qualities are what drive him in his pursuit of excellence. They fuel his sense of urgency to create. They make him the perfectionist that he is.

He has always presented a visionary view of the way things should and could be. Jay instills in everyone in the agency the conviction that an ad deserves to be done at all, it deserves to be done well. And in fact, whatever you do at Chiat/Day, you need to be the best at it that you can possibly be. To that end, every new employee at Chiat/Day receives a t-shirt with the agency’s corporate – and Jay Chiat’s personal – credo on it: “Good enough is not enough.”

Along with high expectations for himself and his people, Jay has long felt that where we work is an integral part of getting the result he wants. He still considers the working environment as having a direct impact on the creative process in particular and on the management of the agency in general.

As early as 1970, Jay believed in “Architectural Management” – creating an environment that reflects the ideals of the company.

Telling people to “be creative” doesn’t do much, he says. Giving them a creative atmosphere – architecturally and artistically – encourages them to take risks, think fresh, look for the new. And that is what Jay has consistently given his people in every office he builds. Whether in Venice, California or London, a Chiat/Day office is a creative atmosphere to be in. It’s built to support one thing – the creation of new ideas.

Jay is already on to the virtual office, satellites, cable, electronic publishing, interactive video, infomercials and more.

He’s been up and down, lost clients, gotten them back, done great work, bombed a few times, but never wavered in his beliefs.

In the eighties when our business was more about mega-mergers than it was about advertising, at a time when it was impossible to tell what the average agency stood for, Chiat/Day and Jay Chiat stood alone. Five of the top ten ads chosen by The One Club as “Best of the Decade” were from Chiat/Day.

He is still at his post, the one he relieved Bill Bernback of 25 years ago.


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