On the Creative Floor - TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles

TBWA\Chiat\Day's executive creative director, Patrick O'Neill, reveals how the agency that told us to 'think different' does just that.

'Lee's wall' at TBWA Chiat Day
'Lee's wall' at TBWA Chiat Day

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, so I've been surrounded by mid-century architecture most of my life. There was a purity to the work of the greats such as Neutra and Lautner, a dedication to openness, innovation and inexpensive and accessible materials that makes it ageless. That's why I'm a big supporter of restoring these structures that are so integral to the soul of LA and Palm Springs.

As regards to our agency, I'm reluctant to ever put up a new wall or alter the architect's vision in any way. Clive Wilkinson very much carries the mantle of the great modernists and created what he called an "advertising city" back in 1998, and that city is still here. The agency isn't built vertically, but more horizontally, much like LA. Its open spaces, community gathering places and urban metaphors such as Central Park and Main Street are still very much intact.

Open skies and open minds breed innovative ideas. There's a sense of freedom and inspiration that is part of the culture of the building and its role in shaping and inspiring the ideas that come from the agency. But, like any city, it evolves and changes along with the people that live and work here, because how we work and communicate has changed a lot in the past few years.

Jay Chiat was ahead of his time when he created the virtual office in 1994. Now, when I see an art director on an iPad at the Surf bar or a writer giving direction on their iPhone, I'm reminded that Jay was right then, and is still right.

The big, open, warehouse-like space filled with flexible environments helps to promote our "cross-learning, cross-understanding" style.

"Advertising city" provides so many open gathering places that buck the conventional, closed-off conference room. Meetings have a more spontaneous feel, and conversations are built on in a casual way. The best ideas seem to come from this way of working. We're always thinking of ways to enhance this, even having people bring their dogs in. There isn't a meeting that doesn't include a chihuahua, golden retriever or Australian shepherd.

It's said that everything is digital these days; we think there's truth to that. What was formerly the "banner factory" at the back of the building is now the central hub of the office, adjacent to the open-air stacked offices we call the "cliff dwellings". Developers, creative technologists, designers, artists, digital producers, user experience and quality assurance people all work together in the Creative Technology Lab. About every other month, we have an agency meeting, where all the disciplines come together on our basketball court (it's the only place in the agency that all 825 of us can fit). We share stories, ideas, new campaigns and, once in a while, a guest speaker or two.

At one end of Main Street is Lee Clow's office. He has a long wall we all call "Lee's wall". It's part timeline, part current inspiration, part cool shit that just reminds us of what we've done, what we're doing and what we all aspire to do.

On the agency's exterior is a permanent reminder of our commitment to the arts and our place in LA pop culture with the award-winning Museum of Contemporary Art campaign. The entire building is tagged, as art is in museums and galleries.

Bringing art inside the agency on a consistent basis in multiple locations is a huge part of our culture. Last year, we turned a former office space into the Creative Lounge, a meeting room with red leather sofas and a wall of inspiration that rotates monthly. I give the assignment to one of the younger creative teams and they decide if it's typography, photography, graphic design etc. It's important to be surrounded by creativity from the outside world.

Chaya Playa is our in-agency restaurant. Last year, we introduced a concept called "DJ SAMMIE". Every week, a DJ (a role Chiat employees are all too enthusiastic to take on) creates a signature sandwich and playlist to blast throughout Chaya Playa.

The latest (and, to date, largest) addition to the creative gallery is a 30-foot mural over our employee entrance, located adjacent to the parking structure, designed by the Venice street artist Jim Darling.

No doubt the agency's illustrious history draws talent to the LA office. But it is equally clear that the innovation, openness and just plain awesomeness of the office space inspires our great people to become even greater. And at TBWA\Chiat\Day, we believe that great people together with great ideas are key to our success.


Photographs by: Bill Hornstein