PERSPECTIVE: The groundwork for the finest agencies was laid by Jay Chiat

Jay Chiat died at the age of 70 this week and nothing better illustrates his contribution to advertising than the caption beneath his picture in Andy Law's book about St Luke's: "Jay Chiat - the Great Innovator".

Chiat Day was born in 1968 during a meeting at a Dodgers baseball game when Jay Chiat and Guy Day, both copywriters, decided to merge their agencies to make a 50-strong outfit. In the spirit of the best Chiat Day decisions, it took less than an hour to make. Chiat had embarked on the path that many in the advertising industry dream of: building an agency on the strength of impressive creative work and making a selling point of its edgy, daring personality.

The early days of Chiat Day, with its Frank Gehry-designed offices basking in the LA sunshine, were distinguished by passion and the ability to make a selling point of this personality. It gave clients a money-back guarantee on effective advertising and ran ads aggressively touting for business in particular sectors: "Chiat Day is starving

ran one for a food account.

Above all, it attracted attention with its work, mostly in print in the early years. Early highlights were for Honda Cars, "The Hatchback of Notre Dame", Pioneer Stereo Systems, "Have an eargasm

and Suntory whisky, "From the bonnie, bonnie banks of the Yamazaki". Later ads, such as Nike's sporting celebrity ads and the "1984

Apple computer TV spot, displayed the same small agency daring, this time applied to big clients.

It wasn't just the work (and the work ethic, leading to its nickname Chiat Day & Night) that made the agency different. In 1982, Chiat imported the account planning system to the United States and with it some of the finest UK planners such as Jane Newman and, later, MT Rainey. After that, account planning spread through American agencies like a rumour. Chiat Day was one of the first creative companies to eschew geographical departments and work in open-plan offices (today most ad agencies are still not open plan and consequently still driven more by empire building and departmental loyalties than clients). It pioneered more collaborative ways of working with clients, including them in the early stages of advertising development.

It's no coincidence that many of these qualities bring to mind some of the most admired UK agencies of recent years. Think Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, HHCL, Mother - all the best agencies have started up with a radical manifesto and a swagger that owes much to Chiat Day. It's amazing that an agency launched on the West Coast of America into a world dominated by Flower Power and Woodstock has had such a lasting impact. Jay Chiat will not know it now, but he has been, and will continue to be, a fundamental part of the building of some of the finest agencies all over the world.


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