This weekend, we lost Guy Day. He was one of the greats, and one of the primary architects of this very special place, called Chiat/Day.
When I joined the agency, Guy Day had one foot out the door, having been brought back to provide supervision over LA while Jay focused on building an agency in NY. Retirement however, was not a word that Guy found attractive, once saying that he was a “brown bagger” and that in order to be at his best, he had to have a place to go everyday, and so he kept coming to the office.
Guy kept a desk at the agency (by then located in the Biltmore Hotel) and his phone still rang with amazing regularity. As one of the secretaries that covered Guy at the time, I found him a real challenge. He typed faster than I did. His proofreading and grammar skills were better than anyone else in the building. And he always answered his own phone. Some days it seemed my only contribution to making his life easier, was getting his mail and sending the occasional “panafax.”
But by late 1986, feeling that the agency was headed in the right direction, Guy started coming to the office less frequently, spending time on two things he was deeply dedicated to: improving his tennis game, and getting the novel that was inside his head – out, and onto the page. He would pop in from time to time to perform various “sanity” checks, usually when we had a really big pitch (like Porsche and Nissan), or when Jay was thinking about moving or merging us.
In sharing stories with others who knew Guy well I was reminded of some things.
First, it’s important that we not forget that much of the “no-nonsense” focus on the work ethos, actually came from Guy.
In announcing that he, Guy Day, would be President of the newly merged Chiat/Day, he promptly shared with the Los Angeles Times that his appointment was the result of a coin toss, and that it was a technique that he and Jay planned to repeat annually to determine leadership of the agency. Nobody was ever really sure whether being named President was the result of winning, or losing the coin toss – but it set the stage for the total distaste for hierarchy and any trace of organizational politics.
Sid Salinger, one of Chiat/Day’s first Production Managers recounts,
“Guy and I were the same age (born in 1933), so perhaps we shared many of the same ‘old-fashioned’ values. He was unquestionably one of the most creative people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He had a quiet, wry, ironic sense of humor, and of honor. He was even-tempered; quick to praise, and slow to criticize. Advertising agencies, by their very nature, are generally peopled by mercurial personalities. Guy's mind was lightning-quick, but his tongue was mannerly and controlled. He was in every sense of the word, a gentleman -- a gentle man.”
Brent Bouchez considered Guy a mentor and is sure that, “Guy’s judgment kept the company alive on more than one occasion.” Brent also shares the story, of when Guy once fired him in the morning and re-hired him in the evening of the same day.
"I threw a tantrum about the account people and bitched and moaned about them not being helpful and getting in the way, etc....hey, I was like 24 or something, I had no idea how good they really were until I grew up. I think Guy had had enough of me and probably a few others and he totally lost it and screamed at me "You're fired. Get the f--- out of the agency". A response that I must admit, had stupidly never occurred to me.
Later, Brent Thomas came into my office and asked why I was packing my stuff and I told him that Guy had fired me. He walked away and I continued collecting things from my desk. About 10 minutes later Brent came back and said "stop packing, you're not fired anymore."
That evening as I sat in my office writing a Yamaha brochure, my box still half packed, Guy walked in and sat down. Over the course of the next hour, he explained his point of view on the advertising business, Chiat/Day and account executives. About the account people he said "Why do you keep trying to change them? Who they are makes them good at what they do. Just like who you are makes you good at what you do. And more importantly, you need them. Creative people are lousy at selling the work, they give up way too easily."
As Guy got up to leave I said "So am I still fired?" To which he said "You were never fired" and walked away."
Guy was a brilliant storyteller, and one I could listen to for hours. In his stories the casting never changed: Jay, his partner, was both brilliant and a mad scientist – inflicting his experiments on all of us, and Lee was the creative genius. Guy was always clear, that it would be Lee that would be Chiat/Day’s creative Moses, responsible for leading us into the ‘promised land.’ Guy also used to say that Lee seemed to be the only one who didn’t realize he was our creative Moses, and that it was Guy’s job to remind him of it regularly – especially if one of Jay’s recent experiments had left Lee’s head spinning.
Of all the stories however, it was Guy’s new business bravado that made him one of my heroes. It is the stuff of legend.
There are many stories, but one of my favorites is the one recounted in Chiat/Day the First Twenty Years, in which after seeing some bad advertising for Western Harness Racing, Guy wrote the following to the client, “I am going to disqualify myself from ever soliciting your account because of this letter. Your advertising is embarrassing. You’re a major event in Southern California, and if you don’t care about your advertising, you ought to find somebody who will…” Almost two weeks later, the client calls Guy and wants to talk. Guy, Jay and a team from the agency head over and make a presentation but leave the meeting without the account. Back in the parking lot, Guy and Jay realize they needed a “betting man’s approach” and so returned to the client’s office with an offer he couldn’t refuse – Chiat/Day will bet every dime they make on the account that they can increase attendance by 15%. For every person over 15% Chiat/Day would take a $1/head and for every person under 15%, Chiat/Day would pay the client $1/head. The account came home with Guy and Jay that day. And the campaign was so successful, that the client quickly renegotiated the $1/head bounty as his primary means of agency compensation.
When you ask Lee about Guy, he says, "Guy made me sane while Jay made me crazy. He taught me a lot of things, like how to understand Jay. I probably wouldn't be here if it weren't for Guy."
Rick Boyko also had some very fond memories,
"When I first arrived at Chiat/Day in 1983 as an art director on Home Savings, one of the first people to walk into my cubicle at the Biltmore and introduce himself was none other than one of the men whose name was on the door. Guy was warm, humble and above all always willing to give me time whenever I asked. He became a mentor and teacher to me and one of the main reasons I ended up teaching myself is because of what I learned from him. While Jay challenged us all to push the boundaries and to think bigger thoughts, it was Guy who made sure the thoughts we thought were on brand and strategic. Many years after I left Chiat/Day and had become a manager myself, Guy would periodically send me notes with constructive thoughts. Those many years later he was still teaching. David Ogilvy said he admired and hired “people with gentle manners who treat other people as human beings”, I’m sure David is going to enjoy meeting Guy."
Fred Goldberg writes,
Guy was the first person who I met when I interviewed at Chiat/Day in 1982. I liked Guy from the start. He was an amiable, genuine good guy. I don't think I ever saw him get angry or be mean. I had a very positive relationship with him over the years I spent at Chiat/Day and afterwards at Goldberg Moser O'Neill.
Guy seemed to perpetually have a happy go lucky attitude with just about anything and everything. At the same time he often offered much wisdom. He particularly had a quite perceptive view into people and their motivations. I saw him consul Jay, and others, on matters where his candid point of view and advice was honest and more often than not, on the mark. Guy always offered me his frank opinions and advice, which I found relevant and which I appreciated.
I learned much about the "work" from Guy. He championed it. I learned much about the advertising business from Guy. He didn't take it nearly as seriously as most of us did and therefore often had a possibly clearer perspective. He was a good friend to those he considered his friends. He was a source of irritation to some others because he could see them for what they really were and didn't necessarily like what he saw and said so.
I am sad to hear of Guy's passing. I will miss our occasional conversations these past years. He was a good advertising person and his contributions and consul were invaluable. And everyone should remember, without Guy Day there would never have been a Chiat/Day, possibly the greatest creative agency of its time."
I got a personal laugh out of a comment about Guy from Geoff Siodmak, an old friend of the agency from the early days - his observation was right on. Geoff writes, "Guy was the calm to Jay's whirling vortex. He was so measured, so intense, so balanced, so in love with his wife and family, it was a constant inspiration. And though it did not seem so, he had a lesser tolerance for fools than Jay did. It certainly kept you alert - when Jay called you a dope, you probably were not - when Guy called you a dope you probably were."
As others have said, Guy was an intelligent man, a thoughtful man, a strongly opinionated and yet, a fair and gentle man. Most importantly, Guy was a generous man – one confident enough to persuade, shape and influence from the edge of the spotlight, rather than from its center.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Guy's family.
To share your thoughts about Guy, and see tributes from others, please check out the posts at http://www.jayday.org.
Chief Marketing Officer