How TBWA's Jay Chiat stuck a middle finger up at Donald Trump

(Illustration: TBWA\Chiat\Day)
(Illustration: TBWA\Chiat\Day)

The president was once an unhappy client of the Omnicom Group shop.

I worked at Chiat/Day for 20 years when Jay Chiat was changing the rules of the

ad business. And building, from scratch, one of the greatest creative agencies ever.

Many remember Jay’s natural ability to recognize talent and push people well

beyond their limits. But most don’t know how he generated such extraordinary

loyalty and dedication. Earning the agency moniker: "Chiat/Day & Night."

Here’s a story of Jay’s fearless leadership when he dealt with Donald Trump, and its major impact on the agency.

When The Donald introduced Trump Airlines he wanted the "greatest" agency and chose Chiat/Day. Chiat produced some brilliant advertising for the Trump Shuttle.

The ads, evidently, not to Trump’s "taste," he sent Jay a very nasty and threatening letter about the work and the agency—nicely typed on beautiful, gold embossed stationery.

In uniquely Jay fashion, he replied with a handwritten note attached to Donald’s original letter that simply said: "Donald, I thought you should know that some lunatic has stolen your stationery. Jay"

And of course Chiat/Day was summarily fired.

So why is this an example of leadership? Because Jay had a vision much bigger than keeping any one client happy, and he wasn’t going to let some bully push him around.

But even more important, it was a message from Jay to the Chiat team, who toiled "day & night" to live up to the agency’s mission, that he wouldn’t compromise. "Good enough is not enough," as our T-shirts were emblazoned.

Jay’s principles of great advertising, and gutsy leadership, bred decades of loyalists to this day. He was the definition of the entrepreneurial, charismatic leader with a clear sense of purpose, much needed in today’s disrupted ad space.

P.S. The Trump Shuttle failed and "... was a complete disaster." :)

Steve Goldman was with Chiat/Day Los Angeles from 1991 to 1996 and TBWA\Chiat\Day LA from 1997 to 2000. This story first appeared on TBWA’s LinkedIn page.

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