(Photo by Don Kadair)
Name: David Day
Position: Owner, The Day Group
Hometown: Baton Rouge
Education: B.A. in journalism, LSU
David Day has owned his marketing agency, The Day Group, for more than two decades. In that time, he says how he does things has evolved tremendously—but the why has never changed. “Building brands that stick, creating messages that break through the clutter, connecting buyers to sellers—that’s the same,” Day says, adding that can sometimes require his company to reinvent itself—which it has done at least four times, by his estimation. “Staying relevant and on top of the latest methodologies, media and creative avenues is like business gymnastics,” he says. “If you nail the uneven parallels, don’t celebrate too much—you’ve still got a floor routine to do.” Although Day’s company is an advertising agency, he doesn’t think like an advertiser—he thinks like a customer and shows business executives how to do the same. “After speaking with them, most of our clients find that they need more than just great graphics or media,” Day says. “They need a strategy for making money.”
What was your very first job, and what did you learn from it?
My first job was cutting grass and pet sitting in my neighborhood. From there I worked at a vet clinic doing yard work and cleaning floors. I learned that if you do what you say and show up on time, you get to keep your job.
What got you interested in marketing/advertising in the first place?
While working in radio, I spent a good portion of my time writing commercial copy and producing radio spots. I had a talent for it, and I eventually focused more on formulating great messages than anything else.
How did you go about beginning your career, and how was your business born?
While working in radio sales, I called on agencies—one of which ended up hiring me. After about six years there, I opened The Day Group. That was 21 years ago.
How has the industry changed since you began?
How we do things has changed tremendously, but what we do is still the main point. Building brands that stick, creating messages that break through the clutter, connecting buyers to sellers—that’s the same. But how we do it has changed significantly. There are practically no barriers to entry anymore, and technology has made it easier and cheaper to produce good work. Today there is much more competition for the same dollar, so we have to be creative not only in what we do but how we do it.
What is your guiding philosophy? Was there a personal or professional event that shaped it?
I guess that would have to be to trust my instincts. I want and value the input and advice of others, but if it’s not what I want, I’m going to keep at it. Learning to trust my instincts has been an education in and of itself, and it usually pays dividends even if I’m wrong. Knowing I compromised and something ended poorly is the worst feeling ever.
What are some of the challenges of being in the marketing/advertising field in such a competitive market?
The speed of change is daunting. In my 21 years as an agency owner, I’ve re-invented my company probably four times, going on five. Staying relevant and on top of the latest methodologies, media and creative avenues is like business gymnastics. If you nail the uneven parallels, don’t celebrate too much—you’ve still got a floor routine to do.
What is one thing about your job people don’t know about or expect?
It makes me laugh how Hollywood so often features someone in the advertising profession just loving life and living large, leading some incredibly cool, multimillion-dollar creative campaign for a millionaire client with a blank check. I guess the world thinks advertising is all about coming up with fun slogans, five-star dining and celebrity photo shoots at exotic locations. But what they don’t see are the small budgets, endless spreadsheets, costly revisions, tight deadlines and the all-night, caffeine-induced brainstorming sessions. If you don’t love that stuff, don’t go into advertising. You get the glamour maybe about 10% of the time—the rest is just plain work and business. Don’t get me wrong, those problems exist in every business. But I think it’s funny how advertising is somehow portrayed as all glory and no guts.
Is there a “most popular” service you provide? What do most clients need?
What most clients really need, they don’t usually ask for. Companies can get good quality products and deliverables from lots of places, and we do a great job with that. But after speaking with them, most of our clients find that they need more than just great graphics or media. They don’t need a plan for spending money—that’s easy. They need a strategy for making money. They need a concise, intelligent, insightful strategy that includes more than just “who’s your audience and what’s your budget.” The way we approach strategy is different, and as a marketing coach, I enjoy helping business leaders reach their “Aha!” moment.
What are your short- and long-term goals for the business?
Our short-term goals include growth and innovation in our visual communications offerings. Long-term … we’re not ready to reveal that just yet, but it’s going to be exciting.
What have been some of the unexpected trials you’ve faced in running your company?
Creating a balance of being an entrepreneur and an advertising practitioner. As an entrepreneur, I have to be a business-minded manager. As a creative director, I need to think, act and be inspired by things way outside the realm of normal. That’s a very tough balance. Although I love the fact that no two days are alike, it does present unique challenges to the small-business entrepreneur.
What was the most complex campaign you have ever worked on, or maybe the most rewarding?
There have been some doozies over the last 21 years. I would say our run with East Baton Rouge schools was as complicated as it gets from a creative and account management standpoint. There were lots of angles and boxes to check. Currently, marketing for Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport is fairly complex. Such a solid organization with a huge upside, but in many ways we are limited by airline policies, FAA rules and security constraints. It can be challenging to communicate with your hands tied, but that’s why they need us. Recently, one of our TV spots for BTR won first place in an international competition for airport advertising in North America. That was very rewarding to me.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am proud to have earned certifications and awards over the years, but perhaps what I’m most proud of is all the interns and former employees who are killing it out there in the ad world from Baton Rouge to New York City. I still stay in touch with my first intern from 1995. He owns his own shop in Atlanta now. It’s an impressive thing to watch and to have had a role in the formulation of their success. It gives me great pleasure to know they are doing so well.
Have there been specific challenges adapting to digital and social media?
Yes, definitely. But the mechanics are easily adopted and incorporated. The challenge is to stay focused on the message and strategy regardless of the medium used. Every medium presents a challenge to find ways to connect with our best potential customers. If it were easy, anyone could do it.
What is a typical day like?
There really isn’t a typical day—they are all very different. That’s what I love about my job. Some days I’m writing, some days I’m shooting on location and some days I’m coaching a client through a strategy session. No two days are alike, and no two clients are identical.
What makes you excited about going to work?
I absolutely love it when I see our work on display. On a billboard, on TV, online, in a magazine. I love it when our work—whether creative or media or strategy—makes a difference in our clients’ business. It feeds the longing within me that wants to create for a purpose and make a difference.
What is the greatest personal or professional obstacle you’ve overcome, and how did you go about surmounting it?
Professionally, that would have to be the time we lost about 40% of gross revenue billing within about 60 days. It was like a perfect storm—two different clients sold to competitors, and another had a corporate structure change and eliminated its ad budget. It was a tough time for about a year afterward. We had to reduce staff; then we reduced everyone’s pay by a small percentage. Then we got busy trimming the budget and launched a full-on sales effort. We weathered the storm and came back stronger. We learned how to do more with less, and in the process our quality increased. I wouldn’t want to go through that again, but we are a better firm for it.
What other leadership roles do you hold in the community and/or what volunteer efforts do you support?
I have served on several local volunteer boards and have been a part of some terrific nonprofit organizations for my entire career. I currently serve as president of The Dunham School Pawbackers organization, established to support athletics at Dunham through fundraising and volunteerism. I am also serving as director of Leadercast Greater Baton Rouge, an organization dedicated to inspiring and building true leadership qualities in today’s professional. But perhaps what I’m most passionate about is living and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever He leads me. Sometimes that’s at work; sometimes at the grocery. Sometimes with words, and sometimes with actions.
What is a great piece of advice you personally received? Did you have occasion to put it to use?
Charlie Valluzzo once told me: “Never take your eyes off of what matters. You don’t have to do everything yourself, but know what is being done and who is doing it. When you’re in charge, stay in charge.” I try to live that balance every day. I’m not a great manager, I’ll admit, but I think I’m becoming a pretty good leader. Leaders make others successful, and one of the things I’m most proud of is the awards and recognition my clients receive for their marketing and advertising. I try to let my team do their thing and do it well. My job as a leader is to frame up the project, provide the motivation or the “why,” give them the resources and turn them loose.
What gets your workday off to a good start?
Breakfast with my beautiful wife is first on the list, which always includes a great cup of coffee.
How do you like to spend your free time?
Watching movies, being with friends, grilling outdoors and watching my kids play sports.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m actually a filmmaker and a sports announcer in my other life. I got my start in radio at WBRH, and I love sports. The Dunham School has been great to let me call games on their live stream webcast at dunhamlive.net. It’s not only fun for me, but I think it’s providing a great service to the school and their corporate sponsors.
What is an item on your “bucket list”?
I have two screenplays that I’d like to develop when the time is right. Both are family oriented, inspiring films featuring true stories in the athletic arena that will appeal to a wide audience. Before I’m done, I’d like to see those films made.
Where is your go-to spot in Baton Rouge?
That’s a tough one. I like my patio and outdoor kitchen, and my upstairs media/TV room, but I do get chills in Tiger Stadium at night. That’s probably the ultimate Baton Rouge destination, even though I don’t actually go to many games (I did mention my media room, right?). I’m fairly outgoing most of the time, but I do have an introverted side. Usually anywhere I can hang out with my wife and kids is my go-to spot.