With TBWA Chiat/Day Inc. moving out of the Binoculars Building, and "hip" agencies like BBDO West and Ground Zero inhabiting converted warehouses or wild frat-house-inspired work spaces, the question arises: Which ad agency has the coolest office in Los Angeles?

It may just be the comparatively buttoned-down Dailey & Associates home of such edgy, long-haired accounts as Callaway Golf, Countrywide Home Loans and Alpo pet chow.

When Dailey abandoned its straightlaced offices in the decaying Mid-Wilshire district in September, it pulled out all the stops to come up with a creative, futuristic workplace. The result is two floors in the Pacific Design Center's Green Whale building that are so screamingly arty one expects to meet Tim Burton or the ghost of Andy Warhol crouching behind the twisted metal dying-horse sculpture in the concrete-floored lobby.

The Pacific Design Center two years ago began casting around for a new kind of tenant, after Dailey Chairman and Chief Executive Cliff Einstein suggested that building managers broaden their definition of "design" to include ad agencies, Hollywood production companies and other "creative" tenants.

Einstein had coveted a space of his own in the center, which he considers one of L.A.'s most distinctive pieces of architecture. His interest coincided with hard times for the Blue and Green Whales, which were plagued by a downturn in the furniture and interior design business in the mid-'90s.

The result was a fortuitous arrangement for both the center and Dailey, which is still the only large non-design tenant at the whales although Pacific Design Center officials say they are negotiating with a number of other such creative companies.

The agency is housed in a wing of the center that once held furniture showrooms. Dailey hired interior designer Christine Chatterton, who knocked out walls, added ceiling panels, created a maze of office fixtures and walls that Dailey employees say they still sometimes get lost in, and designed a color scheme heavy on black and white and blond wood with an occasional splash of purple or light green on a sweeping curve of wall.

The lobby is a wide corridor surounded by glass, with a bare concrete floor. Unique features, originally part of the showrooms, abound; one side of the creative department offices is lined with small circular meeting rooms like glass-walled peas in a pod; waving art panels hang from the ceiling; a main conference room fronts the lobby that looks like Darth Vader's Imperial War Room, complete with electric shades that slowly descend to cover a wall of windows.

"I think companies have to regularly reinvent themselves," Einstein said. "You must reach to the forward edge in communications so you remain fresh, so you remain contemporary."

Dailey, which at one time wanted to convey an image of strength and stability, has already proven itself in the marketplace by attracting leading brands like Nestle SA and the Ford Dealers of Southern California.

"There are different kinds of buildings and environments that you create for yourself at different times in your growth," Einstein said. "There are times when you want to look really important, really stable. You're always trying to balance where you've been with where you're going."

Dailey's surroundings are already causing a stir in the interior design business. The BBC filmed the company for a segment about the changing American workplace that aired in England, and the office will be featured in the February issue of Interiors magazine.

Los Angeles County has even added Dailey's offices to its annual art & architecture tour every spring, the county hosts an event for about 1,200 people taking them to some of the area's most distinctive homes.

Dailey employees, needless to say, are overjoyed about leaving the unglamorous Mid-Wilshire area for their new digs. Einstein says they often bring their spouses and kids in for tours of the new offices.

Einstein declines to discuss the cost of all of this, although he says the lease is only slightly more than the agency was paying for its old offices (partially because the amount of space being used has been greatly reduced, to 55,000 square feet from about 70,000 feet before).

"The space is a sign of how agencies think," Einstein said. "We're all prisoners of our geography. Our mood, our energy level, our sense of inventiveness for that day, is all a function of our surroundings."

Happy holidays from Rhino

Reporters get a lot of holiday cards this time of year from P.R. people, all much like another, but the best of the lot from 1997 came from Rhino Records.

Under the heading, "The 12 P.R. Lies of Xmas," Rhino's P.R. department listed such tidbits as: "I don't remember you saying you needed it tomorrow" (translation: Shut up! You sniveling, whiny baby); "I'm sorry, but Dave is: in a meeting/out of town/on a conference call" (translation: Dave is watching a soccer game in his office); "I read/saw/heard the review/feature and thought it was great" (translation: I never saw the piece. I wonder what's for lunch today?).

"A number of people said they thought it was really funny," said Rhino spokesman David Dorn. "We did get some reactions from other publicists who said things like, 'Oh great, now when I call people they're going to think this is what I'm really thinking.' "

News Editor Dan Turner writes a weekly marketing column for the Los Angeles Business Journal.

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