Jay passed away yesterday at 48 years of age. He spent more than half of his professional life at Edelman, working first in Seattle on Microsoft, then as the client lead on Starbucks, became general manager of the San Francisco office, ran Edelman Chicago, and finally was the head of our specialist tech agency, Revere. He was the best of Edelman, an irrepressible optimist, a charismatic leader, a passionate mentor of young talent, and a superb client counselor. Here are a few memories of Jay, my friend and colleague:
- A Shoulder to Cry On—With the passing of my father and then my mother in seven months in 2013, Jay was the man in the middle. He organized the memorial services at Temple Sinai, managed the invites to all my parents’ friends, and made sure there was proper coverage in the media. He spoke eloquently about the power couple of Chicago at the convening of Edelman employees in the Aon Center office. With Dominic DiFrisco, he worked to get a street named after my mother, a block from our former family abode. Most of all, he was indomitable, with hugs for John, Renee, and me when we needed them most.
- Creative at the Core—When he ran the Chicago office, Jay pioneered the use of creatives on all clients, from brand to corporate. He persisted in the revolution, which delivered big ideas to Dairy Management, Kellogg’s and Wolverine. He saw the future of Edelman as a communications firm competing with the ad agencies and digital firms as well as in classic PR. He mentored so many young Edelman executives who have gone on to glory whether at our firm or in other venues. They absorbed his obsession with excellence, his dedication to the big idea and his insistence that the work somehow improve society.
- Opportunity Youth—In the spring of 2015, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz decided to do something about youth unemployment, particularly in the African American community. He directed his CCO Corey duBrowa and Jay to put together an ambitious coalition of companies that would aim to hire 100,000 young people via job fairs. It began in Chicago, announced by Schultz and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. A few weeks later, there was a job fair in the city with recruiters from 29 companies. Starbucks hired several thousand opportunity youth through the program. Jay was everywhere, from media master to event organizer.
- Edelman Digital—When Jay was head of San Francisco, there was a very strong contingent of social digital team members in the office. I was pleased with the development of the business but deeply upset by the increasing separation of the PR and digital teams. I heard about plans by the digital team to spin out of Edelman. Jay organized a dinner near the Bay Bridge, playing peacemaker between me and top executives of West Coast digital. I explained that I wanted digital in the main part of the business, not a separate unit. I explained further that I wanted the creatives and planners to work on PR assignments not just digital. Jay made the Bay Area team the model for the Edelman of today, with creative and strategy at the core.
- The Kid from OKC—Jay was from Oklahoma City. You could not tell from his accent which was Yale University all the way. But he loved Oklahoma, its roots in the agriculture and energy business. He knew everything about the OKC revival, funded in part by our then client Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy, who also owned the local NBA franchise. Jay helped me to understand the mentality of the wildcatter who would put every available dollar back into exploration for the next gusher.
- The Intellectual—He loved his board service at the Goodman Theater. We would talk about books we were reading, including Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, which chronicled African American migration to Chicago.
- The Stoic—As he fought the disease that eventually ended his life, Jay remained the happy warrior, glass half full. He told me that work sustained him. We met in Boston for a client briefing. I told him that I admired his courage, that I had beaten cancer and that he would too. He gave me a hug, a famous Jay P smile, and said, “You bet, boss.”
- The Citizen—Jay was dedicated to each of his hometowns. He volunteered his time for such causes as the Chicago Architectural Association dedicated to the preservation of landmarks. As we walked around the city, he was so excited to show me the Rookery, the building lobby designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Our meeting with the new director at the MacArthur Foundation was all about finding a way to keep more African American males in high school.
I loved Jay Porter as a professional, as a creative genius, as a ball of energy and a human being above all. He made the most of his short time on earth. We will remember him in our new Chicago office as one of those who transformed Edelman. He was the best of us.
Richard Edelman is CEO.