When I was asked to write this column, I knew I wanted to do something that was educational or, at the least, a little helpful to some young creative people out there. And I considered a lot of topics.
The trouble is, the majority of the good advice that popped into my head was basically learned, or stolen, from one person—Mike Hughes, president of The Martin Agency. While I’ve had many mentors in this business, Mike is the one person who really taught me the majority of things that shaped my career.
But Mike’s wisdom is really custom-made for individuals. That’s one of Mike’s gifts. He sees everyone as an individual. So, I decided to ask a number of great leaders in this business what they learned from Mike. I truly believe that within these lessons are the keys to not only a great career but, more importantly, a happy one. John Boone, owner, Guns and Kittens
“I learned a lot from Mike the day he gathered the whole creative department together in a conference room. Not to lecture or critique. He simply went around the room and told everyone what he liked about each person individually and why he felt they were special. That’s the great thing about Mike. He cares about people as much as he cares about the work. Probably more.”Cabell Harris, founder, WORK Labs
“I once remember Mike asking me to list the ten best advertising agencies of all time. He said I didn’t need to answer out loud, just think about it. Then he said he would bet that each of those agencies had or has a creative principal doing great work or had done great work. I’ve never forgotten that.”Luke Sullivan, advertising chair, SCAD
“I was having breakfast with Mike a month or so before he hired me, back in 1983. He proudly showed me a picture of his son Jason. And he said, ‘Having children is the best reminder that there is a life outside of advertising.’ I never forgot it. And he was right.”Steve Bassett, group CD, The Martin Agency
“He taught me that great clients aren’t born. They’re grown. Be tough on the work. Be good to each other.”Mary Warlick, CEO, The One Club
“He taught me to find the joy in everyday work. To respect the people I work with and to validate their ideas and beliefs. Mike taught me to look for wonder in small things and to recognize happiness when it comes your way.”Mike Lear, VP/CD, The Martin Agency
“I’ve learned to not go into Mike’s office with a problem. Instead, it’s better to think through a few solutions to your problem, and run them by him (of course, he always has better ideas). Because even when you think you’re out of options, there are a million answers you just haven’t thought of yet. And then you leave and say, “Thanks Mike,” and he says, “I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.”Pam El, marketing VP, State Farm
“Mike Hughes taught me you can clearly disarm people with laughter.” David Oakley, CD, BooneOakley
“Being a good person is more important than making a great ad. Take time to laugh. Especially at yourself. Thank everyone. Share the credit. Accept all the blame.”Rick Boyko, former director, VCU Brandcenter
“Humility, civility, grace and compassion mixed with tenacity and the will to never give up.”Sean Riley, CD, The Martin Agency
“1) Don’t take yourself so seriously. 2) You lead by lifting other people up. 3) The most important person in the room is the one sitting across from you.”Andy Azula, SVP/group CD, The Martin Agency
“I guess what I learned from Mike was this: Take the idea of chasing balance and throw it out the window. It’s the wrong equation. Chase joy. Everything else will come from that. So I stopped counting how many hours I was home vs. work or on this account vs. that one. I became a better manager. My ads got better. I act like I did when I first got in the business. I remember to tell Sharon I love her more often. I play with my kids even when it means they stay up ten minutes later than they are supposed to. I’m late to meetings, yet the work gets done and gets done better. I ‘delete all’ every once in a while. And whenever I feel as if the ball is about to hit the ground, I let it. Because that one single lesson taught me that the ball isn’t made of glass. It’s rubber. And it bounces. Just like life.”Earl Cox, CSO, The Martin Agency
“Humility commands attention and respect. Mike also showed me that loving what you do means it’s not work, it’s a hobby.”Jayanta Jenkins, global CD, TBWA\Chiat\Day
"Mike gave me this advice, 'Always be true to yourself.'”Joe Alexander, CCO, The Martin Agency
“Mike taught me that the work is important, but finding joy in the grind is even better.”Jelly Helm, CD/principal, Studio Jelly
“His ability to be calm and present, no matter who you are—Chairman of a Global Blah Blah or pissant art director. Mike is always so present to the moment.”Jerry Torchia, former ACD, The Martin Agency
“Mike taught me infinite grace and patience in dealing with some not-so-admirable people; staying positive in some very negative situations; that having great talent doesn’t have to mean having
a huge ego.”
As for me, Mike taught me the power of humility in an industry that is often short of it. He taught me how to write long copy without getting lost in the woods. And he taught me that when you focus on the people, the great strategies and brilliant work start to take care of themselves. caEditor’s note: At the time of this writing, Mike Hughes is battling lung cancer. While the prognosis is less than optimistic, Mike continues to share his wisdom in his blog, unfinishedthinking.com. We all wish him well.