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Mike Hughes Makes an Appearance at Advertising Week

Sep 27, 2013

One of the best things about a conference like Advertising Week is the kismet that happens in the hallways, the synchronicity that strikes when we stumble into a session by accident and find ourselves hearing inspiring narrative that we never planned to witness.

That’s exactly what happened to me Thursday afternoon. I arrived early at the Times Center Hall to see the panel “People as Brands as Publishers.” There was a film running as a tribute to some great guy named Mike that everyone loves. Apparently the guy is a legend in the advertising world. Everyone in the film just kept calling him by his first name. When the film wrapped up, Mike made an appearance. It was Mike Hughes, the legendary and brilliant president of The Martin Agency.

I went to business school at the Darden School at the University of Virginia so The Martin Agency’s story and culture are well-known to me and to my classmates because it is based in Richmond, only an hour’s drive from UVA. What I didn’t know until Advertising Week is that the culture of The Martin Agency is the envy of the entire advertising world. Everyone wants what Mike and his growing team have built, what they continue to build day by day, over decades of time. Here are their values:

“I work too many hours because I love my work and I love the people I work with,” said Mike in the film. In all this work, he’s looking for just one thing: messy, unbridled, unpredictable joy. How many presidents of wildly successful companies say that? You can tell in his actions and words that he is on a mission to live a joyful life, even through his current battle with cancer. Joy is contagious. It explains why hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of people are willing to get on board and follow him to the very ends of the earth, online and off. Before he exited the stage, he thanked all of us who follow his blog and support him online. “It really means a lot to me, so thanks. It keeps me going.” I wanted to run up to the front of the room and hug him. I don’t think I was alone in that.

Mike is a member of several halls of fame for his brilliant work on behalf of hundreds of brands over the years. He doesn’t credit his ideas, his leadership, or his talent as the driving force behind his success. “Surround yourself with hall-of-fame caliber people. Do that and the right things happen.”

Good and Tough
After Mike, The Martin Agency’s COO Beth Rilee-Kelley walked us through their core, shared belief that they should be good to each other and tough on the work. Her opening comment said so much to me about who she is as a person and as a professional. “People who know Mike often say that he makes us feel like we can walk through walls. And that’s exactly how I feel right now. Like I could just walk right through a wall.” Mike had recounted the story that he encouraged Beth to think about becoming the head of the agency once he steps down. The next day Beth walked into his office and told him she had no interest in being president. She wanted to be COO. “And she’s the very best in the business,” he said.

Though I’m sure that they did a lot of preparation for this mini-panel (after all, they are an advertising agency!), I could see how much heart and soul went into that preparation. It made me realize that as much as I love being a freelancer, being part of an established company can pave an incredible path so long as we love, respect and admire the people working alongside us.

By, Christa Avampato

This article is part of Allvoices’ coverage of Advertising Week, the world’s largest and most important advertising gathering. This series is supported by Advertising Week.

The Martin Fashion Show

On December 13, 2012, we hosted our first fashion show at The Martin Agency. From account executives to media buyers to creatives, dozens of employees signed up to participate. The challenge? Design and create two outfits for only $75, one representing the team’s view of “Good” and the other representing the team’s idea of “Tough.”

You might be wondering, why “Good and Tough?” When people who know The Martin Agency talk about us, they talk about our work and our culture. But unlike our work, which is on display around the world for all to see, our culture is intangible. It is hard to put into words. But we found three: Good and Tough. Good to each other, tough on the work. Good place to stay, tough place to leave. You get the idea. Through the fashion show, we were able to bring the idea of Good and Tough to life.

No materials were off-limits and the teams were given a month to complete their artistic, humorous, serious, and/or out-of-this-world designs. The teams spent hundreds of hours combined on the designs and the results were phenomenal—but we’ll let you see yourself in the following pages.

So, without further ado, welcome to The Martin Agency Fashion Show, Featuring the Good and Tough Collection.

Check out the story on Creativity-Online

Good and Tough

When people talk about The Martin Agency, they talk about the culture. They ask us to describe it, though it is often hard to put into words.

But we found some. Who we are is good and tough.

Good to each other, tough on the work. Good place to stay, tough place to leave.

If you look at the world of companies, you will find many that are good. They treat their people well, but don't push them very hard. Similarly, there are just as many companies who are tough. They will push their people really hard everyday, but leave them feeling beaten up. Neither of these alternatives is acceptable to us. We have to be one of those precious few companies in the world that is both good to each other and really tough on each other. We must be good and we have to be tough.

So what does good and tough mean? Good to each other means respect, enjoying each other’s company. It means teamwork, collaboration and open minds — a community based on creative engagement and the opportunity to do important work everyday with people you care about. Tough on the work means reaching, stretching, working hard and never settling. Never ever quit. Have a point of view, be honest about it, no B.S., no sugarcoating. Good and tough created “Virginia is for Lovers,” “15 Minutes Could Save You 15% or More on Car Insurance,” and “Save Money Live Better.” Good and tough makes commercials, TV shows, apps, websites, events, games and stuff that hasn’t even been invented yet. Good and tough makes each of us better at our jobs and in our lives.

That’s who we are. It’s who we were 20 years ago when I started and it’s who we are today. Good and tough.


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