The nasty and the nice.

by unfinishedthinking

A number of people have commented on the fact that the comments on my blogs have been so universally positive.  They wonder if I’ve blocked out the nasty ones—the ones typically posted anonymously.  I have received one or two nasty notes on the agency’s “We love Mike” site (, but except for goofy spams, I’ve approved every single message that’s come to the blogs–even the ones I don’t quite understand.  Of course, even anonymous hate-mailers might think twice before dumping too much venom on a cancer patient. That doesn’t mean I’m universally loved. 

In various places on the worldwide web I’ve been called a dinosaur (not necessarily inaccurately) and overrated (I’d agree.)   I’ve been accused of hollowing out the company’s piggy bank by flying around making personal trips on “the corporate jet.”  That’s not true.  (And for the record, the longstanding rumor that The Martin Agency has a corporate jet isn’t true either.) For the last couple of years I’m much more likely to travel by train.  In coach.  With a senior discount.  Ask my wife:  I’m cheap.  (Since my pulmonary embolism, I am under doctor’s orders to fly business class when I am on a plane.  Do you have any idea how few flights out of Richmond even have a first class section these days?)

Lately, on one of the ad industry’s many blogs, there’s been a particularly rancorous stream of comments about a Martin Agency campaign that some folks just don’t like.  Not liking a campaign is fine, of course; there have been many Martin Agency campaigns I didn’t like.  (Although not too many lately.  Overall, the work’s getting better.)  I can understand not liking a commercial, but one commenter takes it a step further:“I don’t think people should say mean things about Martin. Our president is a humble man who has been dying for 20 short years and blogs about it on two blogs and asks nothing for his kindness but a big paycheck and everyone’s unending sympathy and praise. That’s it.”  (OK, so maybe these commenters will dump on a cancer patient.)

How much truth is in that cheap shot?  I won’t go into the paycheck thing except to point out that everyone I know at least asks for a big paycheck.   (And you don’t have to be Mick Jagger to know you can’t always get what you want.)  The bigger question is, with my blogs am I asking for “unending sympathy and praise”?

My conscience is clear that in the beginning, at least, my “death and dying” blog was an attempt to reduce the amount of pro-active emailing I was doing to keep friends and coworkers up to date on my health.  Those reports were in response to a promise I’d made to people when I had no idea this would go on for so long.  With the blog, they could check in when and if they were interested.  My news wouldn’t be “pushed” to anyone.  Inspired partly by Christopher Hitchens’ magnificent writing about his last years, I wrote about more than just the scans and prognoses.  I wrote about how I was feeling.  The blog started attracting hundreds and some days even thousands of readers.  The feedback was beyond complimentary.  And I liked it.  I really liked it.

Liking it isn’t quite the same as believing it.  I am embarrassingly needy.  I need affirmation about almost anything I do.  If I give a speech, I’m barely off the stage before I’m asking everyone, “Was that OK?  Did I make sense?”  I post something on my blogs and wait eagerly for a response.  Of course, like neurotics everywhere, I only believe the negative feedback.  Otherwise I’m convinced people are just being nice.  Especially now that they know I’m dying. That’s crazy, of course.  I get more feedback than anyone I know—and 99% of it is positive.  (90% of it is over-the-top positive, which naturally fuels my suspicions.)  Just last week my sister was pointing out to me how strange it is that I have so many people saying so many nice things about me—but I don’t believe any of it.

I now have some news about me that I’m free to share—but I feel funny doing it.  I’m afraid it’ll just be an ego-trip.  Or I’m afraid you’ll think that I believe I’m somehow special.  (Is denying an ego-trip an ego-trip?)

Well, here’s the news:  I’ve just been voted into the American Advertising Foundation’s Advertising Hall of Fame.  It’s a big deal in our business and I am appropriately humbled.

I hope everyone knows that I’m not the only one being honored with this award.  All my life I’ve been surrounded by hall of fame caliber people.  (That’s true in my home and at the office. There should be halls of fame for sons and halls of fame for wives—Jason and Ginny would be locks.)

My industry honors are really honors for all those people I’ve worked with over the years.  They created the much-admired Martin Agency culture.  They created the work that’s won so many awards and had such a big impact on popular culture.  They created the perception that maybe the president of this company should be honored.  I’m just the guy who gets to pick up the trophy.  (Of course, that means I must still be among the living when the prizes are handed out next year at the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom.)

Here’s what I do believe about myself:  I’m nowhere near as good a writer as my reputation would have you believe. I’m nowhere near as good a creative director.  I’m nowhere near as good a friend. I love good ideas.  I love seeing them come to life:  I wish I were better at making them happen.  I’m extremely competitive in a narrow range of activities.  I hate losing new business competitions or board games. I’m a gracious, but not a good loser.  I play by the rules.  (I do think having this reputation for being honest has helped me a lot.  I’m not a saint:  I’ve been known to break some speed limits and early in my career we worried more about the letter of the law than the spirit of the law when we entered some advertising award shows.)  I try hard to give credit where it’s due.  I work long and hard, but not fast or efficiently.  I am often too ready to compromise. I’m less cynical than many of my advertising brethren.  Especially since I received my cancer diagnosis, I am much more candid about my feelings:  I point out to anyone who’ll listen that I do work I love with people I love.  I think my jokes are funnier than they’re given credit for being:  I’m always the last one still laughing at my witticisms. I have been extraordinarily lucky in just about every part of my life.

The One Show Creative Hall of Fame is the creative community’s highest honor.  I’m still stunned that I was among the first 50 people in the history of the business to make that roster.  Now comes the AAF honor.  The AAF Advertising Hall of Fame includes the biggest names in the entire industry—marketers, agency heads, account people, media people, creative people, etc.  I’ve just been shown some of the fabulous letters written in support of my nomination by some fabulous people.  And I just saw Joe Alexander’s notes for the presentation he made to the AAF judges.  When I say I don’t believe the wonderful things they say about me, it’s not that I think they aren’t expressing their true feelings.  I know they’re very sincere.  I just don’t understand how they could feel those things about me.

Do I love reading these things?  Wouldn’t you? Am I asking for your sympathy?  Nah.  Why would anyone have sympathy for one of the world’s luckiest people?  Am I looking for praise?  Tough question.  But if you give it to me, don’t be surprised if I look a little skeptical.   My sister’s probably right that only an idiot would doubt so many good people. 




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