A few years ago everyone I know in advertising was nodding heads and shedding tears when the Martin Agency’s President Mike Hughes wrote a posthumous blog post on what life (and death) meant.
The blog he kept as he knew he was dying was intensely personal, inspiring, funny, and emotional. The posts were a testament to just how much we learn during our short years on this planet. I never met the man, and never knew him, and yet I got so much from his posts, it was hard not to go to Unfinished Thinking and not walk away thinking I was better for it.
Social media has largely contributed to this problem. Advertising on social media has become an in-the-moment thing, and not a long-lasting thing. Sure people talk about Oreo’s blackout tweet that happened during the Superbowl, but do you know which Super Bowl? Or what year? If you don’t Google it, you’ll have to scroll through three years of tweets. Because that tweet was in February of 2013, the same year Mike Hughes died. In social media three years is lifetimes ago. We aren’t supposed to remember posts longer than it takes to like, share, retweet, or quote. The virus replicates quickly, gets all the PR it can, and then dies off just as quickly.
Such is the expiration date of social media. Our own expiration date should be celebrated for a bit longer than a few days.
The CEO of Adland, Åsk Dabitch Wäppling, was nice enough to allow me to write this post for another Mike, who worked in advertising. The majority of you won’t know him, but that’s okay. If nothing else, he was one of us.
His name was Mike D’Abreu.
I was in Mike D’Abreu’s graduating class in the Creative Circus in Atlanta, back in 2003. He was a New Yorker through and through, larger than life. A take-no-shit-from-anyone kind of guy. Cigarette forever in hand, baseball hat always on his I suspect, balding head, but I can’t be sure because I never once saw him without a hat, and of course now I won’t ever see him again because I learned the news that he passed away on April 17th.
Mike was a writer. A sports enthusiast. We once went golfing in February. It was my first golfing experience. I was terrible. He didn’t care. He liked the company. Mike liked heavy metal bands, especially Biohazard. He had a certain edge to his joie de vivre which made him seem exciting to some, potentially dangerous to others. I know he enjoyed that. Either you got him or you didn’t. He didn’t care. Which was ironic. Because at his heart, Mike was a very caring guy, willing to dispense advice whether you asked for it or not. But almost always the advice he gave was correct.
A gaggle of us spent our weekends at his apartment on Monroe Place, hosting barbeques that grew larger and larger, with more and more eclectic cuisine and people. We started with Johnsonville Brats and burgers. At one point, I started making crab cakes. It was like an Algonquin Round Table of well-fed advertising students. All of us creative freaks.
On Thursdays, after an almost-finished week, three or four of our regular crew would head to Moe’s and Joe’s, a dive bar that sold four-dollar pitchers of Foster’s. The bar was a dump, but it was bright and fun and you never knew who would show up. Mike was up for anything; it was perfect for him.
Despite the wild side, Mike was a professional. While some of us were in our mid-twenties and still figuring out how to be grownups, Mike had that professional side on lock. He did his work and he believed in it. Even in school, he had a vision. And thirteen years and scores of mediocre creative directors later, I can safely say he was real creative director material. Perhaps it went back to the no B.S. New Yorker thing, but Mike would have been the guy who would make a decision. Not one of those “keep trying because I’ll know when I see it,” types that are crippled by insecurity.
While Mike and I drifted in and out of touch over the years, I did keep up with his career and watched him hop up and down the east coast from afar. Like most people in my graduating class, I got a vicarious thrill seeing where we all ended up in advertising and life. Mike wasn’t supposed to end up here so soon, though.
The people who become parts of your life, be it long-term or for a brief and shining moment, are there to teach you something. They might teach you what to do, or what not to do, and usually the latter is taught inadvertently. They might be there as a bridge to another part of your life, or they could just be there to cement some fantastic memories. From Mike, I learned what to do, and created some fantastic memories.
The last thing I’ll say is this: People in advertising constantly remind us how busy they are. But when it comes to someone’s death, they’re worth a hell of a lot more than a social post ending with #RIP. Hashtags shouldn’t be anywhere near death; they serve the poster more than they do the departed.
While we all want to live long and healthy lives, sometimes it ends up more like a social media post: it grabs your attention for a while and then you move on. If those people really meant something to you—let them know.
If you didn’t get a chance to tell that person, try to celebrate their lives in a different way. Call a mutual friend to reminisce, have an email back and forth, hell even a text message string will do. But if you do decide to put it online, try to choose a media channel that is designed to be more permanent. The dead deserve more than 140 characters.