My Mother, Mike Hughes and Me

Martin Agency Head Doesn't Need to Talk Diversity

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Moses Foster Moses Foster
If only you could see my mother's smile.

It doesn't matter how low you're feeling, or what's going wrong in your life. Even in your deepest, darkest moment, that smile will suspend you in the middle of a spiraling descent, dust you off in mid-air, and catapult you back into life-giving light.

Please believe me when I tell you, that smile can make you do just about anything. So one Sunday after church, smack dab in the middle of an $8.99 all-you-can-eat buffet brunch, my mother's face lit up brightly and she pulled out a newspaper clipping she had placed in her purse. She unfolded the article and proceeded to give me some specific instructions with respect to the Martin Agency. I had no choice but to obey.

"See right here," she said, pointing at the newspaper article, "Martin is a big agency in Richmond. They won the Wal-Mart account, you know. And they're right down the street from the West Cary Gang", she said proudly.

"West Cary Group, Ma. My agency is the West Cary Group," I gently corrected. "And yes, I've heard of the Martin Agency once or twice."

"Look," she said and continued to point. "Wal-Mart is a really big account, Junior." (My whole family calls me Junior. ONLY my family. No one else. So NO ONE reading this should get any bright ideas.)

"Yes, Wal-Mart's one of the biggest, Ma. Martin is a good shop."

"Junior, they probably need some help. You should go down and see them. They're right down the street from you."

I couldn't help but laugh. "I know, Ma. They're just down the street. But, they're really big and very accomplished, and highly successful. We're a small shop -- we're growing -- but I'm not sure they're going to have any need for..."

"Junior, you listen to me, now," she interrupted. "Just go talk to them. God being a just God would never give some people so much, and other people so little. That's what I always believed. Just go talk to them."

What could I do but obey? She smiled at me. What could I do?

"Yes, Ma'am." I said.

A few weeks later the guilt was mounting and I felt I had to make good on the commitment I made to my mother.

I typed out a message to Mike Hughes at the Martin Agency. If you're going to take a chance, why not take a big one, right? I figured I'd start at the top. I wanted my auto-responder to at least have the name of the agency's president on it.
"Dear Mike...I really admire the Martin Agency of course. And, being in the same town and all, I wonder if there might be some synergies. We're a small black-owned firm in Richmond and we've been extremely pleased with our first year and a half. We've got big plans, and one day we're going to be as big as the Martin Agency... but you wouldn't really know it yet because we're still really small and all, but I thought I'd at least reach out to you and give it a try. Take care...and please don't forward this to your golf buddies for a laugh. I'm too fragile."

Nope. I scratched the last sentence. I decided I wasn't going out like a punk.

I wrote it again. "Take care...and hope to hear from you soon."

"I'm sure Mike's assistant will make quick work of disposing of this," I thought as I sent it off.

I was stunned to receive a message from Mike. "Hey, that sounds great. I read the blog on your site, and really liked it. My seven-year-old-son and I were HUGE fans of the '83 Sixers. A career highlight was making commercials with Dr. J. Why don't we grab coffee or something?"

"Uh...sure," was the gist of what I pounded back.

A week later, I'm in the Martin Agency lobby for my meeting with the great Mike Hughes. This thing has gotten way too out of hand, and I'm wondering how they'd gracefully lead me out. An assistant would come down for sure. And she'd tell me that there had been a terrible mistake, and the process had broken down, and it's completely against protocol for someone of my modest stature to contact Mike Hughes directly.

What's more, she'd inform me that it's an even greater breach for him to type his own e-mails and respond. She'd state firmly that Mike Hughes is off shooting a spot in Europe anyway, so of course there can be no meeting. And she'd conclude by asking if I couldn't just enjoy some lobby mints and quickly be on my way before any further confusion was caused.

Instead, Mike Hughes himself comes ambling down the stairs with a notepad and a pen. He smiles broadly and gives me a hearty handshake. "I like the coffee shop right over here...let's just step in."

Neither of us drink coffee, ironically enough, but we grab drinks, sit outside and I give him my story. We talk a little bit about the industry and our careers, and diversity. As unpretentiously as I've ever heard it addressed, Mike says, "We've done a pretty poor job on diversity as an industry and we've got to do better. Anyway, why don't we just brainstorm on some ways that we can work together."

And with that, Mike Hughes took out his notepad and pen, and I kicked around ideas with an advertising legend for 45 minutes.

You know some people talk about the case for diversity ad nauseam. They've got all the right rhetoric and frameworks, but none of the resolve or passion to make a difference.

Mike addressed diversity in only one sentence that day, but his actions speak volumes.

Walk around the Martin agency one day. You'll see black people in leadership positions. They don't brag about it. They just do it. I respect the hell out of that.

And Mike and his team have done some tremendous business development for us. We may even partner on some future projects. But you know what I value more than anything else? The fact that Mike took the time to talk to me that day. No agenda. No request to kiss the ring. Just genuine human compassion.

You know, sometimes the world can really get you down. War. Flooding. Recessions. Gas prices gone haywire.

But by some strange twist of fate, if you ever get the opportunity, I strongly encourage you to experience two of the best things going in the world today. An after-church brunch with the most beautiful woman to ever grace God's earth -- my Mother... and 4:00 coffee with one of the good guys in advertising -- Mike Hughes.
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