Goodbye Jim. Farewell Mike. Thoughts on the passing of two decent men in advertising.

December 17, 2013


A couple advertising men passed away last week. Jim Schmidt was a copywriter by trade and co-founder of Downtown Partners, a creative boutique within the DDB matrix in Chicago. Mike Hughes was also a creative director and, in addition, a founding member of the Martin Agency in Richmond, Virginia. I wasn’t a friend to either of these fine gentlemen but I most certainly knew who they were, having judged awards shows with Jim and attended AAAA functions in which Mike was a key player.

Moreover, I was a fan of their work. Both Jim and Mike were advertising craftsmen in the best sense of the word. They cared about words. They sweated the details. More than anything, they liked to work on the work. I could be wrong but I don’t think either man identified with being bosses and politicians. They liked to make stellar copy for clients who appreciated it. I think of the Martin Agency’s work for Saab. I think of Jim’s fable-like commercials for Walgreens. Frankly, there are more and better examples but I don’t want to write specifically about advertising copy.

Two very decent men died. Two husbands. Two fathers. They weren’t old men either. Cancer took them both before their time. The say no one is promised tomorrow but Jim and Mike got robbed.

Jim Schmidt, gone too soon.

Being a Chicago native I had more in common with Jim. When Jim left Euro RSCG (now Havas) to begin Downtown Partners in 2004 I had the dubious job of replacing him. Fortunately, we had other things in common besides that particular challenge. Both of us copywriters, we were more or less from the same advertising class, lived and worked in the same city, even competed. I adored Jim’s candor and piercing wit. Loved it when he took me to task for something I’d written or said. He followed this blog and was free with his comments and, as I’ve said, not all of them were flattering! His biting Facebook posts were legendary. Jim adored the Beatles with a teenager’s passion. He loved music. He had heart. We weren’t buddies by most definitions but I will miss you. (AdAge Story)

Mr. Hughes was more like my father (who also started his own agency, RPA) than me. Judging from the loving tribute his agency made for him, Mike was considerably more than just a hard worker and popular guy. He was a patriarch: stable, warm and special. I imagine he was an exemplary mentor to countless lucky writers and budding advertising professionals. I bet he was a father figure to many.

Clearly, both men had above average talent. Well above. Whether one considers either a “legend” I will leave alone. I doubt either man would have cared for the distinction let alone aspired to it. I know Jim loathed sizzle and self-promotion, banking his career primarily on substance, even as our business grew more hyperbolic and social. Similarly, Mike cared more about others than himself. His consistent involvement with the VCU Brandcenter is but a tiny proof point.

This isn’t a suitable eulogy for Jim or Mike. These are just impressions of two lives. But here’s the thing. Upon hearing of the sad news I could not stop thinking about these two guys. Nor could I write about anything else until I wrote about them.

8 Responses to “Goodbye Jim. Farewell Mike. Thoughts on the passing of two decent men in advertising.”

  1. Dan Fietsam said

    Stef, excellent post. We get caught up in all the day to day bullshit and I hate that something like this has to remind us that the long term impact on people is the most important thing. Jim will be missed in a big way, especially here in Chicago. The funny thing is, I can’t help hearing his ghost wisecracks, commenting on all the attention his passing is getting.

  2. Really thought your retrospect on the impact these colleagues had for you was well done Stef, causing me to review and learn about them – they seem like the real deal. And it made me want to be an ad man…

  3. Ken Schoendorf said

    I worked for Jim both at MSSB and Euro RSCG McConnaughy Tatham. He was the greatest boss I’ve ever had. If he believed in you, he would encourage you and pull strings to get you to where you wanted to be. I was the sole person in broadcast there. He was instrumental in me becoming a Producer. I learned so much from him, and not just from when I was chosen to clear his desk & table until you could actually see the wood grain in his office at MSSB :), but by watching a master of subtlety in TV & radio production. I knew Jim had started Downtown Partners, but I was surprised to learn it was an off shoot of DDB, as I went to Element79 (smaller DDB shop a floor below DDB Chicago) and then another small DDB shop a floor below DDB San Fran. And, in fact, just learned of his passing now. I wish I would have stayed in better contact. But when someone dies, I guess there’s a lot of ‘I wishes’. Thanks for writing the article, it was perfect.
    And fantastic work, by the way.

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