The Ad Community Saved My Life When I Had Covid

Support is mobilizing

I was not an obvious target for Covid-19. I’m 49. I mountain bike. My family kept to ourselves and wore masks whenever we went outside. But a stray virus in a grocery store led to sniffles that led to the ICU in less than a week. 

I documented my decline in daily updates on Facebook. I only managed a few days’ worth of posts before my doctors intubated me and put me in a medical coma.

Three weeks later, I woke up. One of the first things my wife, Sunny, told me to do was to check my Facebook page. “Everybody is pitching in,” Sunny said. Sunny had posted every day while I was unconscious, and my friends had shared it with their networks. Thousands of people, many of whom I had never met, were following it.

Like most of you, I’d all but given up on Facebook. Social media failed us, but we failed each other, too. We became so overwhelmed from this place that we disappeared from each other. When this happened, though, I began to see: You were there the whole time.

Old friends. New friends. Drive-by acquaintances. Friends of friends. People I’d never met who were friends of people we’ve never met. For once, Facebook worked exactly as I’d always believed it was intended. People told me they kept their accounts just to check in.

These people mobilized for me and my family, and that support was driven almost entirely by the ad world. An officemate asked her parents’ Buddhist temple to pray for me, an employee reached out to a convent in Alabama and a content marketing teammate recruited a monastery in India. A former client had a group of rabbis dedicate a service to me, and more than a few atheist ad people said they’d prayed in their own fashion.

They supported us materially, in ways small and grand. Care packages came in from throughout the industry. Hundreds of people donated to my GoFundMe. My old crew at Deutsch LA took up a collection for a Grubhub certificate that kept my family fed daily for three straight months.

A client offered to pay an entire year’s retainer up front if it would help my company through the crisis. My team stepped up in ways that weren’t part of their jobs, including giving my wife power of attorney in the case that I never returned. Fellow PR practitioners offered to handle press pitches, and a consultant offered to come out of his paternity leave to support my business in my absence—all free of charge.

The messages

When my phone turned on for the first time in a month, it was filled with them. Telling me that I was strong, that I needed to return, that I had reason to hope. No one asked for a text back, giving me encouragement and a bit of room to heal.

I had great medical care, but doctors gave me even odds of survival and death. I learned that recovery hinges on all sorts of factors. Because of the pandemic, ICU patients are all alone, cut off from even family. That leads to delirium and cognitive decline, hopelessness and physical decline. Contact with the outside world gives patients an anchor.

Since I woke up, I’ve seen signs that this experience transformed others around me. I’ve seen clients cry when my face pops up on Zoom. To be within that community, and see all of that goodness in others, was as cathartic for them as it was for me.

This experience has taught me lessons, both mundane and profound. Being vulnerable opens many doors, especially in a pandemic world where we literally see into each other’s lives. It allows us to connect on a human level, which, in my experience, leads to trust and opportunity. 

I was reminded, once again, of the power of the story. We’re an industry of storytellers, but too often we forget the telling. We get wrapped up in the channel. For once, here was a story where the outcome wasn’t certain, one that gave people the chance to bring the story to a happy ending.

It’s about people

This isn’t just a creative industry, but one that rests entirely on the relationships we build. Clients come and go; so do agencies and brands. This crisis has given that view a much deeper meaning.

If we are an industry of people, though, we have to act like it. We have to treat our employees with respect and compassion. We have to take burnout seriously, even if that means changing our business models. We have to recognize inequity and fix it. We have to deal with partners fairly. 

In some ways, the pandemic has been a gift. Covid-19 has given us a shared tragedy, which can lead to shared purpose. But the people who surround us, healthy or not, are living little tragedies every day. We can’t see those tragedies, but if we approach our business with empathy and compassion, we can lift up others the way you lifted me.

There is kindness and love in our little world. I am, literally, living proof.