You're Ugly and Your Mother Dresses You Funny

How to Change Our Culture of Meanness

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Meredith Vaughan
Meredith Vaughan
What is it about life today that makes it easier to be mean than to be nice? Are we more programmed than ever before to tear down rather than build up? Does it seem to you that the advertising industry as a whole is one in which we celebrate other people's failures more than we celebrate their successes?

And, seriously, haven't we all had enough of the anonymous postings on industry blogs, tearing down agencies, the work they do and even (by name) the people who do it?

Why are we, as agencies, so nasty to each other?

I say, enough is enough.

I think it's time that we stop the bickering, back-stabbing, and mean-spiritedness that seems to have overtaken the industry. There are no cameras rolling and it's doubtful that a reality-TV producer will be calling any time soon. Being competitive does not mean we have to be cutthroat. It's time to take a deep breath and examine what's really important.

We need to institute an industry-wide policy of niceness. Of respect. And recognition that we're all working our knuckles to the bone for the same thing -- success -- however we define it. A code of courtesy and good sportsmanship that will lead to civil, if not downright pleasant, interactions between agencies. A reminder that one agency's success does not necessarily dictate another's demise (or initiate a string of nasty, anonymous postings that do nothing but make everyone involved look like petulant children).

My philosophy has always been, let's celebrate each other, just as we celebrate the good work that comes out of our own shops. Let's focus on elevating all of our games, instead of tearing each other down. One tangible example of how I bring this to life for my agency is the way we handle losing new-business pitches. That's right -- losing. I think we can all agree that winning new business is much better than losing -- especially since we all know how difficult and expensive the new biz process is. However, I would rather be a gracious loser than an arrogant winner. I always -- no matter what -- take the simple step of contacting the winner of competitive reviews in which we participate to congratulate that agency. I make a point of talking to the competitive shop about the work they do that I admire and let them know how glad I was to have competed against them. If there is something I think they do particularly well, I tell them that too.

I do this not only because it's the nice thing to do but also out of respect and recognition for the hard work that the competitive agency put into getting the business. It's my own personal Namaste to my colleagues in the industry -- a way to acknowledge that we are on separate, yet similar, paths.

But it's not just in the new business arena that a code of niceness would benefit our agencies. Think about these things ...

It's a small world after all.
I encounter the same folks over and over again -- sometimes they're on the client side, sometimes on the agency side. And sometimes they're on the other side of the table in an RFP. Regardless of where they are, they're likely to have long memories. And they'll remember if I've behaved like a class act or a bully from some teenage flick.

Monkey see, monkey do.
Ever have a child repeat something you said when you didn't even think he was listening? It's always a curse word, right? Never "please" or "thank you"? The same thing can happen with your team. By bashing a fellow agency, we're demonstrating to our colleagues that this is appropriate behavior. What's to stop them from doing the same thing next time they butt heads with another employee, their boss or worse yet, a client? This kind of behavior can be toxic to any company -- eroding the trust that's needed to do truly mind-blowing work.

It's easier than you think to miss the big picture.
When we behave poorly towards each other, we isolate ourselves. We start to operate in our own little world, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone around us. And we miss the opportunity to learn from other's successes and failures, which can be costly, time consuming and brain damaging for everyone involved, especially in our industry that's moving at the speed of light.

Don't we have anything better to do?
Let's face it, we're busy enough as it is. Wouldn't the time and energy we spend acting like cast members of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" be better spent creating great work, and ultimately pushing the image of the small agency forward? Could our collective effort make our industry take special note of the firepower of what small agencies are capable of?

The more we get together, together, together...
By being better peers to each other, we create an environment for cultivating networks that can breathe life into something in a way that couldn't be done if we tackled it on our own. We can become much more powerful when we put down the boxing gloves and step into the ring together -- pooling our resources, capabilities and experience. Like most of my posts, I have to reference an old adage: Two heads are better than one. Let's face it, it's a little stale, but true as ever.

And, if none of the reasons above inspire you, then let's all start being nicer for the sake of being nicer. One of Vladimir Jones' favorite sayings is, "A pretty fair way to judge someone is by how they treat people who can't do them any good." So it's a character thing. And an integrity thing. And the kind of thing that will let you rest in peace at the end of a long day.

Meredith Vaughan is president of Vladimir Jones, Colorado Springs, Colo.
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