And stay nice doing it
On July 1, 2007, this strange and happy thing known today as Risdall Advertising Agency begins its 36th year in business. Recently, the agency staff was encouraged—via a stash of copies ordered by John Risdall personally—to read The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness, by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, respectively CEO/chief creative officer and president of The Kaplan Thaler Group. These high-powered women make of point of treating everyone, from junior-level employees to senior-level clients, with kindness and respect.
The book was an inspiration and a validation. Like any organization, we have our share of frustrations, but there’s an overriding culture of niceness here. Not just passive-aggressive “Minnesota nice,” but a sense of people feeling at home professionally in a competitive, ever-changing business. Some employees, clients and vendors recognize this special quality immediately and naturally. Others have a striking moment of revelation. A new employee attending the agency’s holiday party a few years ago, for example, announced to anyone within earshot, “You people actually like each other!”
In the 1980s, no more than a dozen or so people populated “John Risdall & Associates.” No receptionist. No computers. One copy machine. Occasionally an illustrator friend or a local small business owner would wander in to have an art director shoot a stat. An unconventional culture of having fun and being nice was always evident. A never-ending supply of doughnuts, group lunches and fantastic holiday gifts made every client, vendor and employee feel like a valued associate—like a friend.
These days, we’re a little too big for agency-wide lunches (though they do occasionally happen), but our unconventional culture is perhaps even more deeply ingrained. Sometimes having fun and being nice manifests through little treats and surprises—an array of candies on the conference table or a surprise dessert party in the middle of a winter afternoon. Always, when a prospect informs us that another agency has won the pitch, we reply with warm regards and good wishes. When we perform well and behave graciously, coming in second usually means that some work, if not necessarily agency-of-record status, eventually flows in our direction.
Niceness has worked for the billion-dollar Kaplan Thaler agency. And so far, it has worked for Risdall Advertising Agency. In fact, we’ve created a book about our culture, too, and you’re invited to read a PDF version.