Play Nice

Forget cutthroat--what you need is a little sugar and spice.
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This story appears in the September 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Linda Kaplan Thaler is the woman behind "I Don't Wanna Grow Up, I'm a Toys 'R' Us Kid." As CEO and chief creative officer of 10-year-old Kaplan Thaler Group Inc., Kaplan Thaler has been responsible for current advertising hits like the AFLAC duck. The agency is one of the fastest-growing in America.


Kaplan Thaler says the secret of her success is simple: She's nice and cultivates a corporate culture of niceness. In The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness, Kaplan Thaler, with co-author Robin Koval, explains why kindness pays in today's increasingly cutthroat business world.


Entrepreneur: Advertising is a savagely competitive industry. How have you been able to use niceness to your advantage?

Linda Kaplan Thaler: [There is] a zero-sum attitude in our culture that [says]: Unless you lose, I can't win. But we have found being collaborative makes us more successful. Think of Samsung and Sony, two arch-rivals, getting together to build the flat-screen TV.

We had an instance where a client had us and another agency working on pieces of an ad campaign. We presented first, and the people from the other agency were pretty stone-faced. They saw us as rivals. Then they presented, and they did a great presentation. So we applauded when it was over.


The client called me the next day and ended up giving us more business. And one or two of the people who worked at the other ad agency eventually came over to our company.

People are getting the wrong message, watching reality shows where people [practically] have to eat their young to stay on the island. We say, "Live mean, die young."

Entrepreneur: What about when a company is the victim of negative ads or word-of-mouth from a rival--how can you prevail without stooping to retaliation?

Kaplan Thaler: We live in such a digital world that if you do something malicious, it gets posted on the internet and goes everywhere and backfires--look at Don Imus.

I've had several times where we were badmouthed by somebody. I make it a point not to retaliate. When we lose [some] business, we say to the client, "We really wish you success with the other agency." It surprises the clients, and sometimes they end up coming back to us in the future.

Mean is so last millennium. You can't afford it. Nice is the new mean.

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