When we first got into this business, we were both told, more than once, that we were "too nice to work in advertising." We smiled politely but thought, WTF is that about?
For years we have witnessed our community endure the trope of toxic creative geniuses. People enable that behavior thinking it comes with the territory, but is that really true?
And at what cost?
Research indicates that a toxic work environment was the single biggest predictor of attrition—10 times more powerful than wages!—during the Great Resignation, better known as The Great Reassessment. Just last month, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a warning against toxic workplaces, linking them to consequences for both mental and physical health. He also noted a marked rise in respondents reporting trouble focusing at work.
Personally, we have always found we do our best work when we are relaxed, feel psychologically safe and have some laughs. Because we find it both pleasant and productive, we have always tried to foster this kind of environment for the people around us.
Dare we say we were nice before it was cool? :)
For us, niceness—empathy, mutual respect, humility—has always been in style and we've been drawn to collaborate with people who feel the same.
Since we're feeling chuffed about being ahead of (what we hope to be) a niceness trend, here's a list of 10 things that nearly two decades of being "too nice" made possible:
- ILYFN, a short documentary film that toured the festival circuit. Listening to our director Finn O'Hara's ideas made for a captivating concept. (+DP Stuart Campbell!) When it came to editing, it was so impressively cut by Melanie Hider, we dropped our egos and said "no changes." And it's been viewed over 2 million times on YouTube alone.
- Bathing people in pink paint for the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, which beat the MoMA (NY) for Best Museum Branding in an international show the year it launched (among other awards, but that's our favorite). Mark Zibert worked with us from the conceptual stage and together we made memorable work.
- A limited-edition chair with Umbra. We graciously accepted an introduction to Matt Carr, now VP of design, and said, "Let's make a chair together." He said yes.
- Leading Lexus, driving business. Working in stride with our exceptional strategy, media and account team. We even got ourselves on the nice list by redesigning Santa's sleigh as a Lexus concept car.
- Fibre 1 commercials featuring Beck Bennett just before he got his spot on Saturday Night Live. Our director, Benji Weinstein, said he "knew a guy" and we said, "Ya, let's see him!"
- Podcasts for Country Harvest challenging the persistent gendered concept of "breadwinners." With kindness, we gave people the space to be themselves and it was reflected in authentic, honest, provocative content.
- Delivering gold coffee beans to every AmEx Business Gold Rewards Card holder so they could "get up and gold" with gold coffee. Truly, a collaborative team delivered.
- Intersections—an interactive data-visualization art piece that showed at Nuit Blanche and attracted thousands of participants. Our innovation crew from that project still stays connected to hype each other up, talk about art, share future signals and trade skateboarding memes.
- Music. The geniuses who make music for this business deserve respect. There are virtuosos in our midst. When we're nice to them, the results can be pretty sweet. One time, with Didier Tovel from SNDWRx, we made a series of (NSFW) music videos to experiment with gamification and social media.
- Inklusive—a custom-made ink created to address a DEI data challenge. Fundamental to this process was listening, integrating the ideas of our collaborators (Matthew Progress artist, Jason Logan ink maker, Andras directors) to craft a human solution for a systemic issue.
In the book Humble Leadership, authors Edgar and Peter Schein outline some captivating points about the future of working together, including:
Organizations around the world are struggling with the increasing rate of change, the degree of global interconnectedness, multiculturalism, and the pace of technological advances … It is becoming obvious that keeping pace in this world will require teamwork and collaboration of all sorts … Leadership in this environment is categorically humbling because it is virtually impossible for an individual to accumulate enough knowledge to figure out all the answers.
Collaboration is no longer a nice-to-have, it's a necessity. If we want to work effectively, efficiently, innovatively—we need to genuinely play nice. Especially since our industry is a thrilling blend of A.I., product design, real-virtual, content, events, everything. Let's learn from recent themes like quiet quitting and actual mental-health awareness. It's finally time to flip the script on this business's nice-guys-finish-last narrative. Here's to the nice folks and all the amazingly nice work we can do together.
Have a nice day,
Josh and Caitlin