By Ryan Hawkins, Senior Vice President, FSB Public Affairs
Back home, in Oklahoma City, I learned at a very early age that ‘bless your heart’ doesn’t actually mean, well…bless your heart. While it may come across as sincere, it’s also a euphemism used to nullify cruelty when decorum calls for something more polite.
This is the essence of “Midwest Nice” for public affairs when winning and losing matter. Many projects fail because they decide to bring in a firm from either coast that just doesn’t understand what it is like to live and work in the Midwest. Now, I know what you just did there, you rolled your eyes because of the “we do things a little different here” line. I too, hate that line, so let me explain what I mean by Midwest Nice.
Rule 1: Kill them with kindness. While I want to defeat my opponents, it is a delicate balancing act – you have to embrace your inner Bugs Bunny. What? Yeah, your inner Bugs Bunny. Remember when first introduced to the suave, sophisticated, out of towner Wile E Coyote? He had all the moves, he knew exactly how to accomplish what he wanted to do, but Bugs destroyed him every time and occasionally planted a giant kiss right on his face. (Note: I’m not suggesting anyone plant a kiss on someone – especially without their consent – this is purely a mental exercise.) That’s the mindset you need – kill them with kindness; make your opponent question themselves time and again: “why are they being nice to me?” Do that and it puts them on their heels which allows you room to maneuver and while they are off wondering what in the hell is going on, you swoop in and win.
Rule 2: When competing for a proposal or against an opponent, remember the 3:1 ratio. Be nice, be nice, be nice – but then plant an evil seed. You are competing – this is not an ethics class. We are not going to say, ‘let the best firm win’ because let’s face it, you’re going to stand by your firm to ensure it’s the winner. If you have the opportunity to talk a little trash, do it, but be sure you’ve hidden it in a Midwest Nice way after you’ve complimented them on several occasions.
Rule 3: Support local charitable causes. Ok, sure, this is just a good thing to do regardless of the situation, but supporting local causes also gives you a tactical advantage when competing against an East or West coast firm. That school who needed a new science lab, you helped them. The organization that provided transportation for people needing a Covid vaccine, you drove the van. You are going to win karma points for doing good, while also conveying that the firm you are competing against didn’t do something for the community. Therefore, your competitor doesn’t understand how things are done around here, and if anyone hires them, well, they just don’t understand it either.
I want to win as much, if not more than anyone I know – golf, trivia nights, merging on the highway – I don’t care, I want to win. But I’ve learned through many failures and hearing the “bless your heart, we just decided to go in a different direction,” that using these simple rules have enhanced my arsenal. Midwest nice is a great tactic – defeat your opponent with a smile. Good luck!