Why Nice Companies Finish First

Peter Shankman is a self-admitted workaholic. The founder of Help A Reporter Out (HARO), author and serial entrepreneur says for too long his work was his life.

"I have a blast doing what I'm doing. I have a great time doing it, but I also realize there's a middle ground," Shankman says. "You have to have a better life. And you can only do so many of one thing for [a limited] matter of time."

Shankman's famous work ethic shows itself in his latest project, Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over -- and Collaboration Is In (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) -- his second book in the past three years.

Written while managing a busy PR firm, professional speaking schedule, and the waning days of his HARO involvement (more on that in a moment), Shankman argues that businesses need to be nicer to both employees and customers.

"The authoritarian days of Jack Welch and Gordon Gecko have really ended," says Shankman. "The companies that are a little bit nicer to their customers are the ones that are going to be talked about and who are going to be explored more, and as such, they will actually wind up being more profitable."

Social media has made it easier for consumers and employees to talk to one another and weed out bad -- or rude -- companies. "When I buy something I no longer just go to the store to see if they have it. I check out the store. I see what my friends are doing. I go online. It's never been easier to find information and to choose what companies you want to purchase from."

Shankman says social media has essentially allowed a return to a simpler time.

"In the 1950s we had sewing circles. Dads would go off to work and Moms would sit around and they'd gossip. They'd talk to their friends about what butcher served the best cuts of meat or what bakers served the best breads."

As more women started working outside of the home and the sewing circle tradition died out, consumers were left largely to their own devices, says Shankman.

Today, Social media allows Moms -- and Dads -- to join groups and share opinions about businesses in a way that hasn't happened since the 1950s. "That sewing circle is really back now. It's back in terms of people being online and people really sharing information." Companies must be nice, says Shankman, because if they aren't, people will hear about it -- instantly.

For companies that want to become nice, Shankman advises to start with listening. "Listen to what your audience is saying, what your company is saying, what your customers are saying," says Shankman. "You react based on that."

Companies also must recognize they cannot manipulate public opinion any more than can they control forces of nature, according to Shankman. "No one can control the direction of the wind. It's never been easier for your customers to go somewhere else. They can simply walk away."

After listening, Shankman says companies should focus on providing good customer service. Shankman half-jokingly says the majority of consumers expect to receive "crap" from most companies. "One level above crap will get you customers for the long-term. Treat them well and you are looking at customers who are going to go out and tell the world how awesome you are."

Shankman says companies should commit themselves to "enlightened self-interest" - focusing on more than just the bottom line. "It can't be about you anymore. The more you make it about your customers or even your employees, [the better]. Doing something for the greater good has a higher level of financial return."

Niceties aside, Shankman is focusing on the future. He recently parted amicably with the company that purchased HARO in 2010, Vocus, Inc. He is becoming a father for the first time in April. And he has a new company still in silent mode.

Even if he does take on so many projects it will make your head spin, Shankman doesn't apologize for one thing.

"I'm still having a great time," says Shankman. "There is a lot of exciting things coming down the pike. At the end of the day, if I am having a good time, I've done well."