It was the late ‘70s on a warm autumn day in the far reaches of northern New York. The sun glinted off an island of speckled white sand, framed by well-worn boards coated with a fresh, glossy application of spinach green paint.

I’d arrived at the sandbox, only to hear the voice of my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Garman behind me: “Play nicely with each other, kids. I’ll know if you don’t.”

Years later, those simple words of wisdom still hold true in a different type of sandbox altogether – the multi-agency account. Think back to what you probably heard as a five-year-old, and apply them to your world today:

“There are enough toys for everyone.” Sure, you want to earn some good revenue and make a fair profit on the services you’re providing, but stop making those desperate grasps to steal budget allocations or assignments from another firm. Give your client some credit — if there wasn’t room enough for all of you to have a role, you wouldn’t have been invited to play.

“Take turns.” I know, we all love ourselves, our teammates and our work. But you can’t always be in the limelight. Let the other agencies shine when they genuinely deserve the attention, and compliment them on hard-fought wins.

“Stop your whining.” You lost a piece of the business to another firm? Or a portion of “your” budget was reallocated to another project? Keep your head up and your mouth closed. Clients notice how you react when the chips don’t fall your way, and they base future decisions in part on your character.

“Don’t destroy. Build.” You’ve seen a good idea or an unformed flash of brilliance from another player? Add to it, working with them to craft a better, stronger sand castle. You’ll win points for genuinely caring for your client’s business, versus solely trying to increase your own stake in the game.

“Look out for your friends.” Is there a bully in the box? Band together to keep him at bay until he adapts to the rules.

“Keep that sand in your hand.” It’s too easy to take potshots at a competitor or fling sand in their eyes in a moment of weakness. Operate with class and respect for those around you — insult them, and you insult your client who put them there.

So the next time you’re tempted to plunge the knife into a fellow agency on a shared account, pause and let the image of your kindergarten teacher fill your mind. If a group of sugared-up five-year-olds can figure out how to play together, I’d only hope we could do the same.

Originally published Feb 6, 2012 1:00:40 AM, updated December 02 2014