A League Of Our Own

Now that Super Bowl XXXIX and the Pro Bowl have been completed, the 2004-05 NFL season is officially over. And also coming to a close is a widely known fan-participation phenomena: fantasy football. Some estimates suggest as many as 30 million Americans are active in fantasy football.

As we fantasy players prepare for football withdrawal and anticipate waiting another year to draft rosters and debate the virtues of Manning vs. Culpepper, it made me contemplate another fantasy sport: fantasy new business.

Imagine a fantasy league of agency new-business pitch teams. You create a roster of agency all-stars and compete against teams drafted by co-workers. Points are tallied by keeping track of actual agency wins. Maybe the 4A’s could create a Web site and oversee the league.

Think of the draft-party debates. What’s the key position to draft—creative or planner? Whom do you make your No. 1 choice—Bogusky or Donny? Perhaps we also draft consultants and score points for pitches they run?

For those of us involved in business development, putting together the right pitch hardly seems like fantasy. So as I head into football withdrawal, I thought I’d share some observations gleaned from fantasy football and agency pitches. The lessons of success are similar.

Strong roster. There is perhaps no greater truth than the need to put the right team on the field. Seasoned players. All capable of open-field running. Yet understanding—and content with —their individual assignments. And don’t overlook the need to exhibit great team chemistry. In the end, this team of all stars must perform as an all-star team.

Savvy coach. A team is only as inspired as its leader. Whether leading fantasy or new business, smart, demanding coaches get the most out of their teams. Successful leaders nurture a team’s personalities and create a winning spirit.

Respect your opponent. Before each game, review the opponent’s roster and recent performance. Use this information to set game strategies. It’s critical to understand an opponent’s strengths and vulnerabilities, to factor in a team’s momentum, to use the element of surprise in one’s playbook.

Four quarters. Hot starts don’t make for strong finishes. A good capabilities meeting isn’t enough. It takes four full quarters of effort to score the victory. Grab the lead. Play to win each quarter. And avoid the need to throw a desperation Hail Mary to pull out the victory.

Fundamentals. A fumble can be costly. Know the fundamentals; practice them. Always do your homework before the meeting. Know the people before they walk into the room. Understand the brand and its challenges. Show interest. Build the relationship from the first moment of contact. Prove in every conversation and every meeting that yours is the team to best handle their business. It’s a game of inches—and often these little things add up to the margin of victory.

Hard work. Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said it best: “Winning means you’re willing to go longer, work harder and give more than anyone else.” A 2003 Indiana University study suggests that an average fantasy football team owner spends 15 hours a week managing a roster and watching games. If what seems like an excessive 15 hours is average, imagine the time your league champion spent. New business is no different. Consistent success calls for a fanatical dedication and focus. From the RFP stage to tissue session to final. The agency that wins is the one that outworks and out-thinks the others.

Strong regimen. It’s important to have a practice regimen. These lessons have helped hone our game. And our recent win record is enviable. Even when we occasionally fall short, we still show respectably. Your methods may be different. To that we say fine—we’ll see you on the field.

So what do you say, fantasy fans? Wanna put together a league?