Being on AMC's "The Pitch": When a loss is not a loss.

Well, now all of America knows — at least the millions who watched AMC’s “The Pitch.” We lost.

Or did we?


I’ve gotten so much feedback from my quotes at the end of the episode where they showed us playing pickup basketball at a local YMCA. There I said it’s not about winning or losing, it’s not about the outcome.

I have John Wooden, former UCLA men’s basketball coach, to thank for that. A sports legend who never lived by the words “winning” or “losing” but whose legacy was built on an unsurpassed 10 national championships and winning streaks that most thought would never be broken.

The analogy resonates because it’s so completely opposite to what you’d expect from the greatest coach ever in the history of sports. And so completely opposite to what you’d expect from an ad guy who makes his living fighting to the death in every pitch.

For Coach Wooden, it was all about preparation, practice and routine. Not the actual game. The game was the result of how well the team replicated what they did in practice.

For us, that “practice” is our strategic rigor, our creative process, and the execution of our thinking. Our pitch is merely the culmination of what we’ve done the weeks beforehand.

To Wooden, score didn’t matter. Effort did. Our “score” in a pitch is thoroughly subjective, swayed by personal whim, politics and things that have nothing to do with objectivity or what’s “right.” Score matters little to me.

(Although I’ve enjoyed the “score” associated with AMC’s Poll “Who Should’ve Won?” based on the votes of thousands of viewers. It’s about as objective as I’ll ever see in a pitch.)


Coach Wooden tried to keep his team focused on what they could control. He didn’t worry about the other team, because neither he nor the players could control what the opponents would do.

It’s the same with advertising. If you worry about what the other agency is doing for a pitch, you take your eye off the ball and off your game. McKinney is a terrific agency. It could have been very easy to get hung up on what they might do.

At WONGDOODY, fundamentally, we are good team players. We treat each other with respect. We work without egos. People have commented, “It looks like you’re having fun and that everyone gets along.” We are, and we do.

Our “Creative Democracy™”, however hokey or idealistic it may sound, creates an atmosphere where everyone contributes, because everyone needs to play a role in the strategic and creative process.


This is the thinking of Zen master Phil Jackson, the greatest coach in NBA history. At a press conference after a Lakers playoff game, Kobe Bryant was asked whether he felt pressure taking the winning shot with no time left on the clock, a shot he ultimately made.

“No. Phil teaches us to stay in the moment and not to worry about the outcome.”

Imagine what might have been running through our minds with the cameras rolling during internal creative sessions:

“How glorious it would be to win the Subway assignment in front of millions. Showing the world how brilliant we are!”

Or “How humiliating it would be to lose on the grandest scale possible! Not just to a room full of clients. But to millions! We would be the laughingstock of the entire ad industry.”

The best outcome occurs when you stay in the moment and think only about the task at hand. Court Crandall and I tried to keep everyone focused the way Jackson did with the Lakers. Basketball shooting percentages and creative thinking go hand in hand. Our culture prevents us from throwing up creative air balls.


Coach Wooden also said, “Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”

We always say in pitches, “Go BIG. Or go home.” Matt McCain and Chris Berry took that to heart and created zAMbies. I knew the zAMbies idea was a long shot, and that it would be WAY outside the client’s comfort zone. But I felt it had the best chance of breaking 18-to-24-year-olds out of their habit of sleepwalking through breakfast. I felt it was the right thing to do.

There were guts in zAMbies. Not rotting-flesh guts, but do-something-unexpected guts. I loved that about the campaign.


Our sole mission in any pitch is not to “win.” It’s about leveraging strong agency culture to produce the best ideas possible. Of all Coach Wooden’s lessons, this seems the most appropriate to end with.

“Success is peace of mind in knowing you did your best.”

Amen to that, Coach Wooden.