How to Win a Tour de France (and a client pitch)


Being an avid cyclist—and by avid, I really mean fanatic—there was no way I was going to miss Sir David Brailsford, manager of British cycling’s Team Sky, talk at Cannes. His talk was entitled, “Play to Win: Disruptive Tactics, Reinventing the Field of Play.”

As I sat there in the Grand Audi, anxious to hear from the manager of my favorite team, I found myself asking the same thing you’re probably asking, “What does pro cycling have to do with advertising?” As it turns out, quite a bit.

I need to back up for a second and give you a quick history lesson. Cycling is HUGE in Great Britain, but for the past few decades Britain hasn’t done well on the global stage when compared to Spain or Italy. When Sir David Brailsford started Team Sky, his goal was simple: create the first British team to win the Tour de France. He said, “Give me five years.” And the cycling world laughed. But it didn’t take five years; Team Sky did it in three years. In fact, they won back-to-back Tours with Sir Bradley Wiggins winning in 2012 and Chris Froome winning in 2013.

When asked about his incredible success, Sir David made three simple points:

  •   •  Set a goal
  •   •  Have a plan
  •   •  Execute

I can hear you saying, “No duh, Captain Obvious.” Sir David made that same point—every cycling team will tell you the same three things. So how did he succeed? He said it came down to part three: execution. Often, we set a goal, create a well-thought-out, thorough plan, but somehow get lost along the way when trying to execute.

Sir David told the story of how the team really wanted to break the one-hour cycling record. They spent months and months crafting a game plan. Hours and hours on the track working it out, talking to sports doctors and experts, meticulously crafting the right plan of attack. They felt good about their chances. “If we follow this plan,” Sir David said, “we will break the record.”

The night before the attempt, someone on the team said, “There’s going to be a lot of great riders out there tomorrow. What if another team breaks the record before we do? We’ll have to go faster than we’ve ever gone in practice.” There was an instant panic. What should we do? Well, we could change this, or tweak that… David calmly said to everyone in the room, “We’ve been working on this for months, practiced, talked to the experts and we know what it takes. We are sticking to our plan.”

The next day, they went to the track, stuck to their plan and broke the world record.

So, I’d actually add a fourth point to his list:

  •   •  Confidence

In the end, he may have only been talking about cycling, but if you replace “Tours” and “cyclists” with “client pitches” and “creatives”, you’ll see a very familiar story.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t make changes or tweaks at the eleventh hour, but be careful not to get caught up in the last-minute craziness and stick to your plan. You don’t want to nullify all of the effort and preparation you and your team put in.

Absolute perfection is a myth, but if you set a goal, have a plan and execute with confidence, you’ll succeed. Because that’s what winners do.

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