5 Marketing & Life Lessons I Learned From ‘Quarterback’

5 Marketing & Life Lessons I Learned From ‘Quarterback’

If you spend as much as 30 seconds with me you will know that I love sports analogies. So when I watched Netflix‘s new NFL documentary series “Quarterback” I couldn’t help but relate some of the content to our world of marketing. If you are unfamiliar with the program, the premise takes you into the lives of three very different NFL quarterbacks in three very different situations:

  • Patrick Mahomes, the two time NFL Champion and face of the NFL.
  • Kirk Cousins, a top quarterback who has yet to win the big game.
  • Marcus Mariota, a once top NFL prospect who is struggling to find a grip as a starter.

Within the 8-episode series we learn about what drives each of these quarterbacks on and off the field over the course of the 2022 season. I found myself engaged in what they do on the field, but much more engaged with the mental grind and personal triumphs they are tasked with to be a leader in their sport. Here are five things that I learned:

Warning: This article contains show spoilers beyond this point

1. Confidence is Everything

Marcus Mariota goes into detail about his time with the Tennessee Titans. Coming out of Oregon as a top draft pick, Mariota had the weight of the world on his shoulders to not only succeed but be one of the top quarterbacks in the league. While there he faced mixed results, which eventually led to him being benched. Mariota describes the feeling of being benched, ridiculed, and how it led to him losing his love for football. He explains that when you lose your confidence in sports you lose your edge.

I could certainly relate to this in the marketing world. As marketers we are held responsible to create exceptional marketing plans, deliver on a variety of accounts, and sometimes the first people seen as responsible for ROI. It’s not a job for those who are unwilling to take criticism. But at the same time there are circumstances (especially in a recession) where I see marketers losing their love for this game. I can point to two distinct points of my career where I felt I started to struggle to love the game like I used to. It’s something that no matter how hard you fight, you can’t just bring it back overnight.

Mariota would describe that after leaving the Tennessee Titans he became the backup quarterback for the Las Vegas Raiders. It was then that he rediscovered his love for the sport, albeit in a backup role. This correlation goes strongly with marketing in how sometimes a change of scenery can go a long way. It might not be the starting position, the lifetime role, or might even be a step back. But if it’s right for your mental health and right for you at this moment, it can bring your love back to an industry that doesn’t always love you back. A reminder to always prioritize you!

2. “If my critics saw me walking on water, they would say it’s because I can’t swim”

Kirk Cousins has perhaps been one of the most debated quarterbacks over the last several years. He has done everything a quarterback can do in the regular season. He’s an MVP candidate, top passer, a leader for the Minnesota Vikings. Yet, he gets the criticism a lot of top athletes receive. “Kirk Cousins can’t win the big game.”

This resonates with me strongly in my career. I’ve had success everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve built programs from scratch, managed successful teams, shown I can drive ROI, and build successful relationships. Yet, as we know in marketing there are always naysayers! “Sure Andy can be successful on these accounts, but has he handled these types of budgets?” “Can Andy work for a larger company, is there a reason he hasn’t won at this level?” Naysayers will always exist.

Cousins addresses that he knows that he has a lot of critics. He’s candid, understands where they come from, and how he keeps working to answer the call. He has one quote that stuck with me. “If my critics saw me walking on water, they would say it’s because I can’t swim.” This couldn’t be anymore true. While he wants to achieve more, he knows that there are critics that just will never be on his side. And that’s okay, that’s how life is. There will always be critics to what we do in marketing, there is no possible way to please everyone. In conjunction with our first lesson about confidence, I think it’s important to decipher the difference between constructive criticism and critics. When we can push the critics as far away in our brain as possible it frees our mind up for success.

3. Trust the Process

During Patrick Mahomes second run at a Super Bowl he had to accomplish it without former top wide receiver Tyreek Hill. In the offseason Hill had moved on to the Miami Dolphins as a free agent. In his absence, Mahomes had to re-establish the Kansas City Chiefs as a top offense in the league. At first it wasn’t easy working with new receivers. The Chiefs faced a lot of criticism early in the season that their offense wasn’t the same without Hill.

In the marketing world we have faced changes to team sizes, leadership roles, and companies as a whole that have made our teams look really different in 2023. I think anytime that changes take place it might lead to some immediate defeats, but it also doesn’t have to be forever. In the documentary Mahomes explains how losing Hill had to change his mindset. He was forced to work with new teammates, new plays, simplifying strategy, and ultimately prevailing as the NFL MVP and Super Bowl Champion.

4. There Has to be More

In the first round of the NFL playoffs Kirk Cousins suffered yet another early exit from playoff contention. His Minnesota Vikings were eliminated by the New York Giants in a down to the wire finish. Following the defeat the cameras kept rolling on Cousins as he returned home.

Visibly broken up by this loss Cousins describes how hard it’s going to be to bounce back from this defeat and start all over again next season. When he gets home he sees his two kids and you couldn’t tell if he had just won a Super Bowl or been eliminated. He embraced the love from his children, spent time with them and had reading time with his son just hours after defeat. It was a heartwarming moment to see the love that Cousins had in his household even at his lowest point. But what stuck with me even more is how he was still there for his son and read a book together following the loss. It showed to me how we as marketers have to embrace life outside of work. Our work can be full of triumphs, ups, downs, but our family life is another part of life that is even more important. Are you present even after a tough loss? Cousins really opens his human side in this documentary, and it was inspiring to see him in this light.

5. What Could I Have Done Better?

In the documentary all three quarterbacks discuss what it’s like to fail on the biggest stage. They all talk about how sometimes they remember the things they did wrong during a game more than what they did right. Mahomes could throw 10 straight touchdown passes, but he will remember the one interception he threw.

I think about this in marketing and the campaigns I’ve run. I’d like to believe I’ve hit on much more than I’ve missed on. But no marketer would be honest if they’ve said they hit on everything 100% of the time. There are campaigns I ran two, four, six years ago I still think about. If I would have just done this, or had that, or tried this. There’s no amount of success that makes you not sometimes think about these campaigns. But I’ve gotten to a healthier place where I can sleep at night knowing that each of these moments were learning experiences, chances for my team and myself to learn.

I think it’s also a great reminder to leadership that even the best athletes fail in key times. Tell your employees you trust them even when they fail. Give them a forum to discuss where things went right and went wrong. Let them have the grace and freedom to experiment and/or fail. Because just like in the NFL, nobody can win the big game of marketing by only playing it safe.



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