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"We were a fortnight away from signing contracts and now we had nothing"

In late summer 2019, after 15 years in the sports industry I decided to start my own agency. It was the first time in a few years I had felt truly motivated, focused and genuinely excited for the next chapter.

I’d started my journey in the industry with agency roles at Frank PR followed by H&K Strategies, before moving in-house with adidas in time for London 2012 and then jumping into talent management in 2018.

Last year it felt that the time was right to put all of that experience on the table and try to create an agency designed for a social first sports industry.

I drew inspiration from my love of boxing and opted for the name “Pound for Pound Sports”, for me this idea of being recognised as the best in the game, even if you don’t hold all of the titles felt like a positioning that I could translate into most sports and would be relatable to any athlete.

My core proposition took inspiration from my years of experience working with talent, with a focus on helping athletes and brands to maximise their storytelling potential on social. I wanted to be direct, cut the bullshit and work with a super simple set up that allowed me to compete with bigger, more established agencies.

One question I got asked was “why now”? (Especially by my wife!) It’s a good question, as I had spent a number of years finding various excuses as to why I shouldn’t or perhaps couldn’t give running my own shop a go.

I guess my decision was largely driven by the simple question, if you could pick any job in the sports industry right now, what would it be? Given that a career as a pro golfer has probably passed me by at 38, I honestly couldn’t think of or find a role that truly inspired me.

So, I decided to spend the back end of last year making plans and went live in September 2019.

Across the end of last year, I spent my time developing the brand, the proposition and formulating a business plan. At the same time, I became a full-time stalker on LinkedIn and reconnected with anyone in the industry that I had ever been nice to me.

This resulted in a fair amount of polite rejection but on the flip side yielded three substantial briefs, one of which was with my old employers adidas.

I headed into Christmas forecasting a respectable 2020 and a healthy pipeline of new leads. I actually had a smile on my face and the niggling doubt was starting to ease. The deals we had on the table, if managing properly could see us through the first couple of years of the agency’s life.

During this time, I started to assemble a team. I recognised that I don’t know everything and in the absence of being part of a big company to hide behind, I couldn’t blag it. So, in humble recognition of my own limitations, I spent time lining up a number of partnerships that would allow me to scale up my head count without shouldering huge overheads. This also allowed me to work with emerging talent that were crying out for someone to give them a chance.

In January 2020, contracts were drawn up with the clients I’d secured before the holidays and we were ready to put pen to paper before making the obligatory LinkedIn announcement telling the world how great we were and how clever I was.

What happened next is best summarised by a famous quote from one of boxing’s greats, Mr Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. Never before has this much-used sports quote had such timely relevance, as we saw Covid19 hit the world square in the face like an overhand right from Big Mike earlier this year.

As the world of sport started to hit pause, by the middle of February we received official confirmation from all three clients that all projects were “on pause indefinitely” until the world of sport got back on it’s feet. We were literally a fortnight away from signing contracts and now we had nothing.

During this time, I knew that whilst trying to build my own business I had to pay the bills to support my family, so I undertook a number of consultancy projects which in reality equated to a full-time job. Whilst this was a lot to handle all at once, given what transpired, thankfully I did have this in place because without it, I would be in a world of pain.

Whilst I was very tempted to feel sorry for myself and talk myself into submission, I took comfort in three things:

Comfort #1

In three months of being a “proper” business I had managed to secure three significant deals, proving to myself that I could make this work.

Comfort #2

The world of sport has experienced such a seismic shift in 2020 that 2021 will be huge. More events, more athletes competing and more brands spending money to make up for lost time. This congestion will be a big opportunity for those willing to bide their time and hang in there.

Comfort #3

I am not alone. My story is likely to be similar to hundreds of others and that is why I am totally open and honest about what has happened, so that I can potentially use this as an opportunity to connect and collaborate with people in a similar position.

I remain determined to make my business a success, I chalk this up to an unprecedented global event that was well beyond my control.

And I am confident that this time spent planning and networking will make me better prepared and battle hardened for whatever challenges my business may face in the future.

If we can bounce back from a getting hit in the face by a pandemic, then maybe we can handle anything.

Ben Goldhagen is Founder and CEO of P4P Sports

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