Two Duelists: How Fierce Competitors Dropped Their Sabers For Something Bigger

"This isn’t business, this is personal." We’ve all heard the reverse of these words before, either in jest, ironically or in dead seriousness. Personally, I prefer the ironic.In the often perplexing arena called the marketing business, there is a sense of irony in many interesting ideas, like McDonald’s Academy Awards commercial trying to connect the dots between the Big Mac and iconic films like “Jaws” and “Silence of the Lambs.” Ironic indeed.

Since we’re now living in a world of polarization, from politics to religion and from sports to business, a “Jaws-like competition is evergreen. Especially in our world, where agencies are consistently being squeezed on margins and polarization amplifies the competitive narrative. It is also ironic, then, that two competitors came together, dropped their sabers and raised over $1.5 million for a rare affliction. This isn’t business, and it couldn’t be more deeply personal.



When I joined RedPeg Marketing over a year ago, I knew what I was getting into. My boss, founder and CEO Brad Nierenberg, had a reputation as a relentlessly hard driver whose business development mantra was “Losing is not an option.”  He’d built a great company with name-brand clients. One of his chief competitors, Jeff Snyder, CEO of Inspira in Norwalk, Conn., is equally hard-driven and the two have competed for multimillion-dollar businesses in consumer packaged goods, spirits, automotive and technology. Each has won and lost to each other many times. 

Then, 10 years ago, Snyder’s 2-year-old daughter, Kennedy, was diagnosed with a  rare disease, pediatric spinal cord cancer. 

As Nierenberg explained, “When I heard the news, something just hit me hard in the solar plexus. I couldn’t get Jeff, Kennedy and their family out of my mind. The statement ‘What can I do’ seemed well intentioned but trite. So, I decided to create an event that would help raise both awareness and money for this insidious disease. And if the two of us could use our collective conscience and our two companies’  expertise, we could make a real difference. I took my cue from the way Pete Favat and Alex Bogusky came together for the ‘Truth” campaign.

To the credit of Nierenberg and Snyder, they never lost sight of the fact that the competition for altruistic funds is as intense as a consumer ad campaign (they are marketing guys after all).  So they wanted to create a yearly event that had a healthy sense of competition, but with a clear differentiator from the golf tournaments, black tie events, silent auctions and the like.

“Chance for Life”was born. Each February for the past 10 years, the star-studded poker tournament, wine tasting and after party has taken place in Washington, D.C.

This year, because of the efforts of “the duelists,” a near blizzard couldn’t stop the good will. On a day when the metro area was paralyzed by snow, several hundred people made it to the event, including ABC political reporter Scott Thuman. As the Washington Post reported: “Thuman  marveled at a bunch of sport coat-wearing guys’ willingness to forgo thinking about whether they’ll have a flush or straight when Nierenberg and the Snyder family took the stage. 

“In 10 years of attending charity events, it’s such a rare thing that an entire group of people in Washington will be completely quiet and hang on every word. This is one of those rare occasions where I’ve seen that happen,” Thuman said.

We have so many amazing, creative people in our industry and there are so many worthy causes that need help. When two competitors come together for something bigger than themselves, to quote Rick Blaine in Casablanca, it can “be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

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