I’m always quick to tout the importance of the creative team. But great copy and exciting design depend on clear business goals, good strategic direction and valuable insights into the target audience.

With the lighting of the Olympic flame, the London Games are finally underway. And from my perspective, a marketing campaign looks a lot like an Olympic relay race.

A campaign takes time to develop; it progresses through various stages; every member of the team makes a critical contribution; and we all want to win. And while the creative approach is what the public cheers for, it’s only the culmination of a much longer process.

In a marketing effort, the client or brand manager is like the national Olympic Committee, setting overall direction, funding the effort, hiring the coach and approving the plan. The marketing strategist plays the coach. It’s his or her job to know the playing field and the players, understand the goals, and choose a winning strategy.

Creative Runs the Anchor Lap

Research runs the first leg of the relay, setting up the team for success by studying the competition and the target, and making sure we jump out to a strong position.

From here, the account leaders take the baton and run the all-important second lap. Success at this stage is vital. Here’s where we start to set ourselves apart from our rivals, leveraging the competitive and strategic advantages that can help us win.

With a strong position midway through the race, it’s up to media to turn up the jets. Strategic placements — digital, broadcast and print — will help us widen the gap on the competition.

And when the gun sounds for the anchor lap, the creative team needs to close the deal. Great ideas — built on clear goals and strategy, well-placed to reach our targets, and brilliantly executed by the creative team — will carry the brand across the finish line first.

Passing the Baton

One of the biggest challenges we face is effective teamwork. Like the passing of a baton, every handoff requires focus, experience and dependability. Only when we function as a single unit can we win the hearts and wallets of our targets.

So as we climb to the top of the medal stand, draped in gold and hearing our anthem, remember that it takes more than talent. Individually, we need to perform at the highest level. But we can’t win without teamwork, too. That’s the message of London 2012.