Running a successful creative business is a relay, not a sprint

US politician Julian Castro recently said that ‘the American dream was not a sprint race or a marathon – but a relay race.’

Mano Manoharan
Mano Manoharan

That analogy conjured up a very powerful and emotional image of successive generations of Americans working hard and selflessly, in order that the baton passed to the next generation allows them to start their life race in a better position.

I wonder if that statement could be applied to creative businesses?

Is running a successful creative business neither a sprint, nor a marathon but more like a relay race?

At its core, a relay race is a team of superb athletes competing against other teams, able to run their allotted leg, communicating clearly, and then smoothly passing the baton onto the next team member, so that the last athlete can win the race – for all of them.

What this proposition reinforces for me is that creative excellence in art may be a solo activity (a sprint or marathon) – but in a creative business individual excellence works at its best within the context of a team.

We know that every creative enterprise is made up of individuals that loosely fall into the following categories:

·      ‘Creatives’ – also known as ‘the talent’

·      Planners, marketers and account managers – also known as ‘the suits’

·      Plus production, technical and IT folk – also known as the ‘backroom people’

·      Accounts

Passing the baton
Passing the baton

Applying the relay analogy, it follows that to maximise the creative potential of this set of excellent individuals the following conditions need to be met:

1. All the team members need to be working towards the same goal and prize

2. There is mutual respect for each member’s strengths and acknowledgement of each other’s relative weaknesses

3. Each member is able to complete his or her agreed leg of the agreed (creative) process and then pass on responsibility for completing the project

4. Communication between each participant is both clear and timely

5. They all realise they cannot do it alone

Does the seamless baton-passing of an Olympic gold winning relay team now spring to mind?


Jamaican relay race winners

Jamaican relay race winners

A few years ago I pitched for a long-term design contract with a much-loved UK biscuit maker. Because of the size and nature of the contract the pitch was delivered to the full board of directors – so there was a great opportunity to talk about the wider benefits of great design for the whole business.

I used the relay race analogy, telling them our team of excellent individuals could seamlessly move from strategy, to concept, to realisation, to colour management stage – with no batons dropped!

The result I promised them was improved speed to market of their brands and significant saving of money, whilst improving the end creative result. To drive the point home, I even took in a baton.

Needless to say, we got our message across – and won the contract.

So – two questions to consultancy owners:

Are all your excellent individuals running the same race?

And how’s the baton passing going?

Mano Manoharan is a business consultant to the creative sector.

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  • karen morton November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The relay concept is very much the type of team activity that works best in todays climate within the creative industries. With the advancement of technology an agency really needs a team made up of talented individuals each with a particular expertise and strength. Not every designer is great across all mediums and your talented team can be made up of global members so passing the baton (a piece of the same project) and maintaining deadline momentum and whole team ownership to reach the finish line is a big part of the on-going challenge.

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