This story was originally published on May 20, 2010. I republish it now, to show our readers, that Nike is, in 2022, continuing its evolution. I worked with Nike from 1982 to the present, in various ways.
In the summer of 1985, when Runners’ World was purchased by Rodale Press, I received a phone call, out of the blue, from a Mike Kaster, I believe. Mike was in Nike advertising. It was an unusual phone call, and I had lots of those, as the ad production manager of Runners’ World (1981-1987).
Nike had stopped advertising with RW in 1981 over concerns with the RW Shoe reviews, which had become very powerful but also were influenced, at times, by shoes that would never been seen in the market. Nike had some good concerns. They put their support behind The Runner, a new publication by George Hirsch, which had taken the running culture by storm, with fine writing, and a celebration of the more serious side of running. Nike also supported a cult favorite magazine, Running, for a couple of years.
Nike did not advertise again until RW was sold and Bob Anderson was out of the picture. I took the call, as the ad production manager, to place Nike’s first ad in the publication in about 4 years. That ad buy was a direct request from Phil Knight, who did not want a Nike ad to run in Runners’ World as long as Bob Anderson was at the helm. To say that there was a disagreement between Mr. Knight and Mr. Anderson would be an understatement.
During my time at RW (1981-87), then at Pike Creek Press (1987-1994), and then, at Shooting Star Media, Inc. (1994-2010), and then, Running Network, (1996-2016), and now, Fortius Media Group (2010-present), I have seen some of the best and brightest in the sport and business go through the doors of Nike in Beaverton.
As I am updating the new site, RunBlogRun, I found this gem and wanted to share it with you. NIKE is now a $ 50-plus billion company, and its involvement in the sport is both loved and loathed. That is life in this social media age.
I have to be honest, I have benefitted from the support of NIKE, adidas, ASICS, Brooks, FILA, New Balance, HOKA ONE ONE, K-SWISS, ON running, PUMA, Reebok, Saucony, and Skechers. As a publisher of print, then digital, and now digital and social media, I am supported by advertising.
At no time in my nearly 40-year career have I had a brand ask me not to publish something. I have had irate phone calls, threats to sue, and even filed lawsuits, but that comes with the territory. No one tried to change my commentary, no matter how much I annoyed them.
At this time, many are wondering if NIKE will stay involved in the sport of track & field as they have in the past as the behemoth. I smile and shake my head slowly (so as not to get my Vertigo going again).
Nike is influenced by the voices of its present and the ghosts of the past. Phil Knight still has his influence. The late Bill Bowerman’s ghost is probably still in the halls. I feel the late Steve Prefontaine, joined by Tom Sturak, and Geoff Hollister among others, sitting in the new Hayward Field, wondering where the crowd is, cast their eyes on the present Nike. There is also the spirit of Jeff Johnson, a fine photographer and early, early Nike employee, who shipped Nike shoes (and came up with the Nike name) in embalming fluid boxes. At the time, Jeff Johnson lived above a funeral home, hell doesn’t everybody?
Two other points. Nike is changing. All those who complained about John Capriotti did not get a chance to appreciate this complicated human being. At the end of the day, Cap loved track & field. His emotions, many times came out, but the guy fought for the sport within the Nike halls for 3 plus decades. Many are missing his eccentric character investing in the sport at this time.
At this time, word on Linked in is that Nike is looking for a Senior Sports Marketing Director, a step down from the roles that John Capriotti and Craig Masback, have played in the sport. Will Nike give this person the power to help the sport, build the sport, or will it be a minor role? One does not know. We will have to wait and see.
I have not spoken to any Nike employees to write this article, as that is verboten by the Nike communications department at this time. Oh for the good old days of Keith Peters, David Mingey and so many others. Some communications people actually realized that a good relationship with the media was important. Some still do.
There is a story about the late Tom Sturak, who ran Nike sports marketing in running for a while. Henry Rono, then a 3-time world record holder (5000m, 10,000m, steeplechase), needed to get in some races in Europe and the ticket was $8000. Sturak somehow got around the Nike accounting department and purchased Henry Rono his ticket. His first race was 15:08 for 5,000m, his second was about 13:40, and his third was a new world record!
How does one justify something like that in this day and age in corporate America?
I am in Oregon for the duration of the World Champs, I was here for the US champs and I will come back to other champs and the Pre Classic, which I attended 35 plus times.
But, take this column from May 10, 2010, with a bit of humor, and some nostalgia, and perhaps a beverage of some nature, and enjoy my deep thoughts from 12 years ago.
Nike announced strategic changes in its management earlier this afternoon, Pacific time. The press release, found on www.nikebiz.com, announced that Leslie Lane, the VP of Global Running, was going to become a VP at the Nike Foundation. Jayme Martin, a thirteen-year veteran of Nike, most recently in emerging markets, will become the new VP of Global Running.
Nike does a bit over $3.5 billion a year in the running product (out of a $23 billion a year business). Most of
the business in running is in the $65 and under business, with performance running (Bowerman line), and the new global success, Nike lunar series getting much acclaim.
It seems that the running business at Nike has had many of the most creative people on the
campus. But, in many ways, while working in running at Nike, and being one of the running footwear talents in the world, should guarantee a charmed life, for most, it is just the opposite. The life span of Nike
running talent is not long. That should be the focus of some introspection, but the zeitgeist seems to be, that there are always more talented shoe people out there, and hell, it is only running!
Some of the best Nike running people are ex-Nike running people, managing the brands of most major competitors. A company whose name came in a dream to an employee, then living above a funeral home, a company that was founded on selling running shoes out of the back of car, a company that was founded on being true to the running culture, a company that was bred to respect the sweat and toil that came from training to run one’s best, and a company that had it’s original Nike shoes being shipped in embalming fluid boxes, is now in its third generation of management. Many on the Nike campus do not understand the mind of the runner nor see its value.
Yet, the running team fights the good fight. The Lunar series and the most recent Bowerman product has
been some of the best running product in recent memory. Unfortunately, top Nike product is not promoted in core running circles, but to fitness pretenders, who want to look cool. The truth is, that is
the majority of the market. The conundrum is that many in the Nike campus do not appreciate the importance of running footwear or running staffers to Nike’s continued growth. While the words are used and said
that Nike is a running company at its core, real running initiatives are buried in layer after layer of bureaucratic detritus.
And yet, running loyalists continue to fight the good fight in Beaverton. Dialed-in track spikes, racing shoes, the 13th version of the Air Structure Triax, and the 26th version of the Pegasus make a real shoe geek cry. There is something in the water, in the air on campus, and perhaps it is in the struggle, the fights by true believers, that keep Nike running churning out, for much of the time, very good product.
In a recent video interview for Fast Company, Nikes’ CEO Mark Parker related a phone call from Apple’s Steve Jobs. Jobs told Parker that Nike “makes some really great products and also some crappy products,Nike’s challenge is to stop making crap and only make a great product.”
The challenge for Jayme Martin, new VP of Running, is how to stand strong, defending the need for real runners to be involved in developing and marketing running products, without getting his head chopped off in some new flavor of the month scheme. Nike AIr, Nike Free, and Nike mid-sole technology all came from running. Nike running needs to get credit for the innovation that it does and Nike running people need to be protected, not shipped around, like a crate of beans.