A story to read on NIKE having a cyclical slump and
cutting $2 billion in costs, plus rumored layoffs. Want to depress a workforce? Get word out about layoffs during Holiday! Great planning there! https://www.oregonlive.com/business/2023/12/nike-seeks-2-billion-in-cost-savings-over-3-years-confirms-significant-layoffs.html
This writer has observed and interacted with NIKE since 1983. Way back in about 1998, I was flying from Portland to NYC and sat next to this lawyer who was a personal lawyer for “Buck Knight.” Fascinating six hours. That my liver ever recovered from that six hours of liquid refreshment is a moment of pride. I learned how Knight and Bowerman struggled to keep the business going, and that always gave me some solace.
What I learned was that Mr. Knight and Mr. Bowerman were human, even when Bowerman threw shoes across a room and terrified a designer, then gently talked the designer down from running out of the room. Bowerman could be a major prick, and he could be thoughtful, he was a man of some complication, which is the highest compliment I could give a fellow human being.
Some deep thoughts;
1. NIKE running has not been given the respect it is due. When NIKE stops innovating in running, where all its innovation comes from, the other footwear product lines get hurt.
2. NIKE has lost many of its running products and marketing superstars. There is not a running brand, I believe, that has not been influenced by some of the great NIKE innovators. The brand tends to spit many of the best eccentrics out into the running world.
3. Running is complicated, yet simple, get what I mean?
Twenty years ago, a NIKE VP called me to chastise me over the fact that Pegasus was not winning our RunningNetwork award each year. I told them it was impossible, as NIKE was making a different shoe each year. You need to keep the fans of an iconic shoe from the year before and build on them.
4. NIKE has focused on NIKE Indoor, NIKE Outdoor, and NIKE NXN, speaking to the top athletes in the sport, the 20-30,000 who compete there. What about the other 1.5 million 14-18-year-olds who run, jump and throw. They are the future of running. This has been an achilles heel for NIKE for decades.
5. Listen to Women. NIKE truly needs to listen to women athletes, women designers, women marketers, and women of color. They need to listen to women. It just has not happened.
6. NIKE has nearly gotten out of running retail. It needs to return. Fred Doyle saved NIKE’s proverbial ass about fifteen years ago when he argued to keep NIKE in the Running Event. It was a hugely pivotal moment in NIKE history, but he was just dumped. Let the retailers know NIKE needs them and will go out of its way (like it did in the mid-1990s with Kirk Richardson and Mark Nenow.
7. NIKE needs to start a new conversation with its retailers, and their competitive brands sure hope that they keep being arrogant and screw that pooch. The whole digital sales and direct experiment has sucked. NIKE has forgotten that seminal advertising is still needed, that print messaging was never replaced, and that it reaches women, consumers of color, and the biggest spenders has been forgotten. Phil Knight once told Dan Weiden he hated advertising, so Weiden did some absolutely crazy advertising that defined a culture.
Where’s the new #BoKnows?#Revolution?
8. NIKE needs real runners with life experience from around the running culture. Running is difficult, but runners purchase 5-6 pairs of running shoes a year, they are in the millions. NIKE needs to tell daily stories on its global running athletes. Posting them on social media is not the way. Support grassroots running sites support print magazines (regional and specialized culture magazines are key). i recall after my father worked for Ford for 25 years and two semiconductor companies for ten years, he went to a Japanese automaker. He loved it, and worked there into his early 70s. “The Japanese see age as a key to wisdom, I am always asked my opinion.” noted my father. Why doesn’t NIKE has leaders who have running life experience?
9. Good luck present NIKE leadership, you need an Ombudsman. The brand that Phil and Bill founded has taken sports marketing, as envisioned by Horst Dassler, chewed it up, and redid it in the likeness of Swoosh. The problem is, that NIKE no longer listens to anyone who is not in the Berm anymore. Listening is the first in the 12 step program to reinvigorize NIKE. I love the brand. I recall my NIKE Waffles in 1975, my NIKE Pre Montreal in 1976, the NIKE Air Mariah in 1980, the NIKE Air Max in 1986, and the NIKE Pegasus 40 in 2023. It is sad to see NIKE continue to make the same damn mistakes for the 4th and 5th time.
Where is the person at NIKE who has no fear for what they say and reminds the leadership when there is the proverbial dog shit on their shoes?
Are you even asking the right questions?
10. Finally, when NIKE does well, the industry does well. In 1989, there were huge layoffs at NIKE, and it scared many. Good luck in your journey, NIKE, as many are hoping for your success. NIKE will have to be brave, honestly reassess, and tell the stockholders to shove it up their backsides and let them figure out the real issues. This is a conundrum and should be taken seriously. The answers could be within some of your human capital.