May 20, 2002
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Kevin Carroll has the unique title of Katalyst (yes, that is the correct spelling) and Director of Nike’s Leadership Communications Group. As Katalyst, it is Carroll's job to nurture and care for the Company's inner spirit, provoke new ways of thinking and to motivate and inspire the entire organization.
He also works closely with creative and marketing teams to oversee the messaging behind Nike’s ad campaigns, including successful integrated efforts as whatever.nike.com and the multi-tiered ‘Play’ campaign.
Prior to joining Nike in 1997, Carroll spent 10 years in the U.S. Air Force as a language translator (he speaks five languages), several stints with the National Football League, three years as head trainer at Division I St. Joseph’s University, and two years as head athletic trainer for the Philadelphia 76ers. Finally, he served as head trainer and translator for the Yugoslavian national basketball team during the 1996 Olympics.
QUESTION: Marketers may be less inclined to push the envelope, be creative, or even provocative in the current downturn. How do you feel they should deal with it?
CARROLL: I enjoy not having large budgets to work with. It actually requires you to be more creative. Marketers need to see the opportunity, not a deficit. Big budgets aren’t always the answer.
You should always ask ‘how can I do more with less?’ Many times it is something subtle that speaks volumes. You can do something that is visually compelling and still drive your message, as long as you stay clear on what that message is. Marketers may come up with a basic plan of print, TV, billboards and that’s the only formula they know. Now is really time to break out of that and create new formulas for delivering messages.
QUESTION: What programs or initiatives have you been involved with that did not work out as you initially thought and why?
CARROLL: You can always try to take a degree of success away from what you do. That said, there were parts of things that didn’t work out, like over or underestimating the consumer.
I have found that it is a hindrance to make assumptions about a consumer’s knowledge of a tagline or a product. You can’t assume they will all get it. I market to our employees as well and I need to know what people are asking for and know how the ‘street’ is thinking. What may be obvious to anyone sitting in the marketing world may not be so for the rest of the world.
You need to have an awareness of how someone wants to receive a message. Many communication tools and delivery systems may not work the same way they did last year. Don’t assume you have a good creative message on a billboard that all people will get.
We have underestimated our delivery and that is a bad thing to do, particularly getting into ‘turnkey’-style marketing. We have tried going to the same places we have done well before and people got turned off. We made the assumption that people were in the same patterns and they shifted. You have to always reinvent yourself.
QUESTION: What are some key rules to follow when creating a truly integrated marketing campaign, such as your whatever.nike.com campaign which drove people from TV ads to continue an experience on the Web?
CARROLL: Have a sense of community, and really know what that means. You need to create a destination where like-minded people will be. Always be mindful of connecting the dots. Don’t think taking two ideas and putting them together creates integration. It has to be multi-sensory; that is integrated marketing.
Think about story telling. If you just think one tool is adequate, depending on how large your audience is you can miss them. If you go with a narrow sweep in mind you will miss out on a lot of potential recipients. As a marketer, ask yourself, are you aware of new opportunities to integrate? Don’t always look at the obvious things. Always look at other ways to add to your menu. This has always worked for us.
When considering costs, know which things tend to be more expensive than others. Know TV versus print versus viral efforts. There is plenty you can do with a street team too. Know what you want your outcome to be before you talk money. Know what you have to work with, such as media, creative, tools, etc. Understand up front the expectation of your message. Know what is measurable. After all that, then you can talk money.
Don’t always ask how much money you have first. There are certain situations where you can have big expectations, but it won’t take much money.
QUESTION: In such a campaign, how do you know when and what to change?
CARROLL: The length of your campaign will play a big role in that. Your resources will always play a key role too. Changes are not something you can always do on the fly, so it should be a part of the concept from the very beginning. Look at clever ways to refresh without reinventing.
In the ‘whatever’ campaign, nothing was left to chance. You have a series of stories or messages and know how you will deliver them. It is all built in early on. You have to try and know your audience and how they think. We take lessons learned from other campaigns as well. If you are working with TV ads, know the programming, and on the whole know where the audience is and what they are doing there.
QUESTION: What was the greatest challenge in developing your integrated, multi-tiered ‘Play’ campaign and how did you overcome it?
CARROLL: Keeping it fresh was a challenge. Things you saw in the summer had a unique life, but we had to change things going forward. You have to try not to repeat certain things. You can’t see the same kinds of stunts or messages or things on a website.
Extending the life of a thought is also challenging. The product lives were different and it allowed us to create a natural spin- off for the different seasons. Trying to find a seasonally relevant way to deliver our message was important and I think we were successful at that.
QUESTION: Who should be partnering with Nike; and, what key rules should they consider in the relationship?
CARROLL: Any companies that can help us pull off events and can bring tremendous experience in delivering a message to the table.
If you do partner with us, be able to interpret and deliver on it. Don’t look for a lot of direction from us; we need independent thinkers. Your nimbleness is critical because we can switch directions within days. If things aren’t landing right we need ways to create the outcome we are going for. Don’t fall in love with your ideas.
Reliability and creativity are very important. Being able to deliver on expectations is always a key thing too. Many times I see people that can’t deliver. Know what your resources are. We are going to count on you to bring your resources to bear. If you under deliver, know that there are a lot of eyes and ears that support us so it will be known.
QUESTION: What needs to be improved with the current agency/marketer relationship? Also describe some points on how have you made yours work?
CARROLL: I can only accurately comment on the relationship with our agency. A lot of what has made it work is just treating them as a partner. We are not just a client and with that comes a level of trust. Inclusion is key. We also included in things that you don’t see in typical client relationships. We were at their 20th anniversary party, we have them at sales meetings.
There have been times we were in separation. It’s like a marriage in ways, but overall it really has worked well. It is truly a great relationship with a group that understands our culture and that is the difference maker. I was here when we went with another agency and they were a great agency. But we were barely with them a year and one of the reasons it didn’t work out was because we don’t really build a ‘wait and see’ approach into our model. Wieden & Kennedy gets that about us. They truly get us.
QUESTION: What has Nike done to maintain and improve its numerous retail relationships?
CARROLL: We are always looking for ways to immerse them in the culture and understand what the brand is about beyond just the product. If they understand it’s not just about numbers and the bottom line then it works.
They also need to understand our vision. If we take the time to nurture the relationship and give them a glimpse behind the curtain, it will be better in the long run. I’ve been in on the sales meetings with them, so I know what goes on.
We are placed next to a lot of other brands and we have to differentiate from other brands in their stores. We are constantly seeking out ways to educate and inform. We give them an understanding of brand and product features. They understand our performance stories. We provide them with sales and retail tool kits with features and benefits of our products. If there is a new product we give them as much information as possible before a product comes out. When they are in the sales meetings with us they are always getting educated.
QUESTION: How do you apply what you have learned as a fitness trainer to your role in helping to market a consumer product?
CARROLL: My sports medicine background gives me insight into performance needs and what athletes are seeking. From an empathetic design perspective I know what they are looking for. When we communicate with those we are reaching, I am involved and I understand. I bring credibility to our performance stories.
I am still certified as a trainer so I go to conferences and bring back the latest trends that our company needs to apply to a product and our communications. I help also help communicate what our next story will be. I have also played a key role from a conceptual standpoint in product development. Now I work more on the messaging.