A Retrospective on Nike’s Greatest Campaigns Becomes a Lesson in PR

By Matt Van Hoven 

Tattooed Editor Kiran Aditham wrote a piece for Mediabistro.com about the best Nike campaigns, which as you know are from Wieden + Kennedy. The agency completely and utterly failed when it came to bringing this story to fruition, a choice that has earned them a place on our “agencies with terrible PR/no transparency to speak of” list. FYI, that’s bad. Find out why after the jump.

Behind the Swoosh” was a real pain in the ass to write because, as Kiran told me, “Wieden + Kennedy warned that their hands were bound tightly by Nike from the get-go, so getting them to say anything was like pulling teeth.”


That’s a lie: Nike has allowed W+K to talk about ‘the work’ on countless occasions. For example, a CNBC interview with Dan Wieden on how ‘Just Do It‘, this interview with the UK’s Independent, or even cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken’s book ‘Chief Culture Officer‘(which, btw, references three other books written about Nike/their campaigns). The publicist *term used lightly* working with Kiran, Joani Wardwell, could have easily mentioned any of these (or the countless other Nike interviews Dan’s done) as alternative references for quotes. She didn’t.

The story, though well researched and written, is about Nike’s six best campaigns &#151 and by nature a bit of a fluff job. Even still, Wardwell was unable to put Kiran in contact with anyone who could talk about the work. Eventually, he told me, Wardwell stopped returning calls/emails. “The agency cut off communication as if it was going into the wild,” he said. More like into hiding.

Luckily, Kiran’s persistent. He was able to speak with guys like Firstborn CEO Michael Ferdman and Gareth Kay (industry luminaries in their own right), who said this sort of thing: “Nike has been one of those brands that worked out that it’s better to influence culture than simply reflect it.” With fresh POVs from tomorrow’s Wiedens/Kennedys, Kiran probably got better quotes anyway. So it’s not a loss. It is, however, another lesson in PR, directed at a company whose business it is to communicate.

OK, so maybe you’re thinking that CNBC is much bigger than AgencySpy, that McCracken is a lauded thinker, and the Independent is a nice publication. We agree. But that’s not the only time Wieden has spoken about the Nike work. When he’s not helping diversify the business with basically empty speeches about racism, he’s giving talks during Portland BizJournal breakfasts (well, one anyway), and presumably making sure his agency is part of the industry fabric that way. But a quote about Nike work done 15 years ago? Lips. Sealed.

The choice to roadblock Kiran tells us a few things about the agency if only because we have little else to base our opinion on: namely, W+K lacks transparency &#151 a practice that in today’s media environment is obviously naive. Say what you will about that, how they have every right to be that way, how ‘it’s Wieden, what do you expect?’ and all that. But before you decide: consider the tone of the piece, the number of other stories out there, that it was slated to land on Mediabistro’s features page where readers go for inspiring stories and advice on what career to choose, and Kiran’s background as a reporter for Creativity once more. Consider the concern Wardwell should have had about burning a bridge between herself, her agency, and a widely-read publication. That alone should have been reason enough to give Kiran something. Anything.

Note: We’re bound by nothing but telling the truth, a fact that prevents us from accepting when people don’t do their jobs. It’s when agencies screw up, especially in cases like this, that errs must be corrected.

Consider all that, and W+K’s ‘hands-tied’ argument becomes something else: proof that the agency fancies itself a demigod, a celebrity &#151 somehow above it all (you, us, the very industry that celebrated their success), willing only to send a message when they are in full control of it. Unfortunately for W+K, the days when that was an acceptable practice ended long before this blog was launched. As of today the relationship is severed &#151 and though our doors are always open, we’ve got more pressing matters to cover.

You can read Kiran’s article here, though given your attitudes towards nice stories, we imagine you’ll choose not to.