The outreach comes as Nike, bent on raising revenue to $23 billion by 2011, returns to its marketing roots after Chairman Phil Knight dismissed his handpicked CEO successor, William Perez, who made the fatal mistake of looking to de-emphasize marketing. But a crucial factor is Nike's intent to build on the stunning success of its interactive ventures, including the Nike ID website created by R/GA and the company's partnership with Apple for the Nike+iPod, which has virtually transformed running and demonstrated how a brand can market itself by offering something useful to a community rather than just communicating its assets.
Nike declined to comment beyond its initial statement last week, and made it clear that its longtime, creatively lauded agency, Wieden & Kennedy, will retain the bulk of its $220 million account. But a Nike executive who asked to remain anonymous said that advertising -- even the gorgeous creative that is Wieden's hallmark -- is only part of the equation now for Nike, which is thinking a whole lot bigger these days.
"When we start going to meetings with Apple Computer, or the guys that did the Nike ID site, it's not that they're pitching our advertising business, but they're directly or indirectly solving our advertising needs with their ideas," the executive said. "We sit in those meetings and it dawns on us that there are alternative solutions to our problems, and we're going to look at as many alternative partners and vendors as we can."
In fact, for two years Nike has quietly been working with a boutique agency, Prototype Advertising in Lynchburg, Va., to do print and interactive work on Brand Jordan. Prototype has created a video podcast, done print ads, posted work on You Tube and MySpace, and created lockerfreaks.com, a joint project for Nike, Foot Locker and Sole Collector magazine.
"Web and digital stuff -- the big boys take a while to do that. That's one of our competencies," said Daryl Calfee, Prototype's senior art director. "Nike is very innovative, and it's always fun trying to figure out where the market is shifting to next."
The exploration has led Nike to places like online communities, from small (runners looking to pair up with others to do marathons, for example) to large (the wildly successful joga.com, the soccer community where Nikefootball/jogaTV videos saw some 110 million downloads during the 2006 World Cup).
Wieden & Kennedy: Not pitching
Wieden, which is not pitching the assignment up for grabs, had no comment. But executives within the agency concede it has been slow to move on the digital front and wasn't good about "conveying" its capabilities in that arena. "It's OK to force us to step up our game," one Wieden executive said.
Nike's move illustrates the quandary of whether it is better for a marketer to have one shop, or a bench of shops at its beck and call. "The sacrosanct bond between clients and agencies -- those days are over," said agency search consultant Russel Wohlwerth. "The world is moving to more project-based and multiple agency relationships."
What Wieden offered over the years -- the "Just do it" line, the swoosh, and lots of highly creative TV and print -- may have done it for Nike at one time. But today, magic bullets have been replaced by a multiplicity of ideas in a multiplicity of media. "Everybody's looking for that panacea, but in today's branding, there may be a lot of smaller ideas," said Mr. Wohlwerth.
The in-play assignment is rumored to be for Nike Plus, which has been described as "small." But it has the potential to become very big. In his most recent conference call with analysts, CEO Mark Parker said "Nike+ is turning out to be huge. In less than six months, Nike+ users have logged more than 3 million miles and there are over 3 million Plus-ready shoes in the global marketplace and we expect that number to double by the year end. Clearly, our confidence in this concept is proving to be accurate."
News of Nike's openness to new agencies is sparking pilgrimages to Beaverton from as far as London and San Francisco. "We're on it," said Tracy Wong, chairman WongDoody, Seattle. "But so is everybody else."
Miami hotshop Crispin Porter & Bogusky is believed to be involved in the running account, but a spokeswoman there declined to comment. One agency that likely won't be involved is Apple's shop -- despite the marketer's partnership with Nike -- because TBWA and its chairman, Lee Clow, work on the account of rival Adidas.
Warts and all, there won't be any shortage of interest in working on Nike. "We all get intoxicated by the lure of the brand," said one agency creative. "But I have heard they are very difficult to work with. People come and go, and they use a lot of research. It's a large bureaucracy. There are agendas, and it's a meat grinder."