Interview With Russell Davies, Ex Of Nike

After spending a year as Global Consumer Planning Director at Nike, Russell Davies has quit to pursue book writing, a nice up of tea and the odd piece of consultancy – or so he says. We ask Russell why he left Nike, what he learned there, how technology is affecting brands and what’s in-store with […]

Looking back on your time with Nike – what did you take away from your time there?

I’ve learned more in the last year than the previous 20. Nike is full of incredibly interesting people. And being that side of the fence teaches shows you all the dumb things you’ve been doing all your career. You learn that outside agencies, however close they ‘partner’, can never know as much as the people inside the business. And pretending otherwise is pointless. I’ve realised that the really important skills are not to do with brands or marketing or whatever; they’re to do with people. If you’re good with people you can learn the rest, if you’re not good with people you’re screwed.

So, what did you think Nike learned from you?

I’m not sure what Nike learned from me. Probably not a ton. Maybe the chief thing was the value of internal blogging. We built a couple of blogs inside the network and they seem to be working really well.

Has working within a huge international brand changed your philosophy about brands and marketing?

I’ve learned that most of the elegant, refined brand theories I’ve been positing for the past hundred years just evaporate when exposed to the real world of getting things done in organizations. So I think it’s helped me come up with more robust thoughts about getting ideas into the world. And it’s become very clear to me that using words like ‘positing’ and ‘robust’ just annoys people.

I’ve discovered tons more respect for the people who have to corral, inspire, manage and create international marketing campaigns. It’s way, way harder than the people on the outside think.

I’ve learned that an ounce of clarity and direction is worth a ton of insight and cleverness.

I should probably have known these things anyway, but it’s hard to really understand this stuff until you’re inside.

We seem to be going through a huge cultural shift driven primarily by technology. How does an international brand keep up with these changes? What crucial challenges do brands face in the next year or so.

Technology is helping to weed out the weak brands. And by weak I mean uninteresting, unhelpful, disrespectful or irrelevant. Technology means we can just weave our way past them. I like that technology can help small brands compete with big ones – they’re all international now and that makes everyone better. And the crucial challenge for brands is working out how to be less controlling and more influential.

With your work at Nike and your view on the consumer environment – do you think the services that marketing agencies need to deliver has changed? Are agencies rising to the challenge?

I’m not sure Nike is a typical example so these thoughts aren’t necessarily based on that, but more on the world we’ve all been watching the last few years.

But yes, agencies have to change and no, they’re mostly not rising to the challenge.

Look at the way that ‘design’ is being seen as the king of corporate innovation. There’s no intrinsic reason why this should be so; their creative people aren’t necessarily more creative than the ones in ad agencies, their strategists aren’t smarter, their billing systems aren’t more efficient. But they’ve spent the last 30 years being Not Madison Avenue, just like Honda, Toyota and Nissan were Not Detroit. Design businesses have been diligent, interesting and helpful whereas Big Advertising has been greedy, slothful and complacent. And now everyone with anything to do with advertising is paying a kind of Madison Avenue Penalty. Even the good, interesting, innovative agencies.

We may be just starting to edge into the land of Agency 2.0, but we all know things don’t start working properly until you get to version 3.1. I think that’ll take a while.

Talking about agencies, gossip has it that they might have a spare desk for you to work from at your old haunt, W+K London… will it be just a desk?

Yup. It’s just a desk. Actually I suspect it’s just a chair. And access to the photocopier. In return for the odd bit of work on stuff. It’s a barter thing, it’s the future. They’re very kind.

How will your other projects fair in this time – the online planning school, the books, the blogs?

I feel like I’ve just been playing at all that so far, so I want to try and do them properly. Before you know it the Account Planning School of the Web will have a massive bureaucracy and a graduation ceremony with speeches and the throwing of hats.

Finally, do you think we’re spotting a trend here: the rise of a mercenary army of rogue marketing professionals – sometimes working independently at times, other times teaming up for larger projects? Doesn’t anyone want a proper job anymore?? ;)

Yes. I think marketing Ronin are the future. They’re a big part of how Agency 3.1 will probably work. Come join our merry quest. Who needs a regular income, free pencils and healthcare? Hmm…

Thank you.

From today, Russell can be found at his blog, We’re As Disappointed As You Are

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