Richard Glennie: Going back to the future

Reebok's EMEA PR director tells John Owens why his brand is returning to its roots to target a new generation of sportswear fans.

Richard Glennie: 'What Reebok has to offer is an indirect legacy following on from the Olympics, as more and more people get into fitness'
Richard Glennie: 'What Reebok has to offer is an indirect legacy following on from the Olympics, as more and more people get into fitness'

The London 2012 Olympics will be a battle of the big beasts of the sports market. From Puma's backing of Usain Bolt to the big money approach of Adidas' sponsorship package, or Nike's sporting ubiquity, the comms competition will be just as fierce as that between the athletes.

So what, then, about Reebok?

'What Reebok has to offer is an indirect legacy following on from the Olympics, as more and more people get into fitness. They are living longer, they're getting stressed in their jobs and they want to work out. That's our opportunity,' explains EMEA head of PR Richard Glennie.

For a man effectively saying his brand is pulling back from the kind of global media event most PROs dream about, he appears calm, measured and confident. This is characteristic of how he conducts the interview.

Having built itself during the 1980s by capitalising on a fitness boom in the US with the Freestyle shoe, Reebok is returning to its roots.

The sports giant is now focusing its resources on this market, recently pulling out of a two-decade association with Bolton Wanderers Football Club.

Glennie describes the move as 'dialling back into the DNA' of Reebok, with a stronger focus on women and a partnership with training programme CrossFit.

But the brand is seeking to have its cake and eat it, too. Along with this change will be a focus on street credibility around the Classics range, as 13- to 18-year-olds are targeted with an eye to influencing older generations. 'You can't do it the other way around - 15-year-olds won't be told by 25-year-olds what's cool,' he says.

Once a rival but now the owner of Reebok, Adidas has thrown its weight behind the Olympics and 37-year-old Glennie describes what seems to be a tactical relationship between the two.

'We're like a little brother and we're trying to be a challenger brand,' he says, denying that there is a 'portfolio approach' in which Adidas takes all the Olympic limelight for itself at the expense of its sibling.

It is easy to see how Glennie has risen to take on Reebok's top European comms role. While approachable, he is nonetheless deft at batting away questions that threaten to take him on to uncomfortable ground.

But look beyond the well-developed corporate delivery and a passionate, and modest, creative mind emerges.

Ask Glennie about music and there is an unusually bashful response around a love of reggae, hip hop and appreciation of pop stars such as Madonna and Rihanna.

He also has a love of photography and fashion. Indeed, it is when enthusing about experiences with names such as Georgio Armani or David Bailey that he becomes most animated. Recalling a shoot he arranged between Bailey and footballer Thierry Henry, whom he calls 'the best sportsman I've worked with', Glennie says of Bailey: 'It was amazing to work with him. He came in and we naively put our proposals to him. He was very charming, listened with a smile and said "I only shoot in black and white".'

It was not always high-profile shoots with superstars. Unsure of where his path lay at university, following a stint selling pictures to the media for a photo agency, Glennie ended up working in the PR team at English rugby union team Saracens for free. It proved a useful year-long spell.

Alun James, UK CEO of Four Communications, remembers picking him out while head of sports at Hill+Knowlton to work with the England rugby union team, among others. James remembers someone whose balance between creativity and strategic thinking was unusual for his age.

He also recalls a youngster who was 'quite careful with his money'.

'Richard was first out of the taxi and last to the bar,' he jokes. 'When he left, we did a spoof video for him of how to buy a round.'

Bar etiquette aside, having looked after the England rugby team, it was time for a far less burly proposition - Tommy Hilfiger. Moving to the Netherlands, Glennie rose through the ranks. He helped bring European sporting prowess to a brand more associated with expensive jumpers wrapped around East Coast American shoulders.

Glennie says that he thought the transition was important for the brand to show it 'understood the European consumer' and he plays a similar role at US-based Reebok now. Keen to emphasise the importance of those in his team, he nevertheless says he needed to help his US colleagues understand that 'Europe wasn't one country'.

He points to the challenge of selling NBA star Allen Iverson to the German market as an example, though the internationalising effect seems to have been a two-way process - Glennie talks of 'sneakers' rather than trainers.

MD of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment Jamie Wynne-Morgan regularly works with the keen jogger.
Wynne-Morgan praises Glennie's ability to work in new fields, singling out his efforts on Reebok Classics' lifestyle work for particular praise.

'If you look at his career, it shows he is really adaptable. He's good at listening and taking on board people's suggestions.

'He's always got his own view but it's always measured, and he will get excited about ideas and want to improve them, making him very enjoyable to work with.'

Still primarily based in Amsterdam, Glennie says a return to London could be on the cards, albeit after the Olympic roadshow. Although Reebok may be keeping relatively quiet over the world's biggest sporting event, the unflappable Glennie looks to be in it for the marathon, not the sprint.

CV

2007 PR director, EMEA, Reebok
2003 Marketing and comms director, Tommy Hilfiger Europe
2000 Account executive, rising to account director, Hill+Knowlton Strategies
1999 PR/marketing executive, Saracens
1998 Account manager, Action Images

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?
Signing Thierry Henry for Tommy Hilfiger and persuading photographer Steven Klein to shoot Helena Christensen (naked!) for Reebok's EasyTone campaign.

Have you had a notable mentor?
Avery Baker, global chief marketing officer at Tommy Hilfiger, really encouraged and developed me. Avery is highly strategic, well connected, very creative - and one of the best people to work for.

What advice would you give people climbing the ladder?
Be competitive and open to new ideas. For those in agencies, really listen to clients and engage them in your projects where possible. Build a trusted network of media contacts. Also, think big, get creative and go digital.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?
A positive attitude, attention to detail and good work ethic. Someone who takes pride in the end result.

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