Client: Nike (Beaverton, OR)
Client: Nike (Beaverton, OR)
PR Team: Manning, Selvage & Lee (Los Angeles, CA)
Campaign: Nike Shox rollout
Time Frame: July - December 2000
Budget: dollars 500,000
Nike's new Nike Shox basketball and running shoes represent the most significant new product the company has launched in almost two decades - since the debut of the then-revolutionary Nike Air brand.
Using a shock-absorber-like suspension system, the Shox line took more than 16 years of research, testing and development before hitting retail outlets in November and December 2000.
Nike knew the design would generate headlines. The challenge was assuring the technology was seen as serious performance-enhancing design innovation, not a gimmick.
'From the start, we knew that PR would play an important role in helping to educate people about how the technology really worked,' says Lee Weinstein, director of Nike US communications.
Starting last May, working with Manning Selvage & Lee in Los Angeles, Weinstein's team developed a four-tiered strategy.
Nike was positioned as an innovative company and design leader. The team also hoped to showcase the technology and highlight its ability to boost athletic performance - key in building credibility with the critical sports and fitness media.
MS&L and Nike also wanted to reach the 'early-adopter' market - consumers who have a need to be the first on the block to buy new technology. Finally, the team would leverage traditional, mainstream media coverage to help build general consumer excitement about the product.
The agenda was purposely kept 'fluid' and open to adjustment. 'The PR plan was a living thing that changed all the time - not something rigid and defined,' says Weinstein.
A two-day, on-site media summit in July was organized to introduce the Shox technology to a large number of journalists from around the world.
Writers from publications such as Runners World, Self and Popular Science were invited to tour the Sport Research Lab, meet the product developers and designers and see early prototypes. Some journalists who could not attend the summit were invited on personal tours and interviews. There was also a media tour in New York in early August for long-lead magazines who had not attended the on-site event.
Nike also started an online, viral marketing campaign aimed at 'sneakerologists' - sports product afficionados, devout Nike fans and early athletic-shoe trendsetters.
This preidentified group was e-mailed a link to a secret Nike Shox Web site (not accessible to the public) that provided a peek at the shoe's early iterations and other product information.
At the end of August, online PR efforts broadened to include the consumer public at large. The Nike Shox mini-site on www.nike.com went live, featuring streaming mini-movies called Nike Flix, which ran through October and were designed to highlight the irreverent nature of the brand.
In September, the PR team exploited the product's connection with the auto industry. The shoe's car suspension-like spring shock absorbing system was showcased at the Detroit Auto Show and resulted in a column in AutoWeek.
September brought the Olympics - and the official debut of Shox on star US athletes. The team alerted the media and made a VNR from the event.
In mid-November, coinciding with the retail release, the first general VNR and press release announcing the product's availability was distributed to national and international media. Over Thanksgiving week, a second VNR was distributed, focusing on the new Vince Carter ad campaign.
Fast Company ran a comprehensive story chronicling the development of the technology and the shoe's design.
The shoes also scored the covers of Popular Science and Brandweek, as well as full-length stories in The Washington Post, the Sunday edition of The New York Times and the Associated Press, which were picked up by dozens of newspapers across the country the next day.
The launch was covered by CNBC, Fox News and affiliate evening newscasts, even though the release coincided with the Florida vote count.
Weinstein says the best benchmark of the campaign's success was 'when the VP of marketing recognized us as 'the single most covered product in Nike history.''
Media relations and marketing support efforts continue as the product launches in Europe and the Americas in February.
The Shox cross-training shoes are set to debut in late 2001.