Feature

Profile: Fanning the Olympic flame

Nick Craggs, UK marketing director of Adidas, has a lot on his plate as the countdown to London 2012 begins.

Profile: Fanning the Olympic flame

With less than two years to go until the Olympic flame is lit in East London, Nick Craggs, UK marketing director of Adidas, is gearing up for one of the brand's biggest challenges.

Adidas has reportedly spent up to £100m on its sponsorship of London 2012 - its largest single investment in a UK event - and last month unveiled fashion designer Stella McCartney as the creative director of its Team GB range.

Craggs says the link with McCartney, who will design the athletes' kit and consumer apparel, is a natural one. 'Bringing in Stella McCartney was the perfect fusion of style and performance,' he adds. 'Adidas is very good at performance, and Stella is very good at style.'

Adidas has a longstanding involvement with the Games - it has sponsored the British Olympic Association since 1984 - but its tie-up with London 2012 presents a bigger opportunity (as well as the potential to slip up on home turf).

'When you have an Olympic Games in our own back yard, then it's time for the Adidas brand, and the British Olympic Association through Team GB, to make a statement as to what the team can stand for,' says Craggs.

As a recent father of twins, Yorkshire-born Craggs concedes that in the months and years ahead, there will still be 'a few sleepless nights that aren't down to the new arrivals'.

For such a ubiquitous global brand, it is hard to imagine that Craggs is allowed much autonomy when it comes to Adidas' marketing and sponsorship strategies, but he is keen to dispel this notion - it's not all edicts from the global head office in Herzogenaurach, Germany, he insists.

'The strategy ultimately comes out of our global organisation, but its execution is the responsibility of local offices. They add a local flavour,' he explains.

London 2012 and Team GB are just two in a series of sports tie-ups overseen by Craggs, who divides his time between London and the company's UK headquarters in Stockport. Adidas is also involved sponsorship-wise with the England cricket team, rugby union's British and Irish Lions side and Premiership football clubs Liverpool and Chelsea.

However, the scale of the London 2012 deal makes Adidas' other partnerships pale in comparison. As well as holding marketing and licensing rights to London 2012, the brand will provide kit for the British Olympic Association and British Paralympic Association at the Games. Officials and volunteers will also be clothed in Adidas sportswear.

Rights protection

With that level of involvement, Craggs cannot afford to have his efforts thwarted by renegade unofficial campaigns from rival brands.

He is, however, realistic. 'You'll never be able to stop brands marketing around various assets - that's just a fact of competitive life - but it matters when that marketing starts to infringe on the rights that you've bought,' he says.

'It's going to happen, but close co-ordination with sponsorship partners will ensure that (guerrilla marketing) does not infringe our particular rights - those that we've already bought, as well as those we're looking to activate.'

Craggs is clearly relishing the opportunity provided by the Olympics to promote the brand's sporting roots. Indeed, it is Adidas' heritage he highlights as soon as our interview begins, and one to which he refers throughout the conversation.

'Adidas' sports performance division, which creates products engineered to perform, is the backbone of our organisation. It underpins the core of our brands, which is sport,' he says.

'Then, of course, we have the other part of our brand, the sports style division, which we have permission to do because we invest in sport. Most visible within that is the Originals business, the proposition of which is to celebrate originality while remaining authentic. That is a key value of our brand.'

So there is a split between the sports performance division, the main concern, and the favourite of ageing thirty-somethings everywhere, the retro Adidas Originals brand, which recently resurrected the Gazelle and Samba ranges.

The latter were promoted by an ad spoofing the Star Wars 'cantina' scene and another, entitled 'House party', featuring celebrities such as David Beckham and Noel Gallagher. Adidas was sufficiently impressed by the work that it moved its global advertising account from 180 Amsterdam to Sid Lee, the Canadian agency responsible for the campaign.

Craggs explains: 'Sid Lee was brought in as part of an agency pitch, because quite simply it demonstrated an understanding of what originality meant in the context of our Originals brand.'

He insists that his agency relationships are symbiotic, and that devising creative and strategic ideas is 'a two-way thing between the agency and Adidas'. Such a working partnership is necessary, says Craggs, to ensure that the brand's promotional work reflects the 'cultural agenda in the marketplace'.

The Originals range is only one part of the portfolio in Craggs' remit. To put it into context, Adidas launches, on average, 6000 products every six months. Soon after the F-50 football boot was hailed as the top-scoring shoe at this summer's FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the brand had moved on to a celebrity-laden campaign to promote its miCoach personal training app. Launched this month, the app is the first in a series of 'service-based' initiatives, the majority of which will be introduced some time next year in the run-up to the London Olympics.

'The responsibilities of my role stretch from range architecture to product development, to demand planning and forecasting,' says Craggs.

He is evidently a busy man. So how has he found time to take part in this interview? He insists that there is nothing more important than spreading the Adidas marketing message, especially at such a crucial time for UK sport.

With that, and like a true Northerner, he takes the last slug of his builder's tea. Then, after politely enquiring about the various footballing allegiances in the room and consoling the assorted throng on their choices (which is a bit cheeky, as Craggs is a Hull City supporter), he is off to catch up on his burgeoning workload.

For a man with as much as he has going on in his life, frankly, it's tiring just watching him.

INSIDE WORK

1988-1992: Market researcher, KGS

1992-1993: Market research manager, drinks division, Smith Kline Beecham

1993-1997: Brand manager, Lucozade Sport, rising to senior brand manager, Lucozade NRG

1997-1999: Group brand manager, Ribena

1999-2000: Football and rugby marketing manager, Adidas

2000-2002: Head of communications, Adidas

2002-2005: Marketing communications director, Adidas

2005-present: UK marketing director, Adidas

OUTSIDE WORK

Family: Married, with twin daughters

Favourite car: Alfa Romeo 8C

Favourite film: Some Like It Hot

Favourite sport: Everything, and in particular an unerring passion for Hull City Football Club

Favourite restaurant: Scotts, Mayfair.