How Adidas is using newsrooms to create five great pieces of content a week, not just five great ads a year

Understanding the need to produce weekly content rather than just a few ad campaigns a year, ‘tactical content innovation’ is becoming Adidas’ marketing super power as it moves to measure the impact of its ‘newsrooms’ around the globe.

Creating processes and metrics aren’t as sexy as creating real-time content but Adidas is putting all three in place so that it can spread its tactical approach to innovation to the rest of its marketing.

Real-time marketing needs to be about more than just ‘now’ at the world’s second biggest sportswear business. It needs to be laser-focused on telling the bigger brand story rather than content tied to the latest headlines in order to boost the relevance of social communications. But there’s no one-size-fits-all method to building brands at this speed and so Adidas is currently crafting its own approach for the places its marketers can be closest to the consumer – its newsrooms.

Formed for the London 2012 Olympics, Adidas newsrooms are now in 12 cities across the world in the belief that they are where trends start. Marketers in those hubs are internally likened to DJs “being on the decks,” spinning the brand against cultural shifts autonomously without having to wait for approval. They are able to freely interpret global briefs for their cities because Adidas executives realise the business has to publish five great pieces of content a week, not five great ads a year – a fundamental shift for which it is not built.

While it will take some time for that editorial attitude to permeate through to the rest of the business, once it does, newsrooms will touch every part of the brand’s marketing and media plans.

That means newsrooms “controlling publishing to our website”, as well as “connected to our products at e-commerce”, says creative strategist and digital experience specialist Kris Ekman. “It’s about seeing that relationship between the content coming out of a newsroom and upticks in sales. It’s not going to purely be PR, social and influence for us in the future, even though that’s what the newsrooms are focused on now.”

Before it can attain that scale, Adidas needs the structure; the business is putting more rigour around what content goes out from its newsrooms and how it is then measured. It’s not to slow the flow of the newsroom, but rather encourage marketers to think tactically about the metrics they use instead of relying on the same quantifiers all the time.

The push to empower its team is also happening through the expansion of the newsroom’s guidelines repository – an internal Wikipedia of sorts – so that a marketer ‘on the decks’ can access best practice examples, case studies and guides at will.

“It’s not just numbers, it’s numbers in relation to content,” explains Ekman. “Let’s tell a story but understand why we’re telling that story and measure it accordingly.”

Part of Adidas’ measurement conundrum is how it pins value to its high-profile influencers. Questions being asked include whether it’s the celebrities’ reach rather than the brand’s channels that is more influential, and if it’s possible to put a value on a tweet from brand ambassador Kanye West, for example, or gauge his ongoing impact on the brand in social networks.

This will become a bigger focus, as co-creation becomes a bigger part of the brand’s editorial remit. Globally, Adidas’ marketing is leaning more on content sourced from its celebrities as well as regular fans, which will lead to partnerships with influencers in key cities.

On the hardware side, Adidas is figuring out what each part of its sprawling ad tech stack does so that it can boot out those platforms not contributing much. Once done, Ekman predicts he’ll be able to build true CRM into the business, given that he would effectively have a single customer view across its platforms.

“This is linked to how we want to use programmatic advertising to talk to very niche audiences,” he claims.

“Imagine we could create a campaign just for the 15 people who have bought the Messi football boot for the last three years. If we have that data and can match it to the social data, there are so many interesting possibilities that we could explore.”

Big campaign model still relevant

While the newsroom model is a key element, it isn’t the be all and end all of marketing. There are still big moments like this year’s Uefa European Championship that need big campaigns and, consequently, an agency. What’s different is the role Adidas’s newsroom marketers now play in that relationship, moving from acting as project manager on briefs to working more collaboratively with its partners around editorial calendars.

The brand’s relationship with agency Brilliant Noise is one of the clearest examples of that approach, with the team consulted on strategic issues instead of asked to actually produce the content.

“There’s always going to be a role for big campaigns,” says Ekman, who sees the brand’s marketing revolving around a social CRM model instead of tent-pole campaigns. “However, the newsrooms are taking more of the execution and production in-house because we need to make the switch to this type of real-time marketing and adapt it. If you do everything internally, you don’t have the bandwidth and won’t get an external view of your brand.”

Content marketing ultimately means getting closer to the customer and, for Adidas, newsrooms are the fastest way to do it. Marketing had admittedly become disjointed at the business and the introduction of these hubs allows it to promote new products at a much faster pace than its marketers are used to. The urgency behind the move stems from the company’s struggle over the past four years to consistently meet investors’ expectations as Nike and Under Armour outpaced its growth.

“The lines between organic and promoted content for customers is blurring and so the experience between the two is increasingly not so different. It definitely sets us up to ask the question ‘are you prepared to support this?’ because content marketing isn’t just about firing up a Twitter account. It takes more logistics to succeed.”

Seb Joseph

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