The key challenge is not to get stuck in your own routine

Alegra O’Hare, Global VP Brand Communications – Originals and Core at Adidas

Global VP Brand Communications – Originals and Core at adidas, Alegra O’Hare leads the global marketing team where she oversees all brand creative campaigns and consumer-facing content for the lifestyle division. A thought leader who values creativity, courage, community and achievement, Alegra is instrumental in inspiring consumers through all brand touch-points (retail, PR, digital and social media) where Originals continues to challenge cultural and creative boundaries. A seasoned marketing and communications specialist, prior to joining adidas Originals Global in 2015, Alegra held positions at VF Corporation, Bang & Olufsen and Sara Lee Corporation, to name a few. When not leading the Originals Brand Marketing team, Alegra assumes the position of leader of the women’s mentoring circle for adidas Group and is a certified sommelier.

ABOUT MARKETING

I started as a Marketing Assistant, so learning the ropes whilst doing all the groundwork for the Event and Marketing Director. I studied psychology so I hadn’t actually studied marketing per se, so everything I learned was from the doing. From Marketing Assistant, I worked in product and then landed in Brand Marketing, where I’ve been most recently and where my strengths really lie. So I think I’ve had quite the classic journey through the brand over the past 20 or so years. I see what our interns and Marketing Assistants do now, and that’s exactly how I started before making my way up.

Do you think your psychology degree has been more beneficial for your marketing career than a marketing degree?

It’s hard for me to compare but I think it certainly lends itself a lot more to creativity and human interaction versus processes where I had to really learn a lot. We work in a very complicated and dynamic industry, and the processes and the structure were something I had to really dig deep into, whereas my psychology degree helped me more with ‘lateral thinking’ and understanding the consumer mindset better.

As a successful marketer what do you consider the key elements of brand growth?

Two things, firstly the people. That’s the number one priority. It doesn’t matter if you work in brand, marketing operations or finance - it’s all about the people. You have to have the best team possible and that’s the first thing I seriously worked on when I started here a year and a half ago. Secondly, strategy. I think strategy is a bit of an abused word to be honest, but I think if you have a clear, simple strategy then your people can really grasp it and get behind it.

Adidas is part of the DNA of sports, and when the consumer sees us, they don’t distinguish between sport and style.

How do you consider you’ve got that right?  

As soon as I started I had a piece of paper on my desk, and I’m deadly serious, it just said ‘TEAM’. And I left it on my desk because I had to remind myself as soon as I got to the office, that this was my number one priority. I didn’t want to lose sight of that with the large number of other things that were going on. I had to keep my focus on the team, and that was just a simple trick to make sure I got the right people on board. I really took my time with deciding for the roles because I’d made the mistake in the past of getting caught up by the sheer need to get people on board. Sometime you move too fast and it compromises on people, and you end up paying in the long run. Especially in some strategy positions, it really took time to find that right person.

So it was about creating the team but then also ensuring a branded approach for adidas Originals to have an umbrella campaigning structure under which everything would fall. So that was my big work with the agency, to get that right.

ABOUT THE BRAND

What attracted you to the adidas Originals brand?

My boss first of all. I think the older you get the more picky you become about your bosses, and I knew that if I wanted to do things right, then I had to have a boss that would support me, trust me and empower me. Also my affinity with the brand. I worked with Originals when adidas first hired me, then I moved to Reebok, and then I was asked back to Originals - my ‘original’ if you will! That was very important as well but I’d say the leadership was the most important for me.

Adidas is part of the DNA of sports, and when the consumer sees us, they don’t distinguish between sport and style. The angle we have on Originals is definitely more creative and stylish tied to the brand heritage, but at the end of the day we’re one brand.

Adidas is known for its big brand thinking, what is the strategic thought driving Adidas Originals?

It’s linked to the ‘Three C’s: Courage, Creativity and Community’. All of our campaigning work we did with Johannes Leonardo, our lead agency in New York, is about challenging the status quo. So wherever you see a strikethrough over a word, like ‘Superstar’ or ‘Future’ which are our campaigns for this year, we want to challenge a concept and a notion. We don’t want to give an answer, we want to get people thinking to challenge things themselves. It’s not a top-down approach, a brand telling you how to get about it, it’s more about opening that box of creative thinking and really exploring the concept itself.

How does that play out globally?

The eternal global versus local is a good question. I think the market expect that they look at global to provide that structure and direction and the tools but then obviously we leave flexibility to the market, we work very close with the key markets to be able to localise and make sure that if they feel the message doesn’t really get to the core consumer then we allow that minimum flexibility but we always work hand in hand so for us it’s important to maintain consistency but to also provide that flexibility. But it’s a fine balance because you always have to check, you don’t want to do police work, but you definitely have to maintain a consistent brand that needs to be in place with the people that work in the markets versus global.

The main focus now is to remain brand and strategy focused

Are you having success with the challenging thought concept?

Absolutely, it’s resonating really well. We tested it with focus groups and consumers just in case, and we also aired it during the VMA’s on MTV. The online response was amazing, and it just feels great to know that the campaign is resonating with the US consumer which is a notoriously tricky market to resonate with. So we’re very happy to see that, and that was just a week ago.

How do you maintain consistency, do you do regular market visits?

We do have global comms summits with our key markets, where, before we go into production, we usually take them through the decks and fine tune to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Then, with the wider audience, because not everybody can travel to these meetings, we also have WebEx’s, where once a month we take them through the latest decks, and answer any questions. I really like to foster open communication and I feel like if you communicate 24/7 with your consumer you have to be doing that internally too. So we try to foster as much communication with the markets as possible. That’s because I come from a market and I know the reality.

ABOUT THE ROLE OF EVENTS

What role do experiences and events play in the brand?

They’re very strategic for us, so when we look at the planning, we lock in the cultural moments in time and link it to the key product launches. We don’t do many, but the ones that we do we want to make sure that they have high impact. It’s also imperative for example, that if we have a launch in New York, that we create the tools that the other markets can use later on. So if you have a global fashion event in NYC then you must also provide the tools and the decks for other markets so that they can then so something similar, like Paris fashion week. So that’s just something we’ve implemented in the last year or two — to provide those tools for market to be able to localise.

What are the challenges of driving a truly global brand?

I would say probably not getting stuck in your own routine. There’s always a risk of doing the same thing over and over just because it’s been successful, but actually being true to what Originals is about by challenging yourself and breaking down boundaries. It’s so easy to sit there and say ‘Hey this worked last time, let’s just copy and paste it!’. So we have to make sure we’re always creating unexpected moments and doing things innovatively. That’s the biggest challenge especially with a huge company, because there are processes and such that you have to follow, whilst still keeping that edge and taking risks.

ABOUT FUTURE

Where do you see rich marketing territory that you haven’t covered yet?

The music industry. I think there’s a lot of newness and the new fusion of music merging with fashion, which is predominantly US-led, is very rich territory that we haven’t explored completely. When we launched Future we actually won awards for our music marketing, we won two golds and two bronzes at Cannes Lions, and that was due to the music and the film craft of the ad. But I feel like we can take it further, and there’s something very unique and particular coming in the music industry which influences a lot of kids, fashion and trends, and how to work two ways. We work with the communities and the influencers in a two-way fashion, so how can we leverage that and add value to give back to the community? It’s about being able to enrich what everybody does which is an exciting new trajectory for us.

What does the future look like for adidas Originals?

Well, so far so good! We’ve had a lot of success with the Future campaign and the overall brand is incredibly strong. We just have a lot of exciting things coming up, again, these unexpected initiatives that we’ll be rolling out, and we just want to keep this momentum rolling.

The main focus now is to remain brand and strategy focused, because if we were to just want to rake in the numbers, that’s a huge mistake. We have to be guardians and also make sure that as we’re growing we’re not over-saturating the market. There’s so many things in the mix right now that remaining controlled is key so that we stay on track, retain our momentum and keep creating these unexpected and brilliant moments 

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