With the talents of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck coming together for this year’s blockbuster Air, it felt like the perfect time for Brands2Life to explore Nike’s founder story. In his memoir, Shoe Dog, Phil Knight takes readers through a year-by-year telling of the story that, as readers come to learn, began as Blue Ribbon Sports.
The foundation of a successful communications team is right in line with the pillars Knight used to guide him through Nike’s growth journey. Commitment, putting the team first, as well as being willing to teach and foster an environment for growth and quality are all key areas he references in the book. Achieving this requires intention, leadership, and continual evolution, all of which can produce amazing results. When developing client work, commitment shines through while teamwork brings new and innovative ideas and execution.
Knight’s page-turning narratives gives readers some strong takeaways that were crucial to establishing Nike as the shoe giant we know today. As PR practioners with deep knowledge of the B2B techology industry, we may have less of a need for a robust background in athletic footwear, but nevertheless, valuable parallels exist between these two worlds. Building teams around Knight’s core strengths transcends industry and provides an impactful reminder to what makes both the work and team succeed.
Read on for lessons that Shoe Dog teaches on the value of dedication, teamwork, and mentorship.
The term ‘shoe dog’ is used to describe an individual who has devoted themselves wholly to the making, selling, buying, or designing of shoes. And just like with any other profession, it’s no secret that hard work towards one’s craft ultimately pays off. In his book, Knight recalls pushing this philosophy to the nth degree with his late nights and globe-trotting business trips. It is evident that his commitment was clearly rooted in the passion he had for shoes and running – his refusal to lose in business reminiscent of a runner’s attitude on the track.
This commitment is both admirable and something that we as PR practitioners can bring with us each and every day.
Finding that passion is essential, and it doesn’t have to be the same for everyone. It can be client relations, it can be writing, it can be securing media opportunities, but as long as you have your passion in the work that you’re doing, you’ll find drive. With this, it’s key to never lose that hunger, that desire to constantly improve, innovate, and evolve.
While Phil Knight conquered many feats himself, Shoe Dog reminds us that he didn’t do it alone. Consistently throughout the years, other players were crucial to the trajectory of Nike’s success as a global business. The importance of a strong team is never lost on readers – Knight continuously surrounded himself with passionate and dedicated people. From trying new tasks like leading shoe production, to uprooting personal lives to move coast-to-coast (and back again), the supporting cast of characters never ceases to stand out.
What shines through here is the willingness to learn on the fly, try new things, and not be afraid to fail or take feedback certainly are. For as Knight says: ‘It’s okay to fail, learn from it.’ Not every pitch is going to be successful, not every draft perfect, but the value here lies in improving and learning.
At Brands2Life, not only is the team passionate about their work, but they are always willing to provide the feedback and support that fosters improvement. Building that trust with your team and not being afraid to make mistakes is crucial to the process of creating outstanding work.
Beyond the exulted triumphs of Knight at Nike, the book features another character in glowing light, Bill Bowerman. The former United States and University of Oregon track and field coach, as well as the co-founder of Nike, is a trusted figure that Knight turns to across the years. Right from the start, Knight prioritizes the man he holds in such high esteem: ‘we all shook hands and signed the papers, and just like that I was now officially in a legal and binding partnership with the almighty Bowerman.’ The counsel from Bowerman showed throughout the book, demonstrates just how important their relationship was. On the product side of things, Bowerman was part mad scientist part brilliant designer. The notion of mentors is critical for learning and developing in PR, just as feedback and teaching are. The respectful and thoughtful nature of their conversations and collaboration demonstrate well the value in finding a passionate mentor.
‘There’s much to be learned from such a [great] display of passion.’ Knight’s words reflect the overall sentiment and commitment readers see throughout. While the early days of Nike may not demonstrate the healthiest work-life balance, Knight was always able to find relaxation and peace in his runs. Many of the most important scenes are preceded by a six-mile run to ‘clear the head.’ In today’s hybrid work environment, finding moments of clarity, peace, and balance are increasingly important to find, whether that be in the office or at your desk at home.
While Shoe Dog regales the growth and success of today’s most successful athletic shoe brand, there is much to be learned no matter the industry. Dedication, willingness to learn, and balance are each key elements in any successful team.