Remarkable corporate culture: Nike’s Ekin tattoos

by Polle on November 14, 2010

Two Nike Ekins, Hans Koeleman and Bruno Garcia

Two Nike Ekins, Hans Koeleman and Bruno Garcia

Most of the time Nike gets credit for being a strong brand, an efficient marketing machine, creating breathtaking commercials or being refreshingly innovative (Nike+). Some however, think, the brand as arrogant and out of touch with the streets and sports.

But behind this impressive brand is an even more impressive company culture. I had the luck to spend some time with Nike employees during several Nike projects I did for my previous agency Boondoggle. Nike is a company of memes, stories and remarkable traditions. Take their chief storyteller, Nelson Farris, who collects all stories and memes. Take the inventor of the Nike Air, Frank Rudy. And of course, their numerous athletes, like Steve Prefontaine.

But even more, their Ekins. Ekins are official company storytellers employed to evangelise about the Nike brand and its sports technology. Before being unleashed on the world, each “Ekin” (“Nike” spelled backwards) is required to undergo an almost military-like training regime comprising a nine-day rookie camp at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon and a full day’s running at the Hayward field track where Nike-founder Bill Bowerman worked as a track coach. Almost unbelievably, as a further sign of their devotion to the brand, each Ekin is then invited to have the Nike ‘swoosh’ tattooed on their ankle ahead of their ‘graduation’. Talking about employer brand dedication.

I got to meet several Ekins. Amongst them, Bruno Garcia (right on the picture), a New York-based Ekin, might be the most remarkable one. He got the Nike Ekin tattoo (which is the Nike logo backwards, like “Ekin” is “Nike” spelled backwards) as well as Greek goddess Nike’s victory wings on his calves. Futhermore, he is very active within the Hash House Harriers, “a drinking club with a running problem”. Sounds like a foolish fraternity, but the HHH represent more than 1700 chapters throughout the world and have a yearly conference in Asia that assambles more than 17.000 HHH runners. With such ambassadors, you hardly need an advertising campaign.

So, the next time you use Nike as a best practice, please let’s not use it for Nike+, great campaigns or being an awesome brand. Give Nike some credit for being the company with a most remarkable company culture.

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