Adidas' Content Marketing: Q+A with Frank Thomas on GamePlan A

Why Company Culture is MVP of adidas’ Content Strategy: Q+A with Frank Thomas

by Dawn Papandrea

6 minute read

For the past several months, adidas has built up GamePlan A, its digital magazine focusing on the intersection of sports, business, and lifestyle. 

Recent popular stories range from “Make Mental Strength Your Strongest Skill – The All Black Ways,” “How Women Won Their Running Rights at the Boston Marathon,” and “So I Don’t Fit Your Feminine Ideal? Read This.”

The goal of GamePlan A is not, however, to drive readers to eventually purchase running shoes or track jackets. 

Rather, it’s to engage and retain employees, and build a unifying company culture through content that “tackles work-life with an athlete’s heart,” according to Director of Content Strategy and Content Marketing, Frank Thomas.

 frank-thomas (1).png

Frank Thomas, adidas’ Director of Content Strategy and Content Marketing

We connected with Thomas for a pre-game chat (before his upcoming talk at #ThinkContent Summit) about GamePlan A’s content strategy as it approaches its one-year anniversary.

Most content marketing is geared toward the consumer. What was behind adidas’ decision to focus inward?

Adidas also has content that is consumer-facing, but what our team deals with is the company behind the brands. We’re focused on a very different, but just as important, target audience.

In the past, we tried to serve all target audiences through content marketing, from investors to journalists, employees, and potential candidates. But we realized we were all over the place. We rethought the entire setup and who we needed to address, and decided it is the employees, potential candidates, and, in general, like-minded people who can become advocates for the brand.

We had to figure out the link between all of these groups, and we identified it’s the culture that unites them. We’re lucky to have a culture where people from all around the world come together, inspired by sports. Even outside of the company, there’s definitely a target audience of people like us, and nobody was really addressing them. 

We’re not defined by demographics. What’s more important is the audience’s values and the convictions they live by. We can create pride internally for our employees, address the culture we want to foster even more, and at the same time, speak to an external audience.

And that’s how we came up with GamePlan A – if you are an athlete, you don’t stop being an athlete at the office. It’s an approach to how you work, and that’s the community we want to build.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 6.42.20 PM.png

What are your goals since you’re not directly trying to drive sales or conversions like many other content marketers?

We are genuinely interested in driving relationships with like-minded people who have a culture that is compatible to ours. The ultimate goal is to build advocacy. That’s also a key goal of our strategic business plan, “Creating the New.”

The other thing that plays into that is our core belief that through sports, we have the power to change lives. We can express that belief by focusing on working life. It’s had an effect on our own culture and built the basis for long-lasting relationships outside the company. It opens up the advocacy funnel.

So how can you measure success when you’re talking about advocacy?

Overall, advocacy is tough to measure. We just launched in May last year, so we want traffic, but more importantly, quality traffic.

We care most right now about on-site engagement – so things like time on site, achieving a good bounce rate. Community growth, on-site behavior, and attention, in general, are the main metrics we are measuring.

What kind of buy-in did you get for this strategy, and were there challenges?

It was both a challenge and an opportunity for us. Our ambition was to live up to a strategic business plan that was still fairly new when we were in the development phase of our content marketing strategy (in 2015). By documenting our strategy, it created more clarity for our work as a corporate communications department. The alignment with the business plan also created more buy-in for the work we do.

For instance, a key pillar of the “Creating the New” plan is the people and the culture. This is clearly something we speak to.

As for challenges, as a big organization, it’s not always easy to make it all work and it was important to us, to not only re-work our strategy but to also reflect this change in our department’s processes. It requires a continuous dialogue to explain all of this and why we are actually making the shift from branded content to content marketing­ – that we may not necessarily talk about adidas at all, as long as it’s related to the idea and culture we want to promote.

What’s your distribution strategy?

On social media, our most important channel is LinkedIn for the moment, and the company pages that we have.

The second most important is Twitter. We try to use our resources efficiently so we stick to a few channels and try not to be all over the place.

We’re working on improving our email marketing, and are also doing paid, like sponsored content on LinkedIn, as well as a bit of native advertising. There are a lot of tactics we use, but those are the main ones. We’re currently testing and looking into working with content discovery partners as well.

What advice do you have for other content marketers?

What was really important for us was to take a step back and rethink how we do things and what we want to stand for, and to document the strategy. That’s not new advice, but not many people are doing it.

I strongly believe that if we as content marketers make culture the driving force of strategy, we will be rewarded with longer-lasting relationships. The most efficient way of doing it is to connect your target audience to your organization’s culture.

In content marketing, we always try to create short moments of relevance, but relevance is fleeting. When my favorite soccer team scores a goal, it is only exciting until the other team scores. In other words, relevance comes in waves – all short moments. But if you don’t want to lose the audience in between, give them something to hang on to. The best way to do that is to connect your target audience to your organization’s culture – your values, ideas, convictions, and behaviors.

Hear more from Frank Thomas at NewsCred’s #ThinkContent Summit on May 10th in NYC. 


Dawn Papandrea is a NewsCred Contributor.