This Is The Guy Who Keeps Nike In The Creative Spotlight

Greg Hoffman, Nike’s VP of global brand creative, on the parallels between sports and building positive buzz around a brand.

This Is The Guy Who Keeps Nike In The Creative Spotlight
Just for kicks: Greg Hoffman is taking Nike’s digital storytelling to new heights. [Photo: Amy Harrity]

From a hugely popular video series on the 2014 FIFA World Cup to elaborate interactive displays related to the 2015 NBA All-Star game, Greg Hoffman’s global team keeps Nike in the spotlight. And as his crew creates ads, store designs, promotions, and more, Hoffman says he approaches creativity like a team sport. Priorities and goals are what lead in his circle of creators–without those, he says his Nike team is just an “artist colony.” But how does he maintain a high-octane slate of creative projects without losing focus? (The “top” of his 22-year stint at Nike was an immersive LED basketball court outfitted with screaming fans and real defenders, allowing fans to literally feel what it’s like to be Michael Jordan.) Here’s what Hoffman had to say.


Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?

I pull a lot of inspiration from traveling around the world. One in particular is Brazil, where I’ve been going since 1997. Whether you’re talking architecture or furniture or digital, the design is modern but with a soul. Which mirrors Nike. I’ve been to Brasilia, the modernist mecca that [Oscar] Niemeyer designed. Talk about being representative of an incredible, bold, disruptive vision. It’s an entire city designed in exacting and uncompromising detail. It forces you to look at your own work and ask: Are we really pushing things as far as we can?

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

It starts the night before. I make sure I’m organized. It goes back to football–having 11 on the field. I happen to have 11 senior creative leaders for the 11 functions I manage. Everybody at all times knows what the top initiatives are. I want to know the top three they’re working on, and what’s on fire. I am a big believer in the operational side and how it can empower creativity. Without that, it becomes an artist colony.

What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?

I still draw. I’m known for drawing on yellow stickies and leaving them on desks and retail spaces. What’s the fastest way I can get the point across in a constructive way? Can I convey my direction without words? If I can, it’s like a scene in a movie where no one is speaking, but you feel the point of view. You’re talking about roughly 1,000 teammates I manage. How do you find time to dive into the creative process with those individuals? I feel you have to lead through demonstration.


What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?

I don’t like to use the word favorite. These are Instagram accounts that use the channel effectively:

@gopro: Great use of the medium by a brand through first-person views.

@1stdibs: As the mission states, it’s the world’s luxury marketplace for rare and desirable objects.

@mrporterlive: Best curation of multiple fashion brands. A trusted editor.

@nikelab: Iconic photography for modern sport. I’m biased, of course.


What are some things you do to refresh your mind when you’re in a rut?

I think of ruts more in terms of the group, because that’s how we’re creating. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re alone when they’re trying to crack the creative code. So how I deal with it is I bring everyone together. If you think of sports and any championship-level team, the only way to get out of a rut in one of those epic games is through teamwork. I want people to be extremely confident and supportive. That’s how you make connections you need to make in the creative process.

Click here for more insight from [i]Fast Company‘s 2015 Most Creative People in Business.[/i]

About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug.