Maintaining the noise: Adidas’ Micki Rivers

Adidas Canada's Micki Rivers gets the right people wearing her brand - and everyone else talking about it

Micki Rivers knows how to build street cred. The senior marketing manager at Concord, Ont.-based Adidas Canada is a longtime buzz-builder who realized early on in her career that allowing consumers to find her brands themselves goes a long way towards building brand loyalty.

Rivers wears many hats at Adidas – from managing the Originals and women’s wear lines to coordinating PR events to developing relationships with retailers – but her focus on buzz building is consistent across everything she does. Her tactics must be working: Originals is worn by rock stars and skate kids, and the women’s apparel is regularly featured in fashion mags.

Rivers is set to turn a lot of heads this month with a fresh Canadian activation of the global Adidas Grün (German for green) campaign. She’ll be setting up in-store horticultural displays in the windows of 10 of her key accounts, ideally within close range of each other for maximum impact. At press time, she was aiming to do five along Toronto’s trendy Queen West. The displays will include living plants, so Rivers is hiring a horticultural company to maintain the window displays throughout April. The effort coincides with Earth Day on Apr. 27. While there are many global Adidas initiatives this year, Rivers chose to really focus on Grün here because it’s close to her heart. ‘I really believe [the environment] is an important issue,’ she says. ‘I drive a hybrid.’

April is a busy month for Rivers. She’ll be in Calgary for the Junos on Apr. 6, hanging out at the Adidas-sponsored ‘shoe-shine stand’ at the official Junos musician hangout, dubbed the Rock Star Hotel. Rivers loves getting her product onto musicians who already wear Adidas, and having a presence at the Junos is a good way to meet lots of artists at once. ‘It hooks you up for future sponsorship opportunities,’ she says. Adidas is currently sponsoring artists like Bedouin Soundclash, Jully Black, Shout Out Out Out Out and Hedley. She won’t sponsor just anyone, though: the artists have to demonstrate that they already like Adidas first – she doesn’t want them wearing it just because it’s part of a deal.

When Bedouin Soundclash’s management approached her, they sent a music video in which the lead singer was wearing an old Adidas Originals T-shirt. That won Rivers over right away. Now, she sets them up with free product and modest financial support, and in exchange, the band members wear Adidas in public and in promotional images and videos. Adidas also sponsors the band’s launch parties and provides gift bags for attendees, which lands the brand in the hands of even more key influencers.

Rivers’ experience working with those influencers and early adopters is serving her well in her efforts to reach out to skateboarders. It’s been a big focus for her since Adidas launched a skatewear line about two years ago. She’s very careful not to alienate her target; you won’t catch any Adidas skatewear advertised outside of a niche skate publication. Rivers is the first to admit when she’s out of her element. As a suburban mom, she knows she’s not in a skater’s mindset, so she enlisted help.

‘I hired a cool niche company that lives and breathes skate,’ she says, referring to Toronto-based agency Breadwinner. She worked with them to select the top five or six amateur skateboarders across Canada for the brand to sponsor as part of the Adidas Flow team. Rivers’ goal for the team is the ultimate buzz coup: for the team to land coverage in Canadian skate bible SBC Skateboard.

Rivers is also leveraging the Flow team concept with independent retailers. She set up the Shop Flow Kids program, which involves sending free Adidas product to one employee at the most underground skate shops Adidas sells into across Canada. Rivers says she has about 20 Shop Flow Kids in total, from Underworld in Vancouver to Blue Tile Lounge in Newmarket, Ont. She often receives feedback from the kids. ‘When you deliver product, it’s interesting how often they email back and say they love the shoes,’ says Rivers.

This spring, as well as appealing to skaters and rockers, Rivers will be appealing to a target she’s a bit more familiar with: runners. She’s orchestrating an account-specific promo with Calgary-based Forzani Group to set up a giant shoebox just outside the mall entrances of Sport Chek stores. The box opens up into a little room, where runners can try on Adidas running shoes and chat with sales reps who can provide them with customized running routes around their homes using satellite technology. Rivers, who’s a runner herself, says it’s important to give runners added value like the maps, since a lot of marketers are talking to this increasingly lucrative demo. ‘There’s a 40% growth in running,’ she points out.

Rivers is no stranger to unique in-store initiatives. After earning a general studies degree from the University of Manitoba (she hails from rural Manitoba) and a PR diploma from Toronto’s Humber College, she began her career specializing in POS and in-store design, before moving to the marketing department at Aurora, Ont.-based Reebok Canada in 1995.

While she was a marketing manager, Rivers was put in touch with record label rep Craig Mannix, who was representing rapper Choclair at the time. Rivers saw an opportunity to reach a new audience for Reebok, and pushed hard to launch a new shoe with an urban tie-in, which Choclair would wear. She faced a lot of internal resistance, but eventually won approval to test the new shoe. It wound up netting a double-digit sell-through. ‘Once you get sell-through, then they start looking at it saying, ‘Hmm, there’s some legitimacy there,” says Rivers.

In 2005, Adidas bought Reebok, and invited Rivers (who was director of marketing at the time) to stay on to work for them. Rivers saw it as an exciting opportunity. ‘At Reebok, as marketing director I oversaw all categories. At Adidas, I wanted to be tactical again. A full-term project is very rewarding,’ she says.

One of Rivers’ more tactical moves for Adidas has proven to be very rewarding: she set up a PR tour that showcases all the new Adidas lines to media twice a year. This has helped score regular media coverage in magazines like Lou Lou and Fashion, which has impressed higher-ups like her boss Jeff Cooper, director of marketing at Adidas Canada.

‘The biggest thing for us is that she’s established a very strong PR program,’ he says, adding that Rivers is always busy maintaining relationships with not only the media, but also key influencers and retailers. As well as being a key liaison for the shops Adidas sells into nationwide, Rivers was also instrumental in planning the launch activities surrounding the openings of the three Canadian Adidas Originals stores over the past couple of years in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Cooper marvels at Rivers’ ability to stay on top of so many different projects. ‘Micki’s always flying in, flying out, flying everywhere,’ he says. ‘She’s very high-energy. And she’s always smiling.’

Rivers will be focusing her energy more heavily online this spring. She’s currently working with Toronto-based Vice Canada on housing a few global Adidas videos, like a claymation history of founder Adi Dassler, on the Vice video site ‘What I love about online is that it’s measurable,’ she says, adding that she plans to drive traffic to the videos with banner ads. Don’t expect to see Adidas on Facebook anytime soon, though. ‘I don’t know how I feel about [advertising on] Facebook, because it’s very personal.’

If you’re ever looking for her, chances are you’ll catch Rivers jogging in her Adidas sneakers, chatting with kids at skateparks, mingling with rockers at concerts or hanging out at an independent Queen West boutique. She’ll be the one decked out in Adidas, because, as boss Cooper says: ‘Micki lives the brand.’