Nike World Headquarters is its own strange utopia. A visit to the well-groomed grounds just south of Portland starts in the parking area with sounds of children from the outdoor play yard of the child development center. A walk into the campus meanders between four-story office buildings named for great athletes and coaches, and then past geese on grass and a group of women doing jumping jacks and stretches on a plaza in front of Lake Nike before starting their run.
The plaza connects to a cafeteria, one of six eateries on the property, where Marcia Steele Hoover breezes in wearing running shoes and two layered zip-ups. It’s this culture of business, creativity, health, nature, and energy that she’s focused on promoting as global director of the Nike Communications Center of Excellence. She slides into the booth across from me, plunking her notebook on the table.
“We all walk around with our little notebooks,” she says. Some are digital; hers is paper filled with small, elegant handwriting. Lists, paragraphs, reminders—all a mix of her creative process and her job guiding a large team of writers, editors, artists, and videographers, or as she calls them “end-to-end talent.”
When she joined the new Communications Center of Excellence in 2011, it had just a handful of people. In two years it has grown 300 percent, says Steele Hoover. That’s particularly significant for a corner of the company that isn’t a revenue generator, and for which it is difficult to show a return on investment. But Nike has 8,000 Portland-area employees, 48,000 worldwide including those with subsidiary companies like Converse and Hurley, and the company’s leaders prize employee engagement and satisfaction, which is a boon to productivity, she says. “Our employees live and breathe the Nike culture.”
Steele Hoover’s job is to reinforce that culture and connect the employees, which can be difficult for a company so large. More, it’s to promote the characteristics the company prizes like energy, imagination, and attachment to the brand. “Nike does more than outfit the world’s best athletes,” reads a recent job posting. “We are a place to explore potential, obliterate boundaries, and push out the edges of what can be. We’re looking for people who can grow, think, dream and create.”
The internal communications group uses every kind of vehicle: a Facebook-like social media platform, videos, newsletters, information campaigns, even signs on campus. They must be creative, even outrageous, if it helps communicate. “We really don’t have any guardrails,” says Steele Hoover. To promote the launch of a new company-wide technology platform, “the most boring thing ever,” she says, they built anticipation over several weeks by planting giant blue footprints around campus to stir interest. It helped catch the attention of every employee who needed to adopt the new platform.
Steele Hoover credits her time at WSU with preparing her for the jobs that led to this one. “Cable 8 was great because we were interviewing the same players and coaches as the major sportscasters,” she says. She also majored in political science, which helped her to an early job as a press secretary with U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski, and then to work in a prosecutor’s office in Alaska. She moved into a job with Pacific Telecom, which eventually took her out of Alaska and into the Portland/Vancouver area.
There she went to work as an analyst for several different business consultants. She visited clients at their headquarters around the country and advised them on their brand and marketing strategies. “I was on the road 100,000 miles a year,” she says. In that job, “you know more about their companies and their strategies than they know themselves.”
“I’ve had an interesting ride with many different companies and roles,” she says. “And my jobs have just gotten better.” But the constant themes have always been corporate strategy and marketing communications.
Her appreciation of WSU goes beyond her academic training. A member of the Greek system and a volunteer coxswain with the crew team, she made many good friends. “They are my best friends today,” she says. She prizes those ties.
When Molly McCue ’12, was looking for a job at Nike last spring, she discovered Steele Hoover was a fellow alum and asked for a meeting. “She let me pick her brain all because of our Cougar connection,” says McCue, who felt elated just to have a meeting. “Professionally, her reputation here is second to none.”
“When Molly showed up, she didn’t just have a CV, she had a full-on portfolio,” says Steele Hoover. She had worked for the athletic department and amassed a ton of experience. “That’s what WSU gives you,” she says. When a job came open, Steele Hoover encouraged McCue to apply. Now McCue is a full-time project coordinator.
Nike jobs aren’t all that easy to get. One recent search brought in 1,000 resumes. “Our pull is so great because we are the biggest [sports] brand in the world,” says Steele Hoover. “Some people make it a full-time effort to get here.” She, herself, set Nike as a goal, and started working for the company as a contractor, leaving her full-time consulting job to put all her energies into her Nike work. It paid off. “I found my niche and they brought me in,” she says. She celebrated by going home and having a pint with her husband.
The daughter of a coach, she planned at WSU to become a sportscaster. “We all thought that ESPN was going to come knocking at our doors,” she says. But the instructors were clear that most of them would never reach the national news market. “They didn’t sugarcoat anything,” she says. “They tried to make it real so that when you get out into the corporate environment there are no surprises.”
Steele Hoover may not be at ESPN, but at Nike she has found similar work in sports and communications. A few of her colleagues are former professional athletes and she gets to meet and be involved in projects with some of the world’s most exciting players and coaches. In this job, “I feel like I’ve come full circle,” she says. “Now I work for an athletic company doing what I’ve always wanted to do. How awesome is that?”