Mizuno’s Graham Johnson on Eddie Izzard, running a little, and helping a lot

Mizuno Corporation’s UK Marketing Manager, Graham Johnson, on the sports company’s partnership with comedian Eddie Izzard – and a recent brand collaboration with the Rijksmuseum.

Graham Johnson. Strong name… Thanks for making time. You’re UK Marketing Manager for the sports company Mizuno Corporation. What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
First and foremost, my efforts are in trying to grow Mizuno’s brand awareness. Mainly that’s through our largest sport – running – but also through a host of other popular sports such as rugby, football, netball, hockey and rowing.

Not on your own, presumably?
No; I have a small team. Between us we manage retailer and athlete partnerships, social media and the inevitable budget juggling.

And how did you come to be in that role?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work in the sports industry since I was 15. Don’t tell the NSPCC… For most of that time, I’ve been a Mizuno customer and an admirer of the brand. So when an old friend offered me a job there, I was delighted to accept. It was a very interesting transition from brand customer to brand representative.

Graham Johnson, Mizuno
With products available for so many different sports, then, what pulls them all together? What does Mizuno do that no one else does quite as well?

We’re not an image-focussed brand; we’re very much performance based. It’s product designed to give users with the best-possible experience in sporting goods. We have an unwavering belief that we make exceptional product exceptionally well.

That might be part of the answer to my next question then… I know you actively look for sponsorship and event opportunities that fit your brand. But what makes a great partnership for Mizuno?
A shared ideal that sport is a good and very powerful medium to contribute to society via participation and involvement. So we ask ourselves, “Does ‘this’ race or event just want to turn a profit? Or does it see value in masses of people exercising and trying to get fitter & healthier? Is ‘this’ athlete pocketing cash so that someone can run an Instagram account on their behalf? Or do they truly value Mizuno, and want to promote the brand because they love the product and the Mizuno philosophy?”

“We have an unwavering belief that we make exceptional product exceptionally well”

Great answer. And in that respect, at the start of the year you teamed up with the remarkable Eddie Izzard. An intriguing partnership! What was the plan, exactly?
Yes, at noon on New Year’s Day, Eddie started running 31 marathons in 31 days. The runs were all done on a treadmill at Riverside Studios Hammersmith. Then – pretty much as soon as each each run finished – Eddie performed a ‘best of’ stand up gig. Since Eddie has fans all over the world, each run is themed by city.

This is inconceivable to me! Is it just me?! You’ve run marathons, haven’t you? With that frame of reference, how difficult is this?
It’s unfathomably difficult! So no, it’s not just you. But we knew Eddie had the strength and will to complete it. The challenge was called A Run For Hope and – as we talk now – it’s raised £313,087 against an original target of £150k. The donations pretty much doubled in the event’s last four days.

Graham Johnson, Mizuno
That’s amazing…

This is all a smaller part of Eddie’s bigger campaign, Make Humanity Great Again. This aims to bring people together at a time of great division in many places. A lot of fund raising is involved, for a lot of great charities – you can find details at a eddieizzard.com/en

Just out of curiosity, then: was that marathon plan Mizuno’s idea? Or Eddie’s?
Eddie’s. Eddie’s team approached Mizuno late last year. We didn’t need to think about it too much. It felt right… Eddie’s philosophy absolutely fits in with our own. We’re very focussed now on helping to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by working to address challenges such as poverty, inequality, hunger and ill-health.

Of which, I guess it mostly goes without saying that your immediate plans are Covid dependent. What’s next for you, though?
We’d like to think that – among the horrific and obvious consequences that Covid has wreaked – there are some positive stories. There’s been a huge uplift in exercise participation, for example. I think it’s become clear to many that you don’t need to be a world beater to enjoy sport and exercise.

Graham Johnson, Mizuno
I need convincing! What can I do to avoid running?

Well, running has seen massive growth – but so has outdoor walking, yoga, home fitness sessions and so on. So in 2021, we’ll be right at the front of the messengers telling people that they don’t need to find fitness daunting. One on one, like this with you! Go out, take it easy if you fancy, get some air and really enjoy it. But do it in decent shoes and kit because that genuinely adds to your enjoyment!

Alright. You’ve made it sound easy! In terms of other partnerships, then, into what areas are you looking to expand? What opportunities would you like to explore?
This will be very much running focussed. We’ll look to partner with individual running ambassadors who like to share their adventures in an engaging way on social media. In addition, we’ve been looking for a big hockey partnership as that’s the latest sport for which we’ve developed specialty footwear and team apparel.

It seems to me that many companies in your industry seek out licensing opportunities… Some subtle – some not so subtle. Is Mizuno interested in broader licensing opportunities?
It’s not a strategy, although sometimes opportunities present themselves that are too good to not indulge in. We had a partnership with Rijksmuseum in conjunction with the 2019 Amsterdam Marathon and we launched a follow-up collection this year for the 2021 Amsterdam Marathon.

And what product does that entail?
It spans a commemorative running shoe and apparel range – last time out, the commemorative shoe featured an insole depicting Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. We also have a heritage-themed partnership planned with a famous Japanese football club for which we’ll produce a licensed apparel range.

Graham Johnson, Mizuno
Super! Thank you! need to wrap this up, so two more things. Three if you count the third… First, if I wanted you to really telegraph Mizuno’s brand identity, what question would I need to ask?

What is Mizuno’s global corporate philosophy?

And how would you answer it?!
To contribute to society through the advancement of sporting goods and the promotion of sports.

Graham Johnson, Mizuno
Sounds great. Finally, then, what’s the strangest thing you’ve done for the brand?

I would say… For the 2019 Boat Race, I had to brand British Rowing’s Hammersmith HQ. All was going swimmingly until my colleague and I realised we’d done waaaaay too-good-a-job gluing a huge, four-piece aluminium logo to a metal pontoon. The two hours we’d reserved to take the branding down turned into two days on just this one sheet.

I remember the terrified faces of pedestrians in King Street as we marched back to the pontoon, swinging wrecking bars and cursing the inclement weather… I can’t remember how much money I thought we were saving by doing this ourselves and not hiring professionals. Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough!

Brilliant! Thank you so much for making time. I’m all the more grateful now I know you’ve got far more irritating things to do!

Graham Johnson, Mizuno

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