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Aaron Walton

Aaron Walton

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As a marketing executive at the Pepsi-Cola Company in the 1980s, Aaron Walton spearheaded the corporation's sponsorships of major tours by Tina Turner, David Bowie, Gloria Estefan, and Michael Jackson. Since then the 46-year-old has harnessed the power of pop culture for a host of other brands--including GM, Levi Strauss, and Taco Bell--first as head of Aaron Walton Entertainment, which he sold to marketing and advertising behemoth Omnicom Group in 2001, and now as a partner in Walton/ Isaacson, with offices in Beverly Hills and Chicago.

At Pepsi-Cola you had a position many people would die for: working with some of pop's biggest icons. How did you get there? I started as a marketing analyst in the research department. After working on Mountain Dew for a while, they moved me back to Pepsi to take on the entertainment initiative, right after they brought on Michael Jackson. I went on the road with him for 14 months on a world tour [for the Bad album]. From there I carved out this really great role where I was the guy who was like the artist and repertoire people at a record company who go out and find talent and act as a coordinator for them.

Then you formed Aaron Walton Entertainment in 1989. My first deal after Pepsi was for AT&T with Whitney Houston, called the True Voice campaign. Then I started working with more brands. I thought to myself, Wow, I really like this. I'm doing really well at it; my company is growing. I started in a small apartment, then I was getting staff--it became a real business.

You call Walton/Isaacson "the planet's most interesting agency." Why? My background is in traditional brand marketing, so we look at everything very strategically. It's not just in terms of, "Oh, isn't that a cool celebrity to be linked with." It's about what's the peak need of the brand. Sometimes the plan is celebrity-driven, and sometimes it's not. For us it always starts with figuring out what [the brands] are trying to accomplish. And the fact that we have a very diverse staff--gay, black, straight, white--that makes a big difference.

How willing are companies to direct their advertising budgets toward LGBT people? Now more than ever, the smart companies are realizing that the gay community has a large disposable income; they're well-educated--they're tastemakers. When I started in marketing I never saw dollars specifically for alternative lifestyle marketing. Now it's part of the plan. I encourage all of the clients that I work with to do it--not just because it's right but because it makes great business sense.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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