“I’m amazing today, and you?” says the receptionist. How many times have you walked into an office where you have felt trans- formed just by the greeting? The atmosphere at Walton Isaacson, under the leadership of Co-Founders Aaron Walton, Cory Isaac- son, and the“Angelic Troublemakers”they hire, provides just that experience. With an extensive client list that includes: Lexus, Intel, McDonald’s, Macy’s, MillerCoors, and Spalding; Walton Isaacson is an award-winning advertising agency that leads the way with innovation; creative style and continues to raise the bar and break down barriers. NBA legend and entrepreneurial icon, Earvin “Magic”Johnson was one of the company’s earliest investors and most fervent advocates. Co-Founder Aaron Walton has been a transformative and creative trailblazer his entire life.
Even in his early years, Walton and his younger sister Valerie, were trailblazers, becoming just two of only seven students who helped pilot Boston’s Metco Program, which sent black school children from the inner-city to the far more affluent Boston suburbs. “My parents, Homer and Patricia Walton came from proud, hard–working families. They instilled in us a strong work ethic and optimism that everything in life was attainable.You might not expect to get that from a black couple who married so young with little to no financial resources,”states Walton. Going to a nearly all- white suburban school helped Walton to broaden his view of life and to help break down stereotypes with fellow schoolmates.“It never occurred to me to be worried or hesitant to become involved in student activities and leadership because I was an outsider. I genuinely believed I could make a difference.”
Walton’s parents scrimped and saved in order to move the family to Bellingham, MA, where they became the fi black family on the block. Some neighbors had circulated a petition to prevent them from moving into the neighborhood. Undeterred by the petition, his parents continued to focus on improving the family’s lives and educational opportunities. Walton says that he used his parents’challenges as the“trigger”in his life that gave him the unerring drive that he continues to employ to this day.“My parents were truly progressive and proactive, and because of their drive, I’m able to look at obstacles in my life as temporary roadblocks, not dead ends.”
Walton attended Mount St. Charles Academy, a college prep school in Rhode Island that helped to bolster the foundation for his future success. He was well acclimated to being part of an environment where everyone else didn’t look like him and came from very different life experiences. Thanks to parents who never made him fearful of putting himself on the line, Walton was able to excel and, once again, taking on the leadership role as the student government President because he felt that all voices needed to be heard in order to make a difference.
Walton continued to blaze trails in college. His work ethic and personality was well suited for the entrepreneurial platform that is synonymous with his alma mater, Babson College in Wellesley,
MA. Time and again, Walton’s deep love and understanding of pop music and pop culture has influenced the decisions he’s made in life and helped clear a path when he felt his life and career should be headed in a new direction.“Before I applied to Babson, I was excited to attend the school’s annual Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs awards ceremony. Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr., who is one of my heroes, spoke and was presented with an award. That sealed my desire to go to Babson. The school was honoring a Black man for his accomplishments in the business world, something that was unbelievably rare in 1978. Unfortunately, still too rare today.“
Babson was also significant for Walton because it introduced him to Roger Enrico, a trustee of the college and Chief Executive Officer of the Pepsi-Cola Company. Enrico, who had been impressed by Walton’s presentations and poise as student government president, made the decision to hire him as a marketing analyst at the company. During Walton’s tenure at Pepsi in his early 20s, he served in a number of positions that included both brand management and operations. His most high-profile responsibility was managing the company’s relationship with pop icon, Michael Jackson. Walton spent the better part of two years traveling the world as Pepsi’s representative.“Working with Michael Jackson’s team was a tremendous opportunity and became uncharted territory that allowed me to establish a foothold in the entertainment marketing world.”
After the Jackson tour, Walton left the safety and security of his Pepsi job with Enrico’s full support to form his own entertainment marketing agency in Los Angeles. Walton helped to redefine how both brands and agencies work with celebrities. How did Walton break the mold and build the new model?“ I was truly able to effectively engage extensively with celebrities, because I had a great interest in them as artists and their impact on pop culture. They never saw me as an empty suit who was just carrying the company’s bags.”
“The key with celebrities who have a million people coming at them is to establish a trust and respect for both their art and have an understanding how valuable their time is; that you’ve already thought through all the potential logistics and actually trust their gut as to what will and will not work for them. I had arranged a commercial for Marlon Brando, and when he questioned at the copy that had been written for him, there was a complete panic among the business people on the set. It turned out that Brando’s instincts were dead right, and after I calmed down everyone involved, they realized that he had made it a better commercial.”
Walton’s attributes the ability to understand the needs of businesses and brands back to Pepsi and Babson. Everything has come full circle, as Babson recently recognized Walton as one of the school’s leading entrepreneurs and outstanding alumni. The award joins a long and growing list of honors that simply only motivate Walton to push the envelope further.
“These awards are really a tribute to everyone who has worked at Walton Isaacson, especially Cory, who has worked with me to create the‘planet’s most interesting agency’from day one,”states Walton. The firm has offices in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami and Dallas. The“Angelic Troublemakers”who work for the company bring more to the job than just a resume. They have a proactive and collaborative spirit that’s driven by their ability to tap into cultural insights that connect brands to the hearts and souls of their consumers. The firm is also socially aware to global conditions that impact people and has developed pro bono campaigns that have raised the consciousness of consumers. The term“angelic trouble- makers”comes from one of Walton’s heroes, the noted black gay civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin. Rustin often stated,“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”
In addition to his career achievements, Walton has a keen insight into the community at large. He understands the need to fully engage the consumer to best generate a successful campaign that not only sells a product, but also inspires movements towards positive change and societal acceptance of all. With the precision of a surgeon, Walton is able to get to the heart of a campaign by focusing on consumer insights that impact purchase behavior.“I feel that the future success of the advertising industry will be wrapped in the agency’s ability to deliver culturally relevant communications through media channels that speak directly to the consumer.
Six years ago, Walton became a trendsetter in the fashion world when Japanese global designer Rynshu asked him to be a Paris runway model. Walton’s exceptional fashion and style sense is yet another expression of his creative genius. His twice-yearly trips to Paris to model during Men’s Fashion Week serve as an opportunity to experience a new form of storytelling. There is a parallel: both Rynshu and Walton have minutes and seconds to captivate people with an idea and product. Walton has walked thirteen Paris shows for Rynshu and continues to set fashion trends wherever he goes.
And“on the go”is just how Aaron is described, but he always makes time for the causes that are near and dear to him. In 2015, Walton Isaacson produced the critically acclaimed web-series called“Inside Out,”which was sponsored by Lexus and received an ADCOLOR Award nomination. The series, which was named one of the“Top 10 LGBT Ads of the Year”by Advertising Age, honored four OUT100 LGBT influencers who shared their“coming out”stories and their related experiences. Under Walton’s leadership, the firm developed a pro bono campaign for CHIRLA (Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights Los Angeles) called “Turn Ignorance Around,”which received more than 20 million views on social media. The agency’s campaign for“The Water Project,”which provides reliable water to communities in sub-Saharan Africa was nominated for the Cannes Lion’s Award.
Aaron is in continual motion with little time to slow down and define his legacy. Future visions for Aaron Walton and the“Angelic Troublemakers”at Walton Isaacson include more philanthropic and socially conscious endeavors. With a growing client base and needing more shelves for the awards they will continue to receive, Aaron Walton is blazing diverse trails in advertising and fashion with integrity and innovation. What’s his advice for others?“Be interested and Be interesting. If you’re not growing exponentially as a person—and as a thinker—you’re not providing your business with the constant adrenaline that will continue to feed its success. Every successful entrepreneur I know is incredibly curious, and has an intense interest in experiencing and learning about new things and in getting to know people who are re- ally good at what they do and sharing that knowledge with other team members.“ Amazing!