Erin O. Patton’s name probably doesn’t ring a bell but he’s the main reason that Michael Jordan’s sneaker, the “Air Jordan”, became a household name. Patton recently chopped it up in an exclusive interview with AtlantaPost.com speaking on how he redefined what is means to market to mainstream by opening the eyes of big companies that wouldn’t acknowledge the black community.
TAP: When did know your career in marketing and branding had officially taken flight?
Patton: I’d say the early nineties, when hip-hop, as well as business and brands, were exploding across popular culture. In my book, I refer to artists and athletes of that time as software developers because they were designing the language, styles and brands. They were creating a killer application for this culture in terms of what’s the newest lingo, what’s the newest style, the newest artist or DJ? And that eventually would run on the mainframe or hardware, if you will, called corporate America, i.e. the record labels, T.V. networks and film houses. So we were creating the content or software to be distributed to the masses. I had that understanding but at the same time I knew how important education was and I was able to get the training necessary to crossover into corporate America and really define my niche and the audience I was after and also a part of. So from there I went to Nike and the rest is history.
TAP: As a U.S. Manager of Public Relations and, eventually, Jordan Brand Manager, what exactly was your job? What was your working routine?
Patton: Whenever we dropped a new sneaker, commercial or whatever, I had to create the awareness surrounding it. Whether it was an interview or a press release with media about the new Air Jordans, I had to spread the word. I had to let people know, “here’s a picture of the shoe that’s hitting the streets over the holidays,” then I had to shoot the picture over to “Slam” Magazine and have them write a story on it, which emphasized the new commercial featuring Michael Jordan. I would have the media come behind the scenes and make sure they were able to interview Michael, et cetera.
When there was controversy, I was the spokesperson. When kids were killing each other over a pair of Jordans and it was featured on “Nightline” and BET’s “Teen Summit,” I had to handle it. So I was working the brand from all angles because I could relate to the audience. I was not just a corporate spokesperson making excuses. I had an authentic sensibility and supported the community to which I spoke.
In terms of footwear and the Jordan brand, I did the typical thing and made sure all the athletes were wearing them. But I made sure that we started sending product to the hip-hop artists like NAS, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS One and several others.