“A girlfriend of mine, and I were drunk in college, and we decided we wanted double piercings. It was a blood bath. She decided to just take a normal stud, and bore it through my ear. I can’t even tell you how much an ear actually bleeds.” -SUE PARKER
Sue’s story exemplifies her persona–– outrageous, infectious, and tenacious. Direct and to the point, she is a business warrior. Her marketing/branding agency, Frank, has been strategizing and designing for 15 years.
SOLIS: What is your passion?
PARKER: I’m very into social inequality and politics, and I am constantly thinking about how I can combine my dharma with other artists to do good. It is important to not allow barriers that you perceive to stop you from achieving your goals. With everything that you pursue there will be steps upon steps that you climb. You can’t just stop on step 50, you have to persevere and continue to grow, keep on going and finish strong.
SOLIS: What inspired you to go into advertising?
PARKER: I was young and working at Reebok, where I initially did secretarial work. I loved it, and learned so much just sitting in the CEO and vice president’s office. I was going to school at Emerson, and was studying advertising communications. I found it to be quite interesting–– language in general. We executed the Reebok UBU campaign in 1987, and Peter Moore, who later became my boss, partnered with Weiden and Kennedy to execute the Nike campaigns, Revolution and Just Do It, at exactly the same time. At the time, it was so apparent that we had beat Nike in terms of our product, and our incredibly connected community; however, Peter used branding to sell, and with sneakers it was revolutionary. Peter believed that advertising and marketing in sneakers was not taboo, and was necessary to further sales. Building a product without communication and advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark–– it’s not going to get you anywhere. With these two campaigns, Nike skyrocketed industries away from Reebok. So, by 1989, I realized that my next step was an agency environment. My current senior management simply did not have the ability to further me in advertising and branding.
SOLIS: How did you end up working for Peter Moore?
PARKER: A friend of mine whom I had worked with at Reebok, Steve Liggett, called me. He had been working with Peter for the past year and was running Adidas’s U.S. marketing. He explained that they were building a U.S. Adidas office, and that they had this idea called “Originals.” He had told Peter about me, and wanted me to come in and meet with him. I was psyched; I couldn’t be happier in having someone like Peter Moore as my direct supervisor–– it blew my mind. I mean, he was the catalyst that pushed me into advertising to begin with.
I was 4 hours late to my first meeting with Peter. The Heathman Hotel, where I was staying, did not provide me a wake up call. When I did finally arrive in old Dr. Martens, ripped jeans and homemade jewelry, his assistant was so miffed with me that he told me that I would only have 2 minutes with Peter. Two and half-hours later, I had a contract. Peter knew that I understood the value of both branding and product. “Advertising People” didn’t know the process of creating shoe and apparel concepts, and “Product People” still thought product was King. They wouldn’t do the marketing, communication, and promotion (including PR) necessary to move the concept forward. Peter needed someone who got both, and had a proven track record of both. At the time, I was the only one in the industry. The Originals Business Unit Strategy was created from a product, promotions and distribution standpoint, and still serves as a screener. This was driven by me, and of course, created by a whole host of incredibly brilliant people. I created a category, and the team that followed truly created “the business.”
SOLIS: What inspired you to begin Frank?
PARKER: I realized that the more I worked with corporations that they really were not sharing profit, with the exception of a select few. We, the employees in these big powerhouses, began to become really cynical by about 1997. That’s when I started to formulate in my mind that maybe there was a better way to do things within the industry. While I was running the Adidas Accessories division that was an ESOP (employee stock option program), whose sales were doubling due to some very groundbreaking projects, I still felt stifled creatively. The projects that I wanted to see manifest themselves were unable to actualize, and I realized that I needed to choose who I worked with directly on a day-to-day basis. A trusting business associate of mine, Bob Orlando, who was running Adidas Originals, decided he would be venturing on to Teva footwear, wherein he would become the President. He asked if I would like to go with him and my response was, “Better yet, let me go and build this new company that is more collaborative, where everyone shares in profit, and we can all bring the best to the table at a very nominal price.” I started the company to create what I thought was a new way that creatives and marketers could serve CEOs far more cost efficiently, and far more effectively.
What further propelled me to begin my own business at 35 years old was my health. My doctors were advising me that I would not be having a child because of my lifestyle. I was working 12-hour days, and traveling all the time. I was forced to make a decision; I could stay on my current unhealthy track, or I could do my own thing and run my life at the pace that I wanted. The latter would allow me more of an opportunity to start a family, which is what I wanted.
SOLIS: Was this all happening in Portland?
PARKER: Los Angeles. I left all of my contacts, took off, and just sat on the beach. I set up my office on Hermosa Pier, and literally, I dropped out of the scene for over a decade. The only people that I talked to were people I called while “dialing for dollars.” I was trying to get business while also rejuvenating myself, and within three years I was pregnant–––I got my wish, and the doctors couldn’t believe it. I was doing so much yoga and drinking at least two shots of wheat grass everyday.
SOLIS: Where does advertising stand today?
PARKER: We went from a manufacturing mindset in the 70s, wherein product was king, to a marketing mind, wherein marketing was queen, to now, a media mind. As a brand, you are not just making the product, and you’re not just marketing it. Now, you have to become a media house, and be your own publication. There is Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc, and the experts tell us that the best practices are across seven networks. Now you need editors and people constructing content mountains that are asking, “What do we talk about tomorrow? How does that roll up to what we talked about for a week? Who are our ambassadors that talk back and forth with us on social media?” These are all structured marketing programs that are used today.