The "Dot Connector" - an Interview with Jon Wexler | Grailify
The "Dot Connector" - an Interview with Jon Wexler

The "Dot Connector" - an Interview with Jon Wexler

adidas is on everyone's lips right now. With an intangible hype around the brand, something seems to be going for Herzogenaurach. Of course, there are many people responsible for this push, but when it comes to the big "halo effect", Jon Wexler is definitely one of the big protagonists. From signing Kanye West over a period of a year and a half to handpicking musicians and creatives, he decides who represents the Three Stripes. We are proud to introduce you to the Global Director of Entertainment & Influencer Marketing, who in all his modesty likes to think of himself as the "Dot Connector".

Jon, it's great to have you as our interview guest. In fact, everyone in the office freaked out when I mentioned your name. Has Kanye's celebrity status rubbed off on you?
(Laughs) Obviously I fooled them. I definitely don't think of myself that way, but it's very nice to hear that. Thank you.
But all joking aside, the media attention must have really increased with such a big collaboration, right?
The attention has definitely increased. But I think with the explosion of social media, you can see much more behind the scenes of the people who have these kinds of roles at brands like adidas than you used to. Social media just gives you a broader platform to engage with things. Before, you were always on the other side of the lens. We've been working on great campaigns for the last ten years, but the intersection of social media and this work has just allowed people's names and faces to get out to the public.
Speaking of celebrities, let's take a step back in time. When you were younger, who were some of the people you associated with adidas? Who sparked your interest in the brand?
Well, I grew up in the eighties, I'm a child of that time. With the whole evolution of the brand and Run DMC's involvement, of course they were a focus in my life and got me interested in the brand. I played basketball at Pro Models, which is crazy now because we wear them as a lifestyle product and now have a whole basketball category where we develop products specifically for that purpose and shoes with great technologies. Run DMC was a defining moment in my life. I remember hearing the song "It's Like That" - and it just became something I wanted to be a part of. The whole culture of that music, the art form and also the adidas brand. And of course Bob Marley had a big influence on my life and he always wore adidas too. I also saw Muhammad Ali boxing on TV, in the big heavyweight fights that were on at the time, and he was an adidas athlete. A lot of these people that I looked up to and were role models for me represented the brand.
That sounds like a good mix of sport and entertainment?
You know, the question is asked all the time now: "adidas is working with people from the entertainment industry, what will that do for the brand?" And I keep thinking that we worked with Run DMC in the eighties, and that helped bring superstars to a wider audience. So for me, it's not that big a leap. But I think when we talk about the sports brand with "athletes as heroes", the discussion becomes a bit more opaque. But I see it as a very natural evolution for a brand like adidas, which is so inclusive and sophisticated, to want to partner with the creatives and artists that we are currently working with.
Do you remember how you got into the Three Stripes in the first place?
I worked as an independent sales representative for a number of young men's brands for about ten years. And in 1997 I moved to Portland, Oregon. I just focused on the brands that were based here and adidas was a big factor in my life as a kid and the brand I always wore as a kid. Since they are based here, it was like the stars aligned for me. But it took about three years of knocking on the door and getting every possible rejection from HR before I could finally set foot in here.

How did it all start - what was your first job there?
I was a merchandiser. The role was called "Sweeper", which no longer exists in the adidas US basketball category. My job was to create sales reports and make sure the samples got into the hands of the sales reps and the advertising and brand communications team. I was sort of the hub for all the business critical information for that category. That was my entry point into the brand, and through that I networked and built relationships with other areas of the company. Then I was appointed category manager for US footwear at adidas Originals, and from there I made the leap into brand communications a few years later. So it was by no means a linear career path. There were many twists and turns, but it was worth it.
It definitely sounds like you've come full circle, being a DJ before and now coming from the other side and building partnerships with musicians.
adidas is generally the intersection of who I am: the mix of sports and culture creators and sports culture. One of the cornerstones in my life that I was interested in as a kid was playing basketball four to six hours a day during high school. But I was always playing with my friends on the playground and stuff. I then stopped playing basketball because I wanted to invest more time in DJing. Now being at a brand that has such a footprint in the world of sports and culture - it's surreal when I wake up every day and come to work.

Part of your job is to choose the right people to represent the brand. What are the values you are looking for? Are there "common denominators" in their DNA?
Definitely, we are the brand for creatives. So we look for people who are pushing the boundaries in their respective cultures. You know, highly visible and influential people who speak to our consumers, who are relevant in both the online and offline world, who are relevant in sports and culture. People who have a loyal and engaged fan base and who are appealing to the people who support them. Accessible. A good management team around them if they are at that level. If they're not, they're just people who have the ability to create and who we can give a platform to support on a broader level. At the same time, it's a two-way street, so it's also people we can help. And if there is no positivity on either side of that equation, then something is going wrong. We look for people who are willing to promote our brand, but it's more of a philosophy of reciprocity, as I call it. You know, we show people love - and they show us love.
Apart from the business aspects, what do you think are the factors that convince people like Kanye to work with adidas? What do they see in it?
Kanye wanted to work with us because we have worked with a lot of designers over the last ten years. It was more about providing a creative platform for him to express his creativity with us. And we've done that to the best of our ability, giving him the tools that he's lacked in his design career so far to create at a really high level. People we've worked with over the years like Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Jeremy Scott and Yohji Yamamoto - there's this history and this design community. Also working with Run DMC gave us an honest and authentic approach to partnering with a designer and entertainer. I think the relationship plays a big part. And the creativity with Kanye. But definitely the fact that we're working with him on such a large scale.
You often use the word "dot connector" to describe your role. Where do you see your best skills or strengths in this area? Is it relationship building?
I think when you unravel this whole onion (laughs), that's really my skill: unpacking conversations and breaking them down to their building blocks and then tackling problems one by one and solving them - both internally and externally. Because the thing is that in my role I am sort of torn between the internal world of adidas and the external world. For our external partners, our internal collaborations and internal stakeholders are my customers. But when I talk to the same people internally, those external partners are my customers. So it's about the ability to interpret information and get to the core of what people want to express. And then passing that on in both directions when it gets lost in translation. The nice and good thing is that we work with a lot of intelligent people. So I'm not the only one in the room who has these skills. I just try to be open and honest with people. If you're willing to take risks and go through with them, people respect that, whether you're successful in the long run or not.
Building something successful can also be very satisfying on a personal level. What were the most gratifying moments for you?
Honestly, every single minute of my day is satisfying. I know that sounds very contrived, but it's true. I'm so lucky to have call after call, meeting after meeting, photo shoot after photo shoot, product meeting after product meeting with all these incredibly creative people. And just the bits and pieces they drop at these meetings have taught me so much. I mean, everything from the directness that I learned from people like Snoop and Kanye to the way they communicate. And also working with the internal staff who inspire me. They get there early, stay late.... if you show them a wall, they break through it. It's just that the internal camaraderie that we share here is at an all-time high. The unity that the brand has right now is amazing and adidas is more than just a trainer brand, it has become a cultural movement. It's just great to be part of it and witness it.
Talking about hard work. You've often described Kanye as a super hard worker with a great work ethic. Can you tell us an anecdote about that?
When we work with people, no matter what you hear about them on the street, we see their best face. I think when people work with adidas, it's a great opportunity where we always get to see their best face. As for Kanye, the man is just always on the move and has so many great ideas that he wants to implement. These things happen so often that it's hard to single one out. What comes to mind when I ask this question is the very first day when the deal wasn't announced yet. We were still very low-key at that point, sharing an office with him in LA in our LA Entertainment office. I remember he showed up on the first day, the deal was signed on a Thursday and we flew to LA on Monday to meet with the team. He came to that meeting 15 to 30 minutes early on the first day, he came alone, we did a quick tour of the office, we went into the conference room and within an hour five more people from his team came and started brainstorming. Another hour later, another five people from his team came and the brainstorming continued. And by the end of the evening, there were ten to twelve people in our conference room, with reference pictures on the walls, sketches being drawn ... it was like a whole team going from zero to a hundred. It was incredible to be there and witness that. We often refer to that date in our meetings and talk about the level of determination that is constantly displayed. It was like we started running on the first day and haven't stopped since!
That's a great conclusion. Thank you very much for taking the time for the interview.
Thank you for the opportunity.

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