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Fashion Forward CEO Aaron Walton on Diversity Driving Innovation

by Mia Hall /
8th Annual ADCOLOR Awards - Arrivals
Aaron Walton, co-founder, Walton-Isaacson attends the 8th Annual ADCOLOR Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on September 20, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.Michael Kovac / WireImage

Since the 80s, Aaron Walton has been on the brink of advertising innovation, trends and what’s hot. Continuing to elevate his brand at every level of his career, Aaron is not only leading his own top tier agency, he is committed to opening doors for young African-Americans and people of color, as well as giving more women leadership opportunities.

“This [advertising] is the only thing I ever wanted to do,” said Walton.

His passion for advertising came at a very young age and he’s been focused on it ever since. “I knew I was completely enamored with storytelling components of what advertisers do and the balance of the science and the art, or the planning and the creative. I used to watch Bewitched with my sister when we were kids and try to figure out what it was that Darrin Stephens did,” Walton shared. When his parents told him, he knew that was just what he wanted to do.

RELATED: At SXSW, Tech's Diversity Pipeline Problem Needs Center Stage

With one focus in mind, Walton studied at Babson college where he gained the skills he needed to land a job at Pepsico after he graduated. A week after his commencement ceremonies, Walton became immersed in one of the largest company’s advertising arms during one of their most competitive times, the height of the “Cola Wars.” Though not surrounded by many people that looked like him, as far as men of color, Walton excelled. “That's when real innovation was thriving,” he said.

In his years at Pepsi, he had the opportunity to run campaigns featuring Michael Jackson and witnessed how advertising can change the perception of a brand and could motivate people to do things that were inventive and fun. “It solidified that this was my destiny,” Walton said. It was then that Walton started his first company. In a few years, he sold his company to Omnicom and worked with them for almost 10 years.

“It’s not that we just work on diverse clients, it’s that we understand the powers diversity has to help fuel innovation across the board”

While at Omnicom he met his current business partner, Cory Isaacson, of his company Walton Isaacson. “When we were at Omnicom we both had an amazing experience but we wanted to do something new and wanted to create new opportunities we thought were missing in the industry,” Walton said. Walton and Isaacson knew they wanted to use diversity as a tool to help drive innovation. Walton continued, “It’s not that we just work on diverse clients, it’s that we understand the powers diversity has to help fuel innovation across the board.”

With an award winning company under his belt and years of experience leading campaigns for some of the world’s top brands, Walton is continuing to deliver stellar results to his advertising clients, though is also committed to helping others elevate in the industry.

“When I started in 1983, there weren’t a lot of people that looked like me and unfortunately there still aren’t. A little progress has been made, though it's not enough,” Walton shared. He has not only placed women in many of the highest positions in his company, three of the women that worked for him have been voted as the top women executives in the country by Black Enterprise magazine.

“It’s not just about cultural diversity but about gender and sexual diversity. The industry deserves low scores for that,” said Walton. He shared that the tide is changing though to some degree because clients are starting to demand that it changes. “They’re asking for those cultural insights that are important for them to connect to their consumers.”

Walton believes that you have to see shifts in the executive suites. “Once you start to see more black, gay, women, or Hispanics in those positions it will start to influence the work,” Walton said.

“It’s not just about cultural diversity but about gender and sexual diversity. The industry deserves low scores for that”

Seeing organizations such as Adcolor, which spotlights diverse executives that don’t often get recognized in the larger industry for their work, inspires Walton. He takes a hands-on approach to training the next leaders of color in advertising by serving on the board of the Marcus Graham Project. “One of the reasons I get so excited about the project is because it’s our obligation is to help train young executives to get in this industry,” Walton shared.

Paying it forward is huge for Walton. He effused, “I had the opportunity to get mentors that took and interest and saw beyond my color, to my passion, and gave me access to the doors that wouldn’t be open if they didn’t open it for me. At the Marcus Graham Project, you have industry folks making it better than it was for us. I hope those getting the help also paying it forward to the next generation.”

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