The Godfather of Lifestyle Marketing

About 15 years ago I was down in South Beach for a round of meetings. A group of us were headed out to dinner and a member of our party invited “the marketing guy from Paul Mitchell” to join us.  What I experienced was the larger than life, force of nature that is Winston Brooks Parsons.  Thus began a regular working relationship where we have had the opportunity to work together on a number of successful events and productions.

Winston Brooks Parsons, Sr. career started as an officer in the United States Marine Corps where he also coached and played on a number of Marine Corps football teams.  When I met him, he had the strange, yet very appropriate title of senior vice president and director of dream fulfillment with John Paul Mitchell® Systems.  The title matched the man, as Brooks is constantly dreaming up new concepts and ideas then bringing them to reality.

Brooks joined John Paul Mitchell Systems (JPMS) very early in the company’s history when they were located in New York City and just beginning to grow their empire.  Faced with the challenge of marketing the brand with very little budget, Brooks came up with the idea of affiliating JPMS with new and emerging lifestyle sports.  Then to leverage their investment they would film the events, tie-up the broadcasts rights and negotiate with ESPN, FOX, NBC to feature the events in exchange for commercial time while also making sure that JPMS signage was highly visible.  Also, on-site JPMS would maximize their exposure by working with local salons to stage “cut-a-thons” where attendees could get haircuts with proceeds going to a local charity.

The strategy of closely identifying JPMS with active lifestyle sports that Brooks put in place has worked extremely well for both JPMS and the activities that they have supported.  “Without him, there would be no legacy of Lifestyle Sports within JPMS.  Frankly, the fact that six of the sports that we have sponsored have become Olympic sports is a testament to his vision,” said Julie Solwold, VP Global Sports & Events at John Paul Mitchell Systems.

“We’re in the fashion industry,” explained Solwold. “If we don’t align ourselves with fashion, we’re just another shampoo. It’s not just about washing, cutting and drying hair; it’s about style and athletes in sports like skateboarding, surfing and beach volleyball are setting fashion trends and we’re there with them.”

The easy and traditional route of most marketers is to align with the major leagues and athletes of the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, PGA, NASCAR, etc.  While they do have monster viewership and impact, these opportunities are also very cluttered and expensive.  Brooks led JPMS to support younger and arguably cooler sports that were just beginning to gain attention.  While riskier, the rub-off equity that JPMS received by getting in on the ground level and being closely identified with these emerging sports is enormous.  Some of the properties that JPMS has supported include:

  • The U.S. Extreme Championships™, Crested Butte, Colorado
  • Lord of the Boards™, Lake Tahoe (now an Olympic discipline referred to as Ski Cross)
  • Pro-Beach Volleyball Men/Women 2’s & 4’s
  • Xterra World Championships, Maui; Hawaii / Ocean Fest, Honolulu
  • Mexican Bobsled Team, Winner of the Caribbean Cup (beating Jamaica)
  • U.S. Open Karate
  • USA Cheerleading Championships
  • World Mountain Bike Championships
  • U.S. Open of Surfing

When I asked Chris “Uncle E” Ernst, long time ESPN X Games host and Olympic ski announcer to reflect on the impact Brooks has had on the industry, he had this to say.  “Without Brooks, a lot of today’s actions sports would not be where they are today.  The vision of Brooks and JPMS has turned many pipe dreams into reality.”

Now only one year short of his 80th birthday, Brooks is not slowing down and he continues to connect people and properties.  “If you can slow him down long enough to snag even one of the hundreds of ideas swirling inside his brain, you’ve gotten something amazing to work with,” said Solwold.  “He truly is a creative genius.”