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18 May 2006

Industry News

Todd Krinsky - Reebok Vice President

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Ladies and gentlemen, meet Todd Krinsky, also known as the Vice President of Reebok. Todd’s been with the company for over a decade and knows the joint from the ground up. His current job is signing heavyweights like Fifty Cent and Yao Ming and then developing successful products that bear their name. In some ways, his job is akin to that of a conventional A&R guy at a record label, except that Todd is a hardcore shoe head and has been since he was knee high to a grasshopper. Todd is also pretty forthright and dedicated to the cause. Read on as we discuss the evolution of Pump, the demise of Ice Cream and a bunch of other stuff as well...

hey Todd, so how’s Reebok these days?
Well, it’s good. We’re entering into a whole new world now with this fusion of sports and entertainment. There’s a lot of new opportunities and new consumers and it’s kind of a different era for us right now than where we’ve been.

You’ve been at Reebok for more than ten years, how did you progress through the company?
Originally I started in the Mail Room, but I grew up selling sneakers since I was sixteen. I was a basketballer, an avid shoe collector, and so I ended up getting a job in Development building shoes. Then I moved to Asia and learned about Manufacturing. But I always wanted to get into marketing and in 1999, I moved back. In 2001 Paul Fireman came back and we really started to strategise Youth Culture, so they put me in charge of that: music, basketball and the whole RBK thing. I brought in some new people and started to sign artists and become more relevant to Youth Culture globally. And that’s where we are today.

Well it’s good to see you can still make it up the corporate ladder with loyalty and persistence. You’ve obviously got an innate understanding of the business from the bottom up.
Yeah, absolutely. Reebok is a bit of an entrepreneur environment because of Paul and the way he started the company so it allows for young people to have ideas and move within the company.

Do you think your program has changed the general perception of Reebok?
I think with young people we have. A lot of athletic brands have flirted with hip-hop culture, but nobody really wanted to embrace it and give back to it. So I think by doing the Jay-Z deal, we made a statement that we understood Youth Culture and we’re not just gonna use and manipulate it, we’re gonna invest in it. So we did deals with Jay-Z, and Fifty Cent, now there’s a whole load of artists who wanna deal with us. Youth Culture is all about sports, music and entertainment, so if that’s where young people are, then that’s where we wanna be.

How did you assess Jay-Z and Fifty Cent as partners for Reebok endorsements?
We do a lot of focus groups. We ask kids, ‘Who do you listen to?’ and, ‘Who do you like for fashion?’ But it’s more about analysing these guys. Some people sell records, but they don’t drive fashion. You want that guy that sells records, but you’re really listening to what he’s saying. If you watch their video, see how they carry themselves, that’s a very powerful thing. A guy like Jay-Z is so powerful in Pop Culture because young people watch what he says and they go out and buy that shoe and shirt. So it’s about cultural influence. But we don’t have a criteria and the reason we haven’t done ten deals up til now is because we’re really scrutinizing who we do business with.

So how’s Fifty Cent these days? Is he staying out of trouble?
Ah, yeah... He’s in Toronto shooting a movie that will come out around Thanksgiving. His album is up to four million (G)Units already.

Sounds like he’s following in LL Cool J’s footsteps?
Kinda like Eminem, actually, with the Eight Mile thing. It’s loosely based on his life.

OK, and will there be new G-Unit product to coincide with that?
Yeah, we have a new launch with new footwear and apparel to launch with the movie. There’s a soundtrack and a video game as well, so the holidays will be a big period for Fifty.

Sounds like he needs his own Fifty Cent Theme Park!
Yeah, after you got video games, movie, soundtrack, your own sneaker and apparel, I mean there’s not much left.

You’re not really a star unless you’ve got your own shoe in hip-hop right now!
That’s the blueprint that’s been created by these guys. Get a platinum record, create your own label, your own apparel company, and now the new thing is to merge with bigger corporate partners. Hip-hop just gets more mainstream and there’s just tremendous opportunities for these guys from an endorsement perspective. And the more fashionable, the cooler you are, the better your records sell.

So how do you assess the success of these deals? Is it just about raw sales or is it about the perception that reflects on the brand?
Well, the first thing is we do not sign artists and say, ‘Here is the shoe’. We’re trying to create a diverse portfolio and the way to do that is to get involved with different personalities to help drive the design process. We signed Jay who is a little bit older, he’s the CEO of DEF JAM records, he’s got a different lifestyle, he vacates in the South of France. He is amazing. He is a retired rapper, so he takes on a more sophisticated style. You know, Fifty Cent is more street, so he has the gangster image. As we’re signing artists they bring their own style to the process and our goal is for RBK Entertainment to be a very diverse array of product that reflects the individuals.

And what we get out of it, outside of revenue, is that we continue to be part of the intrinsic fabric of Youth Culture. Young people look at us as being in bed with all these hot stars and the key for us is to keep being on the cutting edge of who’s next, who’s hot nine months or a year from now. We know all the new records and so we’re at the forefront of creating partnerships with artists that are going to be hot. And that’s the tricky part because we create product 12-18 months out, so it’s not as easy as it seems.

So who is gonna be hot in 12 months time?
(laughs) I can’t tell you!

You guys always say that!
There’s probably two or three people that we’re looking at. The other fallacy is that we’re looking for the next Fifty but that’s not the case. He is a phenomenon, so we’re not in this fantasy world that we’re gonna sign the new G Unit. They need to be relevant to Youth Culture. Maybe they’re regional? From a music perspective, guys in Houston, Texas, everyone loves their music, but kids from New York don’t even know what they’re saying. The slang is getting crazy...

And what about rock and roll? Or are you just fixated on Hip Hop?
Well, I mean clearly there’s more to Youth Culture than just rap, but the easiest thing about hip-hop is that it’s synonymous with sneakers. They are closely linked, so it is very easy to sell product through that genre. We are looking at other genres, but we haven’t figured out how we can leverage the product.

I read somewhere that you had a long term goal of knocking Nike off Number One? Is that still possible?
I think it is if we stay the course. Meaning, we can’t get caught up trying to do what Nike does. We have to create our own space on the highway. We need to be very, very consistent and stay on the fusion on Sports and Music to help drive our business. It’s a long-term process, but we’ve finally got the brand straight and now it’s about The Message. We’ve also got a lot of technology coming out. We are still an athletics footwear brand, and so we have new Pump shoes coming out. We have affiliations with the NFL, the NBA, the NHL.
The one thing people always associate with Reebok is the Pump.

It was such a massive hit in the late Eighties that it became a very hard act to follow. Has it been a monkey on your back all those years?
Well I think that when we did Pump, it got too big. It got away from us. We made too many models, we even had golf shoes. I think that the models we brought back that sold well were the key models that were very limited and really meant something. It created heat for the brand for sure, and it’s been really cool but all of it is to set up the new Revolution of Pump. Because starting next year, the Pump will not have to be self-pumped, there’ll be a dial on the shoe and it will self-inflate so the athlete can control how much air they want in their shoe.

Are you talking about Pump 2.0?
Even further than that. I’m talking about the new Allen Iverson shoe for next year. I can’t go too far into it because the shoe will launch soon but the point of it is the same - you can control the air cushioning. We’ll all be able to modify how our soles fit and the reason why it works so well is because kids are so used to cutomizing everything in their world right now. Music, TV, everything. On the basketball court, every kid wants to look different. So kids are getting tattoos, wrist bands, armbands, and haircuts. We’re coming in with a technology that allows the athlete to do that.

Does everyone want to look different so they can get a deal?
Ah, no. I think its just this new generation of kids. I’m not talking about superstars, just high school kids. I think the reason they all do it is because they think differently. Not arrogant, but they’re very confident, they wanna stand out. You ask them who they admire and they say, ‘I wanna be the next me.’ So I think customisation in their world, like with their iPods, is everything they do.

Have you been involved much in basketball?

Yeah, I do all that.

Was it hard to get Iverson and those guys to believe in Reebok?
Ah, not really. Before we had a Grassroots program, a lot of young people didn’t have experience with Reebok but that’s changed now. It’s much easier to negotiate with young athletes now, because they’ve grown up with Reebok, so we’re in a different place right now.

Who do you think will sign Andrew Bogut to a shoe deal? He gets a lot of press down here because he’s Australian...
Yeah, I don’t know. (laughs) He probably will be the Number One pick.

The thing about being first is that it’s about potential. So he may be the most sound player right now, but there’s some 18 year old high school kids who haven’t even finished growing yet. The whole draft has changed because it’s about potential.

Has Yao Ming finished growing? Is he 7 foot 5?
Yeah, he has. He’s big.

From our point of view, we were very interested in the deal you made with Ice Cream.
With who?

With Ice Cream. (laughs nervously)
Oh. Yeah.

We all read the press releases that explained the collapse of the deal, do you have any comment on that?
That’s something we can’t talk about. We enjoyed working with Pharrell, it was great. I personally worked very closely with him and was just amazed at his creativity and the way his mind works, but as far as the business arrangement, we leave it to the press release.

OK. My only comment was, and I appreciate this is sensitive, was that it seemed like we all forgot that Nigo from Bathing Ape was involved. Do you think you might work with those guys again?
Ah. We may. there’s a possibility we could. We worked with Nigo and he was very creative, it was interesting the way he approaches projects. We thought he was pretty cool so there’s a possibility, we talked about that at one time.

Do you think he might bring out his own version of the Pump? Bape are known for copying shelltoes and Air Force Ones...
Yeah, it has been mentioned, that would be one of the key projects.

I think it would be big in Japan!
Yeah absolutley. Even in Europe, London, places like that.

Is Reebok planning a full blown skate team?
Well yeah. We signed Stevie Williams, one of the most famous skaters in these parts, a young African American kid from Philadelphia who used to be with DC. He has skate shoes with RBK coming out next year and he has a team, so that’s our entry to skate.

Will Pump be involved in Skate?
It could eventually, but right now we created a simpler shoe... but in the future, yeah it could be. That would be an interesting fusion...

You mentioned you’re a collector, tell us about your shoes.
I sold shoes since I was sixteen, so back then I used to get 12 pairs of everything and I’d keep one for myself. I had the OG Pumps, new Avias, the Jordans. I’ve given away my non-Reeboks now. (laughs)

So I don’t have all the Jordans but in my basement I have all the old original Pumps. Over the years I gave away all the competitors stuff.

Was that hard to do?
Yeah. You know I live and breathe the brand and I’ve worked here for years so I’m a passionate believer in Reebok, I really am. But you know, I’m a collector, I remember the first Forums... I actually gave those to a friend of mine. So yeah, I ended up parting ways with a lot of it. My basement now is only Reebok and Allen Iverson. I just started with my son who is 3 years old. He’s just grown out of Weeboks! Yeah... we do the G-Unit stuff, Jay-Z, some Iverson, who is his best friend now.

Well that’s gotta be cool right?
Yeah. He’s at the point now where he still doesn’t really realise, he goes to the games and hangs in the locker room, he doesn’t know any different. He’s only 3. It’s not cool yet...

Just normal.

Have you got any other surprises for us?
The biggest thing is the Evolution of Pump, not as we know it on the tongue where you pump it up. All our guys in the league like Allen, Baron Davis - that’s what they’ll be wearing. There will be different prices, different looks and the testing that has gone on the actual product is phenomenal. It’s gonna fit different and look different. So we’re very excited about bringing this new technology to kids.

It will also apply to football, soccer, everything. And then, on the music side, you will see the hottest stars in a few years time wearing Reebok. What’s exciting about that is that we don’t even know what that product is yet. We have talented designers here, but the collaboration is what is exciting. We’re a brand that is born on creativity. So the artists, when they come in here, they get to live out their dreams. A lot of these kids were sneaker collectors. So when I got with Jay-Z the first time, the first half hour was spent just talking old shoes, remembering the old tennis sneakers, the Gucci shoe, because we are the same age. So the whole thing will go to a new level.

We look forward to it. I’d love to see those new Pumps.
I gotta see if we’re allowed to show you. The Iverson shoe may be a possibility. Somehow it got on the internet and some kids got hold of it. Which is bad, but all these kids said how cool it was...

So you didn’t want it to get out.
No, it won’t be released til November. So it was a bit early.

We were a bit upset.

Thanks Todd.
OK, thank you.

18 May 2006

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