Most people assume that Patrón tequila has been around forever. But it wasn’t until 1989 that Ilana Edelstein’s late life partner, Martin Crowley, returned from Mexico with the “liquid treasure” which he, Edelstein, and co-founder John Paul DeJoria (also co-founder of the Paul Mitchell line of hair products), would grow into one of the world’s most recognized liquor brands.
Amazon.com spoke with Edelstein about her first book The Patron Way: From Fantasy to Fortune - Lessons on Taking Any Business From Idea to Iconic Brand, which details the story of Patrón’s rise and paints an intimate portrait of her role in the creation of an iconic brand.
What led to your decision to write this book?
It’s been over ten years since I’ve been with Patrón. And after my time with Patrón, friends and foe—everybody—kept nagging me to write a book. But I just wasn’t able to go there yet, you know? The experience was still too raw with me. But I guess something shifted two and a half years ago: I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in years. We were updating each other on what we’d been doing and she said, “You should write a book,” as they all would say. And at that moment I said, “Yep, I am gonna write a book!”
You’re bound to reach an audience of entrepreneurs curious about starting businesses in the spirits industry. Do you have words of warning? Words of encouragement?
They would be words of encouragement. Those words are the same for any kind of business. Do your research, do your homework, then apply it. Cover your bases. Be thorough. Follow your own best sense. Everything we did at Patrón was approached with how we as customers would respond to it, how it would affect us. We just assumed everyone was like us. We were in our own little bubble, I will admit. But we are just humans at the end of the day. And [our marketing decisions at Patrón] affected people the same way.
What do you consider your greatest marketing contribution to Patrón?
If I have to choose just one? With Martin and I we never took ownership of ideas in the sense of “this idea is mine, this idea is yours.” So it’s hard to say. But one thing I brought, whether consciously or not, was femininity to a spirits brand that didn’t have that. Whatever promotions we did, we had as many females as males there. And we weren’t actually doing it on purpose. By accident, that’s what happened with me being involved. Martin was a bit macho, but he had a feminine side too. So he was able to embrace those things that I brought to the table. And he singlehandedly put me in touch with my creativity. I had no idea I was creative before that, which was pretty amazing.
If you were launching the Patrón brand tomorrow, and not the late 1980’s, how do you think the experience would be different?
When we were launching, we didn’t know how our competitors were doing. We didn’t know how the industry was doing. So we had to come up with our own way. So if we were doing it now with the same ignorance, we would probably just do whatever we felt the moment called-for, just like we did then. It might have played out differently because of the times. You know, we never followed a business plan! We were both business people, we had business backgrounds. The operations were set up in the normal way, but the marketing is what really set it apart. And that pricing—we priced the products so the distributors would be making a bigger profit. So it’s obvious why they’d want to sell our product over another one.
You mention in the book that one of the cornerstones of the brand marketing was the connection with celebrity. Would that still be the case if you were launching today?
Absolutely, if you have the ability to. We did, because of 1) living in Los Angeles, and 2) John Paul [DeJoria]. People follow celebrities; they think they know more, that they know the good stuff. And that’s why they’re paid millions of dollars to endorse products. Which we never did! When it’s an “organic” endorsement, it’s much…louder…I think.
Beyond Patrón, when you think of brilliant marketing campaigns, what comes to mind?
In its day, I thought Absolut Vodka’s Andy Warhol campaign was amazing. He did all these art bottles. It was brilliant. I also saw a brilliant billboard the other day. It was for Saab. It said something to the effect of, “Tired of German techno? Try Swedish Metal!” Isn’t that good?
The work of writing seems dramatically different than how I envision the work of marketing Patrón.
Very much so. Writing is very solitary, and at a desk. [Patrón’s ] marketing was everywhere else. And it’s certainly not solitary. Especially in the liquor business, it’s all fun! You’re out. You have your Patrón girls handing out sips. You know, it’s not hard giving away free booze! Everything that surrounds that industry is fun and celebration…there’s nothing better than marketing a consumable.
The Patrón Way is a business book, but the more I read, the more I feel this book is just as much an homage to Martin Crowley, your late life partner.
It absolutely is. Would I have preferred it to end a different way? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I had the ride of my life. I had the love of my life, which I don’t think I’ll ever replicate. I had the most amazing good fortune for 13 years, on every level. The business was intertwined with us. We were not separable, the three of us: [Crowley], me, and the business. [Our relationship] didn’t end well, but I was very sad when he died. He was a brilliant entrepreneur and an incredibly creative guy. If you met him, you might not have liked him, but you certainly never would have forgotten him. I’m not saying everyone didn’t like him, but you either took to that kind or you didn’t. This book is a big tribute to him.
-- Cody Shotwell