Complex Networks made millions selling products like hot sauce, and now it's applying that playbook to other brands

  • Complex Networks has parlayed its sneaker- and hip-hop focused media brands into a business selling related products like hot sauce, skateboards, and hoodies.
  • Now it's starting a new agency, Climate, to consult other brands that want to make physical and digital products, too.
  • Other firms claim to have an in with Gen Z culture, but Complex thinks its leadership, audience data, and media distribution will give it an edge.
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Complex Networks, the sneaker- and hip-hop focused media company owned by Verizon and Hearst, has parlayed its pop-culture sensibility into a multi-million dollar business selling related products like hot sauce, skateboards, and hoodies.

Now, it wants to apply that know-how to help brands like Pepsi and Champs develop products of their own with a new agency, Climate.

Today, it announced the first leadership hires for the agency, Stanley Lumax, managing director; and Michael Tresvant, SVP of business development. 

Edgar Hernandez, CRO of Complex Networks, said the idea to start Climate grew out of having companies ask for help replicating Complex Networks' success with its own products along with events like ComplexCon, an annual event for streetwear fans in Long Beach, Calif. 

Climate essentially formalizes work that Complex Networks has already done in this area. It's made a limited-edition version of PepsiCo's Brisk with Anwar Carrots, a streetwear designer known for his graphic T-shirts; and developed online video series for Champs, for example, as Digiday reported.

"There were so many proof points in front of us — the number of people saying 'We want our own ComplexCon,'" Hernandez said. "We're betting this is going to be a big part of our business that could be as big as our media business over the next five years."

He wouldn't give a dollar figure, but for context, Complex's total revenue was projected at $200 million in 2019, and half of that came from media, or advertising.

Complex sees Climate's business coming from two areas: Helping brands produce digital and physical products, by developing their strategy, creative, and distribution. It expects to work on a project basis from the start, but the hope is that will develop into longer-term engagements.

Plenty of other firms claim to have an in when it comes to Gen Z.

One of Complex Networks' biggest points will be that it knows young consumers better than others, thanks to audience data it collects on its eating, drinking, and streetwear shows like "Hot Ones." In a recent pitch deck, it claimed to be a top brand with 18- to 24-year olds.

Hernandez also pointed to his new hires: Lumax, who used to be CMO at Premier Music Group and has Nike and Wieden + Kennedy in his background; and Tresvant a 10-year Complex alum and also has had stints at Digitas and Burrell Communications Group.

"They're going to be exceptional at being able to usher clients into Complex in a way that creates lasting relationships," he said. "Being able to translate the information on our side into action and not just thinking about product but enriching the community is where they come from, because they're part of the community."

Complex will also tout its existing media and events business that can help these clients get exposure for new products. A new food or drink, for example, could advertise on Complex's shows or hand out samples at ComplexCon, for example.

As for whether Climate will have to tread carefully to avoid competing with Complex's existing products business, Hernandez didn't seem too concerned.

"There's hundreds of successful hot sauces out there," he said.

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