Cornett’s Jason Falls: How Small Town Life Unlocked a Big Career
Cornett's Jason Falls was born in Logan, WV and raised in Pikeville, KY. He helped concept Wonderopolis, which was named one of the top 50 websites in the world by Time Magazine in 2013. He also won a SAMMY award in 2009 for his Jim Beam Bourbon social strategy. When he’s not solving problems for clients or winning awards, Jason likes to watch sports, drink bourbon, play trivia and be a dad. He lives by the words “Never look up with your mouth open.”
Jason recently released Winfluence, a book about influencer marketing from the perspective of businesses and brands. Here, he shares how he came to become an author and how small town life unlocked a big career.
Q > How did you make your way to becoming an author and digital strategist?
Falls> I spent the first 15 years of my career as a college athletics media relations guy, but I worked at mostly small colleges (Morehead State University and Georgetown College in Kentucky and Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama) while the Internet was becoming a big deal. Since I didn’t have a lot of staff or budget, but the web made it faster and easier for me to communicate with the media as well as publish content online for our fans, I taught myself how to be our own beat writer for the Internet audience.
When I left college athletics after my son was born, I landed at an ad agency whose clients were thirsty for help understanding this social media thing that was happening in the mid-2000s. Because I’d been immersed in the early days of online publishing and social networks, I was knowledgeable and could help them. Before long, I was blogging about social media and building strategies for clients and wound up invited to speak at several conferences. One thing led to another and I co-authored a book on social media strategy, another on email marketing and earned some notoriety as someone who knew a little something about social media and digital marketing. Since then, I’ve tried to really focus on building smart plans for the clients I’ve been blessed to work with. Not bad for a guy who used to keep stats at ballgames.
Q > You were an early adopter and thought leader in social media marketing. Where did you develop your acumen for understanding social for brands?
Falls > I grew up in Pikeville, Kentucky, which is a town of about 7,500 people in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. In a town like that, you didn’t buy cars from Dodge or bank with Chase. You bought cars from Terry Deskins and banked with Danny Stratton. They sat a couple rows over from you at church on Sunday. Business was always and only social in a small town. So, when I landed at an ad agency with clients curious about social media for businesses, I just put on my Pikeville hat and started teaching them how to be human and real. I’ve always found it interesting that people go to school for an extra year or two to get an MBA when the KISS rule is sometimes better thinking. Keep it simple, stupid. These are people who might want to do business with you. But they need to feel like you want to do business with them, too. Shake their hand. Ask how their day is. Listen to what they have to say. And do it genuinely, not as some act. They’ll eventually realise you’re not full of shit and want to spend their money with you.
Q > What led you to write another book after almost 10 years? And why on influencer marketing?
Falls > Two things were happening concurrently when I decided to write the book. First, we were building out some strategies at Cornett that I knew were pretty bleeding edge in terms of thinking about influencers and influence overall. Second, the mainstream media just kept hammering away at influencers, calling them everything from superficial to non-effective to downright fraudulent. The term 'influencer' has almost become a bad word, yet I’m working with dozens of them who are crushing it in terms of helping our clients move the needle. The more I thought about it, the more I realised the name itself was a problem. When you focus on 'influencer' marketing it’s focused on the person. If you focus on what you’re trying to do - to influence an audience to take action - you see it differently. Influence can happen through social media users with big followings, but it can also happen in communities through PTAs and social gatherings. This is a craft that I practice daily and I was tired of BuzzFeed and Harpers’s Bazaar and now HBO piling on the haterade. I think a pretty smart book came out of that frustration.
Q > Is it working with influencers that gets you excited about work?
Falls > Sure, but a lot of things get me excited about work. Influence marketing is one piece of a bigger digital puzzle. I try to weave all the components together: influence, public relations, social media, email marketing, content marketing, SEO. So much of the digital disciplines overlap and feed one another, you can’t be strategic without thinking across tactical lanes. But I also get excited about being the editor for a client’s lifestyle publication (1792 Style), helping produce another client’s live streams (Buffalo Trace Distillery, Keeneland) and hosting Cornett’s weekly live stream interview show (Digging Deeper). JoAnn Accarino, our VP for Brand Performance, calls me Cornett’s chameleon. I jump in and do a lot of different things. I enjoy the variety.
Q > Who do you consider your professional mentor? How have they impacted your growth?
Falls > I’ve always been a bit of an anti-authority guy, so rather than one mentor, I’ll take bits and pieces from a lot of people. Every boss I’ve had, many clients, and my mother have all had impacts on my career. I’m also enamored with the brilliant creatives I work with now and in former roles. So I often model my approaches to various challenges from watching them work and think. In that regard, some of the best “mentors” I’ve had were 20-something copywriters or designers I just thought were brilliant.
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