Jason Falls is a leading digital strategist, author, speaker, and thinker in the digital and social media marketing industry. He is an award-winning strategist and widely read industry pundit, Falls has been noted as a top influencer in the social technology and marketing space by Forbes, Entrepreneur, Advertising Age, and others. Jason hosts a pair of podcasts, the Digging Deeper – Make Creativity Your Business Advantage, a weekly interview series focused on creativity and marketing, and Winfluence – The Influence Marketing Podcast, a program that dives deep into experts on influencer marketing.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
My mother and I moved from my birthplace of Logan, W.Va., to Pikeville, Ky., when I was four-years-old. I grew up there and have always called it home. It’s a small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky and in many ways was idyllic. From the time I was five or six, I came home from school and rode my bike around town to my friend’s houses to play whiffle ball and goof off. It was the kind of place where you didn’t need to lock your doors and everyone kept an eye on everyone else’s kids.
But that also meant people kept their nose in everyone else’s business. By the time I was in high school, I felt confined and needed to get out of there. I wanted to see the world and live in a big city. My first job out of college took me to New York City, so culture shock is something I’m familiar with.
But growing up in a small town where everyone knew everyone else shaped how I think of marketing. There, you didn’t buy cars from Ford or bank with PNC. You bought cars from Terry Deskins and you banked with Danny Stratton. They sat a couple of rows behind us at church. I think that personal connection to people you did business with laid a foundation for me to really “get” social media for brands, which has shaped a lot of my career.
The small town has also given me a different appreciation for family and friends later in life than I had early on.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That credit cards are the work of the devil. I’ve seriously spent my 40s digging myself out of the debt my 20s and 30s accrued. I’m certain the hellhounds on either side of satan’s throne are named Visa and MasterCard.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
The two biggest ones I hear baffle me to no end. The first is in influencer marketing, I see so many brands and even allegedly sophisticated influencer marketing agencies recommending sponsored posts in a one-off, transactional manner. Anyone who knows anything about advertising knows that reach means nothing if it doesn’t also come with frequency. Why a brand would not invest in a series of posts or longer-term content partnership with an influencer just blows my mind.
The second is in paid search. This might wrinkle some noses, but in most cases, if you pay a dime for branded search terms, I think you should find another profession. Unless there’s some type of ambiguity in your name and you don’t already own most of the first few pages of a search result with your brand name in it, you’re throwing money away.
For example, search for “dell laptop.” There’s not likely a single link on the first page of that result that doesn’t lead people to a dell laptop. Yet at least when I searched for it upon this writing, Dell is paying money for an advertisement atop the search results. There are no other ads on the page. So, if I click on the top result, even by accident, Dell is paying for me to be a visitor. If the ad isn’t there and I click, they don’t pay anything for my visit. If a different company’s ad is there, I don’t click on it because I intentionally searched for a Dell laptop. Makes me want to scream.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
About five or six years ago, I had a personal and professional crisis at the same time. My marriage fell apart and I was going through a divorce and then one of the business partners at the agency I worked for at the time just up and decided one day he didn’t want to pay me anymore and began undermining my work and relationships rather than just being honest with me about the situation. It was a hard thing to face a world where both your personal and professional life was empty and full of rejection. It was especially hard when someone you respected was acting like a child and being manipulative … and it wasn’t my ex-wife.
I retreated on both fronts and questioned everything about myself, from my ability in my profession to my lovability as a person. There were some dark, lonely days there for a while.
But somewhere I found the nerve to get back out there and find clients who would appreciate what I brought to the table. I picked up a few consulting gigs, then got a call out of the blue one day that Cornett needed some help with leadership on their social and digital teams.
I learned that whatever the world seems to think of you when your down is never true. Believing in yourself will always win out.
Almost four years later, I’ve never been happier at an agency. I feel valued and appreciated. My contributions make a difference and people recognize them. Our clients even tip their cap now and then. It’s refreshing to know the assholes of the world are in short supply.
Oh, and my ex-wife and I had a very amicable divorce and get along better as co-parents and friends than we did in the final years of our marriage. And I found love again in my girlfriend, Julie. We’re going on four years now, too.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I’m tireless. It’s probably more because I really enjoy thinking through communications and marketing challenges for clients, creating content, writing, and connecting with people online. So it doesn’t feel like work to me. I stop around dinner time and eat, turn on the TV, and so on. Then I get bored and go back to work, writing, producing a podcast, working on a pitch deck for a client … I just enjoy what I do. So I get a lot more done on most days than people often do in a week. I just don’t stop.
What is your morning routine?
I wake at about 6:30 or 7, depending on how well I sleep. The alarm is set for 7. I have a cup of tea and a sausage, egg, and cheese croissant, play a game on my phone, shower, and start work by 8. Even in the pandemic, I got up, showered, and got dressed … even put on shoes. Though I mostly work from home now and probably will for the foreseeable future, I have to get ready for work to put myself in the proper headspace to work at all. If I don’t, I just keep playing the game on my phone and before I know it, it’s lunchtime.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
During my divorce and professional evisceration years ago, I adopted a meditation practice that really helped me keep a clear head and calmness when my life was upside down. I’ve continued that practice fairly consistently since and have even had some moments where I feel like I’ve reached some higher plane of enlightenment while meditating. It’s helped me become calmer and less reactionary to things around me, it helps me manage burnout since I often work too long and hard, and centers me around an appreciation for quiet and stillness.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
The single best thing I’ve ever done to manage my productivity is booking time on my calendar to work. If I don’t block 1-2 hours every morning and 2-3 hours every afternoon so they can’t be taken up by yet another meeting, I’d have meetings all day and never get anything done. About 10 years ago, I started booking myself for meetings with myself so I could work during work hours and not at night after everyone booked me in meetings all day long. My co-workers have caught on and often ask if I’m really booked or can I work them in. Most of the time, I adjust my work hours and accommodate them. But if there isn’t any room to move, I just say, “Sorry. I’m booked.” It’s kept me sane.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
On Writing by Stephen King and The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield are the two books outside of my dictionary and thesaurus I always have within arm’s reach. While I’ll never likely be as successful a writer as either of the Stephens, I aspire to at least be good. Those books help me try.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.” – W.C. Fields
That’s one of my favorites. My more serious, motivational quote that I keep coming back to is something one of my old bosses, Jake Bell, said often: “If it happens once, shame on it. If it happens twice, shame on you.”