Finding the courage to embrace change and take chances is the only way to succeed. We’ve asked some of our favorite industry power players and business innovators to share stories of how #MakingChange worked for them, as it relates to the ’10 Rules to Future-Proof yourself, fearlessly innovate, and succeed despite uncertainty’.
Rule #2: Make Fear Your Friend – Featuring Jason Falls, SVP for Digital Strategy at Elasticity
How did you get where you are today, and what tips would you give to people hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Jason Falls: I spent 18 years in sports journalism and PR for college athletics, at small colleges like Georgetown and Birmingham-Southern University. Most had a relatively small budget and few staff, but I was expected to produce big results; very quickly I learned how to leverage technology and the web in creative ways to make that happen.
When I jumped from sports to more mainstream PR, my agency wasn’t interested in social networks. At the time, no one knew what I was talking about, but they were smart enough to let me explore these areas with clients. One thing led to another, and soon I was promoted to VP and Director of Interactive and began speaking around the country about social marketing. My background in earned media has been key, because I know how to conduct outreach, pitch a story, and write compelling content. That’s part of strong social media marketing.
If you’re interested in a career in digital marketing, here’s my advice: Learn to write. Study consumers. Learn to love data and find insights from it. That will put you on a pretty solid path.
Q: What does the phrase “being courageous in life and business” mean to you?
JF: To me, being courageous is standing up for what you know is right when everyone else is afraid or thinks you’re wrong. If a client is doing something I feel is detrimental to their brand, I’ll stand up and say it, even if they shout me down. I loathe wasting a client’s time and marketing dollars. So, when I know an idea just won’t work, I’ll fight them on it. That means I’m not always the most popular guy in the room, but generally I’m the one they trust.
I’m from a small town with a middle class background, and I’m a no-bullshit guy. I may swear a bit. I may have a cocktail occasionally. But I’m not going to show up in polished shoes and a tie to your soirée. That might not appeal to some people, but the courage comes from knowing these likely aren’t the people you want to work with anyway.
Q: Describe “making fear your friend” in your own words.
JF: Fear is a fantastic motivator. When I made the career transition from college sports to mainstream marketing, I was worried my skill set wouldn’t transfer and I would be in over my head. But that fear motivated me to study my ass off and call everybody in Louisville to ask about jobs. By the time I started interviewing, I knew everyone in town and people just assumed I knew what I was doing. Turns out, I did. I just didn’t have the confidence initially. Persistence pays off.
Recently, I spoke at the National Officer Training Symposium for the United States Marine Corps. I looked across the front row of the room and saw three generals. Talk about intimidating! But that fear gave me the nervous energy I really needed to step up my game.
Q: What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
JF: The biggest professional risk I’ve ever taken was leaving my well-paid job to start my own business. I took a big salary cut to try and build something. A year in, a big client unexpectedly stopped paying their bills and left me hanging. I almost went bankrupt. But I used that fear to hustle to land additional paid speaking gigs, and that help dig me out of a hole. It’s been the scariest 3-4 years of my life, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’ve gone from being the sole employee to managing a boutique agency with seven employees.
Q: What’s the best way to innovate and stay ahead of the curve?
JF: Keep your mind open and watch what the smartest people in the room are doing. Think long and hard about your industry–your clients, and their industries. Always ask what’s next, how to get there, and how to make it work, both for you and for your clients. You don’t have to lead, but you want to be in the lead pack. Find out who’s in the lead pack and get to know them. It’ll carry you a long way.
How has fear helped you succeed in your career? Use the hashtag#MakingChange to share your stories with us and we may feature you on makechangeworkforyou.com/blog.