Jamie Falkowski | The Innovator 25 North America 2020

Jamie Falkowski 

Managing Director

Day One Agency  
New York

“The old playbooks and classic strategies that have been hard for some to let go of might not work today—the best brands have gone back to a consumer- and human-first approach, putting empathy and listening at the heart of creative.”

Day One's manifesto of creating campaigns that “stop the world in its scroll” has more value than ever. Much of the agency's breakthrough creative work stems from the creative inspiration of Jamie Falkowski. Among the firm's most notable creative campaigns, Day One worked with Chipotle to launch its TikTok presence in a campaign that drove a digital sales record. Day One helped Chipotle become the first brand to partner with Venmo on a campaign that drove one million rewards sign-ups with no paid advertising in the first week. For H&M, Day One built a multi-stage campaign to launch its new Hudson Yards store centered on a Love Letter to the city in New York Magazine. 

Where is the most urgent need for innovation within the PR/communications industry? 
Traditionally, a lot of PR is about chasing media coverage, but we need to focus on creative ideas that are culture-worthy before focusing on what will be pressworthy. Great ideas connect to people and what moves them, and then if the idea is great, it will tap into something true that drives coverage and conversation. It will strike a cord with something human and truthful—organically creating a relatability that (should) make press coverage and conversation irresistible.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
About the same as other marketing disciplines

How have the events of 2020 impacted the the industry's innovation? 
More innovative. The last year has forced a lot of organizations to accelerate and to get comfortable being uncomfortable. We all have to be a little less perfect in the process and more accepting of the unknown. The old playbooks and classic strategies that have been hard for some to let go of might not work today—the best brands have gone back to a consumer- and human-first approach, putting empathy and listening at the heart of creative.

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?

Creative ideas: Watch any award-winning case study and a huge part of showcasing the campaign’s impact is conversation, and who knows how to drive and lead conversation better than the PR industry? The opportunity is in developing creative ideas that break through and that are bigger than just our channel. Often it feels that traditional PR work feels just that—traditional. There is no reason our creative territories and ideas can’t expand beyond earned and be leveraged to shape paid communication and big campaign ideas. Ad agencies typically often use potential media coverage as a way to highlight how an idea might be perceived to break through. Why shouldn’t communications creative do the same and show how an idea comes to life in a billboard, a TV spot or a piece of original entertainment? Our biggest opportunity is in not limiting ourselves and our industry to our expected playspace.

What is the ideal working scenario for innovation?

In a lot of our creative sprints, we look to divergent and convergent approaches to solving problems, and each can benefit from both solo and collaborative working sessions. Getting everyone on the same page and editing ideas to be their most succinct and digestible has been harder than normal in remote collaboration. It’s doable, but great ideas often come from the inbetween. The walk down the hall, the coffee break, the after work drink. Those moments happen out of spontaneity and few things can replace working together in a room and developing creative shorthand.

Has 2020 changed the way you define/approach innovation? How?
2020 has changed everything. A huge impact on the work has been just how the days are structured. You have to work harder to find the time for big thinking and getting creative and with so many video calls needed to just stay connected, it requires a real dedication from the entire team to stay inspired.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen this year?
In a year that feels as long as many combined, it is hard to narrow in on just one. I think what will stay with me from 2020 is that this is the year brands looked at how they could add a lot of value to consumers’ lives and stay relevant when perhaps spending money and acquiring new things wasn’t top of mind. From Nike’s (client) Play Inside campaign to provide free training, to Spotify’s Harry Potter at Home with the cast reading the books, to even streaming services like Disney+ making more content available for those stuck at home. 2020 was the year where the relationship with the consumer meant way more than the transaction.

What is the most important lesson you've learned this year?
Almost every day I find the same key ideas and lessons rising to the top of conversation when discussing creative ideas. None of these lessons are ‘new’ for this year, but I continue to rediscover them and revisit them: There are no new ideas, just newer and better articulations. Simple wins. Always name your idea, otherwise the client will. Listen—everything/everyone is interesting if you ask the right questions.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider innovative.
I began to think back to a handful of moments from Day One and past roles that have been career ‘highlights,’ but I’ve always tried hard to not look back too much and to keep moving forward. I truly believe that some of the most innovative work in my career is just around the corner. A lot of that is coming from much closer collaboration with clients as we’ve had to become more agile and on time vs on trend. Zoom was new when Chipotle Together launched but by mid-April there was Zoom fatigue. We have to move faster and make decisions quickly. All of our partners are navigating new ways to work and we’re helping them get there—reimagining how to tell their brand stories, build communities, and connect back to culture.

Any habit/activity that you have added to your life during Covid-19 that you hope to carry with you when the pandemic subsides? Since late March I’ve made it a habit to order from, show patronage, and support the businesses in my neighborhood in Brooklyn that I would be most devastated to see close. A big reason we live in the city is to feel its energy—to feed off of the unique creations, spaces, and people who are much more to NY than any building or landmark. While 2020 has been hard on our industry, it has been even harder on those at the forefront of what’s next and who inspire our work. No matter what happens next, I want to continue to put back into the community what it is has given me over the last 14 years.

How can the PR industry make real progress in diversity, inclusion and equity? What is the biggest roadblock standing in the way? One area we’ve focused on in hiring has been to look beyond our typical networks to connect with those who might not already know, but also those completely out of our sector. We need diversity of thought, different perspectives, and unique points of view to not only challenge the work, but to be able to see the world in new ways. If we always look in the same places for hires, we’ll continue to just be talking to ourselves.

What are you thinking about most these days? 
Evolving the on-the-job training for our team and helping them learn while doing. A couple of years ago we built “The Summer of Creativity” as a way for our junior and rising talent to learn through real challenges and briefs from real clients. It has continued to be one of the highlights of the year as we mentor team members who have never had to own the creative process through the entire journey from brief, to brainstorm, to write up to pitch, to taking feedback. The brands who have partnered with us this year have accelerated the process for a ton of our employees, and the process continues to keep me excited about learning and re-learning what I do, and why, each summer.

Bold prediction for 2021 
I’m hopeful that with so many fleeing the cities for the countryside we’ll see a rise of new creative energy in New York. The last 6 months have been very difficult for creative and extroverted people to be their most comfortable and to share their ideas with the world. I can’t wait to see what comes next from them and how this city (and so many others) will reinvent itself.