You might recognize the name Jason Horowitz from his popular Instagram account, @eatswithjason, where he chronicles some of his favorite places to eat in Minneapolis and beyond while sharing unique perspectives about food culture. We sat down with Jason to discuss the power of being a food influencer, the benefits of being a macro and micro-influencer, tips for becoming better influencers, and what we should all know about the realities of blogging and the influencer lifestyle.
From Photography to Blogging
Jason revealed how he’s always loved taking photos. That love of creativity, coupled with a knack for social media management, planted the seeds of inspiration when he saw other Minneapolis natives blogging about their favorite places to eat around town.
Making it a priority to live out his dreams, he focused on food blogging and quickly became a local expert on the subject. Jason began cultivating his Instagram account, which has grown exponentially while building his brand through creative photos of some of the delicious food he’s tried around the city.
Breaking Out With Panera Bread
Like most influencers, Jason’s start was on the local level, reviewing nearby food spots in the Minneapolis area. But a marketing company in New York changed all that when they set him up with a campaign for Panera Bread.
Jason found himself promoting Panera’s products across the spectrum, from new flatbreads and branded dressings to homemade soups. He even found himself reviewing Panera’s new app that was launched for online and mobile ordering.
Anyone would be excited to work with a company on the scale of Panera Bread, and he admits it’s been his favorite influencer campaign so far. But the real reason he enjoys working with them is the fact that he simply loves the product. He told us:
“First off, I love the food. I love the customer service. I like having comfort food right at your fingertips and the accessibility of that type of food. Soups, sandwiches, and salads are my favorite things to have for lunch. I just love what they do with comfort food on a larger scale.”
The Importance of Passion
We asked Jason how important passion for the industry in which you’re serving is when it comes to being an influencer. He was clear that passion is key to making your campaign work and constantly adding value to viewers. He elaborated:
“I feel like if you put your mind to it, sure, you can do anything, but it shows in your work, as far as the type of photography you’re able to take. I live and breathe the whole restaurant industry here.”
Passion, he continued, is what enables him to provide his followers with an immersive experience while adding value to the brands he represents:
“For me to just be posting photos of food, it’s not organic. So, I think living and breathing the lifestyle you’re influencing shows in your work. So many people can be fashion or foodie or lifestyle influencers, but what’s the quality of their work look like?”
“I feel like what differentiates myself is that I try to make sure that I’m giving the restaurant the exposure they deserve. I’m describing the ingredients, and not just saying what all this food is like. I’m selling the whole experience.”
Reaching Out to Brands
Most people would be curious about the process of how influencers establish contact with the brands they work with. Jason told us it all starts with the influencer reaching out and determining if there’s a fit for both them and the brand. Then, he gave some great insight into how to do it the right way:
“Typically, I reach out via their Instagram DM’s. For example, let’s say I want to reach out to Papa John’s. I would message their Instagram and kind of sell myself and what I’m trying to accomplish, and that I want to come out for them. Then, they usually message back, and then they give me a marketing email.”
We asked what kind of information he provides to a brand when he reaches out:
“Depending on the brand, I try to keep it more generic. I say something along the lines of ‘Hey, I’m Jason. I’m a passionate food influencer based out of Minneapolis. I’ve always been a huge Papa John’s fan, and I see that you guys are doing different marketing campaigns for different products. I would love to be on your media list and get connected to the right person that could potentially set up a collaboration.’”
He also revealed the importance of networking with other food influencers.
“I also have a lot of connections with other food influencers throughout the United States. While I’m influencing in Minneapolis, many people are doing the same thing in New York and Miami. All over, there are different foodies. So, sometimes, if I see someone I’m friendly with, I’ll do a partnership. I’m like, ‘hey, I see you did a partnership with McDonald’s. Do you have a contact person?’”
Getting Paid for Influencer Campaigns
Passion is great, but there are bills to be paid. So, one question on our mind was how much influencers get paid for a campaign. But, of course, there’s a difference between a campaign like Panera Bread and a little mom-and-pop bakery on the corner. So how do influencers determine their rates and negotiate them with the brand they’re looking to represent?
As it turns out, he was just as clueless as the rest of us (at first).
“I had no idea. I’ve had a lot more paid opportunities since hitting 20,000 followers. But, at first, I kind of just asked people and Googled ‘Instagram paid rates.’”
As always, Google had the answers.
“The benchmark for influencer Instagram pricing Is $10 per 1,000 followers. So, $10 per 1,000 followers. That’s the benchmark that I go off. Depending on the brand, the minimum that I’ll accept for a national pay partnership is $250. But typically, I negotiate more, or it just kind of depends. I mean, Panera and Noodles, and some of the bigger companies I’ve worked with, they have more money, so then they’re able to pay me more. But I’m willing to accept less for some of the smaller ones.”
Consistency is Key (But Don’t Quit Your Day Job)
One key to the growth of an influencer’s brand is consistency. You must be both active and consistent for an audience to grow over time. And as you can imagine, there’s a lot of effort that goes into it.
“I don’t make money daily from influencing. But just keep in mind that when you’re influencing, there’s always a goal. The more you’re growing your account, the more followers you have, the higher engagement you have, the higher reach you have. The end goal is culminating into you getting more opportunities. So, since I’ve been hustling more over the last couple of months, I’ve had more paid opportunities than I’ve ever had. If I weren’t posting consistently, I wouldn’t have gotten those opportunities. So, it’s all about consistency.”
The Hustle is Real
Jason explained that most people see Influencing as all fun and games. After all, who wouldn’t love going out to eat, getting free food, and getting paid to do it? However, that’s just a small reward at the end of a long journey and a lot of hard work.
“The exciting part of being an influencer is you never really know what the day is going to bring or what opportunity you’ll get. It’s all about how much we like people. I mean, it’s a lot of work to get to the point where you’re getting value out of it. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of grinding and hustling. But it’s just like any other job where nothing’s handed to you.”
Being Above Board With Your Audience
One big concern influencers face is regulations regarding paid content. The FTC has issued rules and guidance in recent years regarding endorsements and advertising on social media. Their target: Influencers.
Keeping this in mind, we asked Jason how he makes sure his following is aware of when a post has been paid for:
“I mean, I’ve been fortunate that I’ve never had any legal issues. But I’m a very diligent person. So, I make sure that I’m tagging if I’m being paid and using #sponsored if I’m required to. It’s not my favorite hashtag to use. So, instead of using #paid or #sponsored, I use the paid partnership tag at the top of the post. My understanding is you must use one or the other. Some partnerships require both. I prefer the paid partnership right at the top because it links to the company, and you can easily get to their profile.”
What Happens to All That Food?
All those post pics translate into a lot of food. So, we wondered, do food influencers eat it all, or does it go to waste?
“Well, I definitely eat a lot of it. And I sample all of it because I want it to be organic with my reviews. So, I would say it either gets eaten by my friends or me. I also share with my neighbors and family. So, I’d say, between the inner circle of people in my life, it usually gets eaten by someone.”
What Goes into a Typical Influencer Campaign?
We’ve established that food influencing isn’t all just fun and games. There’s a lot of hard work involved. But how does a typical campaign go down? Hint: there are many moving parts.
“It’s a grind. I mean, I’m setting up the collaboration with the business. Then, I find a friend to come with me. I’m talking to business owners and learning about their food the brand. Then, I’m going there to take photos. I’m editing the photos at home, then writing the captions that provide both purpose and value. And, on top of all that, I’m telling their backdrop story.”
It sounds like a lot of work for a free meal!
“I have a streamlined process. Based on the food that I’m photographing, whether it’s dessert or ice cream, hamburgers, pizza or tacos, I kind of know what shots are going to work out.”
Advice for Future Foodie Influencers
So, what’s one piece of advice Jason would give new influencers trying to break into an industry? Beyond using your platform and voice to bring about positive change and do well by others, Jason suggested the following:
“Focus on your goal and why you do it. I mean, I would have stopped a long time ago if I listened to negative comments or people being mean. I continue to persevere and be consistent, and I’m fortunate to have a good support system of friends and family that uplift me. I think having a good support system and doing what you feel is right and consistently doing that is the best route to take.”
Cover photo courtesy of Jason Horowitz.
View this article in the September 2021 issue of MP.