Some might suggest that the business of beauty influencing requires a hint of exaggeration now and then, or even, dare we say it, a little fiction designed to sell products.
But you won’t find any of that on @mrjohnnyross, the Instagram account of Johnny Ross ’20. One of the top five beauty influencers on Traackr.com, Ross values his followers too much. What you will find is super helpful, honest beauty advice presented with grace, humor, and laugh-out-loud comedy. Ross’ audience of nearly 2.5 million know that they can trust his advice and they stay tuned because of it.
“I left high school intent on pursuing a career in the cosmetics industry,” Ross says. “I went to cosmetology school and worked at Sephora, but I quickly realized that I didn’t want to stay in retail.”
Ross also realized that he would need to go back to school if he wanted to make a jump to the corporate side of the beauty business. He researched colleges and programs and decided on Montclair’s Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. At 26, he was eager to fast-track his college degree, knowing it would require a lot of intense, hard work.
“I took a lot of summer courses and was fielding online classes while working the makeup counter at Burberry’s,” Ross says, noting that during his college years he also worked as an integrated marketing intern for Pride Media, a sales specialist for Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare, and as director of Marketing and Media at A Work of Heart Productions. Ross’ determination paid off, and he completed his bachelor’s degree in just three years.
A heavy course load, retail hours, and private makeup clients made for a tight schedule, but Ross still found time to participate in a few Montclair activities, including co-leading discussions for Beyond Binaries-LGBTQ Center and editing for the University’s literary magazine, The Normal Review. “I love art and poetry, and really enjoyed helping to select the magazine’s content,” he says.
Degree in hand, Ross set sights on building his brand as a beauty content creator. “During the first year or two of building a following you are taking advantage of any and every opportunity to expand your reach,” he says. “But I was always conscious of my long-term plan.”
“It’s a little like building an audience for a television series,” Ross explains. “Some elements move forward while others get left behind. You are always thinking about what your audience wants.”
One thing Ross felt certain of was the need to stand out from the rest. “Social media is flooded with makeup artists,” he says. “I have been involved in music, acting and theater since high school and decided to lean into that part of my experience. The combination of beauty content and comedy keeps my followers coming back for more.”
Ross’ savvy assessment of what will grab the attention of social media users – a reliably fickle group – and his high energy talent and positivity have led to work with brands like Fenty and Makeup Revolution. His content is smart, informative, and fun to watch.
“The whole thing blew up early in 2023,” Ross says about the recent explosion of followers. That was also when he learned that he was selected to join the Ulta Beauty Collective Class of 2023, an elite group of beauty content influencers and creators.
Ross couldn’t be more grateful for these opportunities, but he is in no way resting on his accomplishments. “This year is about phase three,” he says. “I just launched a podcast called Beautiful and Bothered that has already aired 10 episodes.”
The podcast is just one of the strategies Ross is pursuing to attract the kind of attention that leads to new avenues, such as judging panel shows. “Beauty isn’t always enough of a foundation for an entire career, especially for men in the industry,” he says. “At this stage I am focused on fine-tuning my image and brand, and ensuring the sustainability of my business.”
As an older student in a full-time undergraduate program, Ross’ Montclair experience was atypical. “It was interesting,” he recalls. “Most of my classmates had just graduated from high school. I think I learned as much from my classmates as I did from my professors!”
He especially appreciated the classes taught by professors who had a lot of industry experience, as well as those that involved practical, hands-on projects. “In one class we split into groups and invested our own money in developing and selling a product,” he says. “The practicality of that assignment really resonated…and my group made a profit selling t-shirts.”
“The business world is moving at lightning speed,” Ross adds. “Success depends a lot on offering something unique, and staying tuned to what’s coming next.”
Ross, engaged to be married to alumnus Casey Coleman ’14, appreciates the many opportunities for alumni to stay involved. In February, Ross returned to campus to share his experience with students at a Student Development and Campus Life event. “It is great to see students so engaged,” he says. “Meeting recent alumni like me gives students a little confidence that they will be able to handle the future. I would love to come back to lead a content creation master class, or to judge a dance show at Homecoming.”