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The Accidental Influencer How Brent Underwood Turned A Ghost Town Into A Media Empire


The Accidental Influencer: How Brent Underwood Turned A Ghost Town Into A Media Empire

The Accidental Influencer: How Brent Underwood Turned A Ghost Town Into A Media Empire

From Marketing Professional to Ghost Town Proprietor

Brent Underwood never expected a simple text message to alter the course of his career. The Florida native had found success in marketing, helping promote books by notable authors like Tim Ferriss and Robert Greene. But in 2018, a friend’s late-night message piqued his curiosity – a ghost town in California was for sale.

“He thought it was kind of a joke. He said, ‘Oh, maybe this is your old thing,'” Underwood recalls of the text about Cerro Gordo, an abandoned mining town from the 1800s. Intrigued, he visited the village and did something few would – he bought it. Underwood, who had previously worked at jobs he “really hated” like a brief stint at a bank, saw potential for a new venture blending his loves of hospitality, history, and the great outdoors.

The Accidental Influencer: How Brent Underwood Turned A Ghost Town Into A Media Empire

Building an Audience by Sharing His Passion

The idea was for Cerro Gordo to be a hospitality business hosting overnight guests. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, Underwood found himself isolated in the ghost town. “I figured I would come up to the town and with me, I brought a camera because originally I wanted to learn how to do astrophotography,” he says. Underwood started making videos and posting them on YouTube to show his friends what he was up to. “It was more just to have fun, have something to do […] The videos did really well. And so then, I start making more videos.”

His content gained traction by providing an authentic window into life in Cerro Gordo. “I think the overarching mission above everything else is just to try to bring the town back to life in a way, you know, to make people care about it, to make sure that it sticks around for a lot longer,” Underwood explains. “And I think personally it was more about […] finding something that […] felt meaningful to me. Like purpose, I guess, would be a way to describe it.”

Underwood’s videos showcased his curiosity and passion for uncovering the history of the old mining town. He let his audience be a part of that journey of discovery, from exploring the old mine shafts to studying the local wildlife like bats that call Cerro Gordo home. “What am I excited about that month and then making a video around that?” is how he approaches content creation. “I’ve tried to do it the opposite way, where I try to think about what would be interesting content for the people that are watching, but I think that that leads you into a territory of making a lot of what other people are making.”

The Accidental Influencer: How Brent Underwood Turned A Ghost Town Into A Media Empire

Creating Community and Monetizing His Passion Project  

Underwood takes an engaged approach with his audience. “I try to stay pretty involved in, you know, comment as much as they kind of read them and reply, because I think that’s the sense of community,” he says. “I often also ask within the videos or the posts for people’s opinions on what’s going on up here, because a lot of the process up here has been learning as I go.”

The Ghost Town Living project is primarily funded through YouTube advertising integrations and merchandise sales. Underwood also relies on income from his marketing company. “A lot of the funding comes from the YouTube videos,” he notes, but adds “if there’s ever a shortage, which there is, with some of the bigger projects, I still have my day job. So I use the money from my day job to kind of funnel it back into the town.”  

Challenges of Life in a Ghost Town

While living his dream in Cerro Gordo, Underwood has faced considerable challenges. “By far the biggest is we don’t have running water up here. And so the challenge of living out water, it seems manageable from afar. ‘Oh, well, it wouldn’t be that bad’. But running water, it kind of affects everything,” he laments. Finding water solutions is one of his major priorities this year, along with finally opening the hotel accommodation he has been renovating for visitors.

The Accidental Influencer: How Brent Underwood Turned A Ghost Town Into A Media Empire

The Creator Economy’s Evolving Landscape  

As someone straddling the worlds of marketing and content creation, Underwood has a unique perspective on the creator economy. He believes brand sponsorships need to evolve beyond disruptive ad integrations. 

“I think brands and creators are going to struggle more with how do we make this a better match and weave [the sponsorship] in the narrative within the product?” Underwood posits. “I’d love to see more like longer narrative arcs meeting […] an integrated deal where I wear those shoes in every video for a couple of years, you know, and as it becomes more a part of the story up here.”

He encourages emerging creators to develop their own products aligned with their brand’s narrative. “You see that most prominently with […] KSI and […] Prime. But I think even on a smaller level […] one day I would love to create like a gin brand. You know, I think it’d be very cool to have like a all western town gin brand.”

Underwood sees this as the path to more lucrative business models for influencers. “When creators could create wholly owned, original things like a chocolate bar or a sports drink or something that isn’t just a t-shirt and a mug that you get anywhere, I can see those as being kind of the most lucrative.”

The Accidental Influencer: How Brent Underwood Turned A Ghost Town Into A Media Empire

A New Chapter Unfolds  

With his ghost town hotel slated to open this year and a book about his experiences on the way, Underwood is opening an exciting new phase of his endeavor. The book will trace his journey “from me working in a job that I was marginally happy with, living a very comfortable but not satisfying life, to transitioning into the life here where I feel like a very deep sense of purpose and connection to everything around me.”

His story underscores how sharing one’s authentic passion can captivate an audience and forge a meaningful community in today’s digital age. “People don’t care what you do,” Underwood advises prospective creators. “They care why you do it […] Whatever you’re doing, if you can shine through your passion […] that’s kind of what is going to create a sustainable platform for creators.”

Cecilia Carloni, Interview Manager at Influence Weekly and writer for NetInfluencer. Coming from beautiful Argentina, Ceci has spent years chatting with big names in the influencer world, making friends and learning insider info along the way. When she’s not deep in interviews or writing, she's enjoying life with her two daughters. Ceci’s stories give a peek behind the curtain of influencer life, sharing the real and interesting tales from her many conversations with movers and shakers in the space.

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