Building Punkee: Moving beyond The Bachelor recaps

In one year, Punkee generated 45m video views and took home Mumbrella's Media Brand of the Year. Mumbrella's Zoe Samios sits down with the brains behind the Bachelor-recap machine to find out how they did it.

Two years ago in a room in Melbourne sat a passionate video-making, news generating, somewhat sleep-deprived man called Tom Pitney.

In 2015 Pitney had bought two of Fairfax Media’s former youth titles – The Vine and Everguide – and had since been implementing a new strategy to build audiences.

Pitney sold The Vine to Junkee Media in December 2016

A passionate digital marketer, Pitney had been effectively running a “one man shop”; writing the content, selling media space, building the website and the design. And while he loved the job, he had, to put it in his own words, “burnt [him]self out”.

“I had these big grand plans for The Vine and could see this opportunity but didn’t have the resources to take it to the next level,” Pitney tells Mumbrella.

“Junkee [Media] are obviously leaders in the youth space and are pushing to be first on that next thing. It was just this perfect fit and this way to scale and tap that next opportunity, being the rise of Gen Z.

“The Vine – along with a lot of our competitors – was covering a lot of news, and was trying to be everything to everyone. While it had The Bachelor and TV it was covering Donald Trump and ‘how fucked is the world’.

“One of the things we were able to do with Punkee was build a really intentional brand culture around exactly what it stood for.”

The need to unite the two brands also came from Junkee Media’s side.

“We saw The Vine was doing some really interesting stuff in the video space. He started doing some of his recaps as The Vine and Neil and I said, ‘whoever is doing that is doing the most interesting thing in the market and we want that,’” Junkee Media publisher Tim Duggan says.

“We tracked them down and found out it was a guy called Tom Pitney, who was running it. We met up with him and said Tom we love what you are doing.”

Pitney went ahead and sold The Vine to Ooh Media’s Junkee Media, moving across to the youth publisher as a result. But The Vine name wasn’t to last long, with Junkee Media relaunching the platform as ‘Punkee’ just four months later.

Tim Duggan: ‘[Tom] started doing some of his recaps as The Vine and Neil and I said, whoever is doing that is doing the most interesting thing in the market and we want that’

“That was where we came up with the idea of Junkee’s cheekier younger sister, Punkee.”

It’s hard to believe that in just 12 months Punkee has generated 45m video views and even harder for the team to believe the brand could win a Mumbrella Award with less than two years under its belt.

Punkee Award Entry – Media Brand Of The Year

For Neil Ackland, CEO of Junkee Media, the brand was always going to work.

Ackland says the Punkee brand was always going to work

“I have a very strong belief in our product. Ultimately to be a good media operator in this environment, you have to be able to create content that really engages and connects with audiences in a really powerful way. We’ve shown that we can do that,” Ackland says.

But it wasn’t about changing the name and implementing the same strategy the pair used to build the Junkee Media name.

“Gen Y – Junkee’s audience – really care about big issues, politics, news and what is going on with the world, but Gen Z just kind of want to have fun,” Duggan says.

“There are almost like two different sides of your personality – one is when you want to think, and Punkee’s when you don’t want to think.”

Ackland describes it as a “clean slate approach”, designed specifically for younger audiences.

“It wasn’t just about giving something a new name and selling a sponsor in the launch and then kicking it to the side, it was about really doing it properly and investing in getting the right team and coming up with a very distinct brand, tone of voice and style of content,” Ackland says.

“We’d been working on the plan for two years before it went live in terms of trying see how big the commercial opportunity was, talking to brands about the space, researching the audience, understanding how big the audience is and what was our way in,” he says.

One of the major drivers of Punkee’s quick success was The Bachelor recaps – quick three to four minute parody wraps of Ten’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette Australia.

Pitney began the recaps before joining Junkee Media, and they quickly attracted widespread audience attention. Over the years, some of the programs’ best known stars, including host Osher Gunsberg, Sophie Monk and Matty ‘J’ Johnson have spoken about how much they enjoyed the recaps.

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“The recaps are amazing because they have created a new visual style. No one was really doing that style that Tom and the team created, which was kind of like overloading people’s senses,” Duggan explains.

“That to us is the ad for Punkee. That’s how people find out about what Punkee is and we share it and we’ve had 45m video views in 12 months, primarily of recaps.”

But fun as it may seem, the recaps require overnight work for 24 hours. When the new video editor, James Anthony, arrived at Junkee Media, he described the process as “psychopathic”, according to Pitney.

“Basically the episodes arrive to us the afternoon of the show and we essentially cut that episode down to a three to four minute summary filled with pop culture references. We get it on the Wednesday night and we edit through – we’ve got quicker at it now but originally when it was just me it was working through until about 10 or 11am the next morning – getting it up online and then trying to get some sleep if I could, then the next episode would arrive 4 or 5pm again the following night.

“So it was start all over again. Pretty much all of Wednesday and Thursday I didn’t sleep and I’d try to get the sleep sometime after lunch on Friday.

“The reason why it took so long was because I’m not a video editor. The way that I actually make it is in iMovie which is the free Mac software and then even bits I needed…I hacked my way around the limitations of the software by using PowerPoint.

“It was this really backwards, amateur way of working out how to make them.”

And yet they worked. Pitney also attributes the brand’s success to ditching the goal of taking people to the website.

“[We] just made it our goal to reach as many people as possible, and that was all about getting our brand out as far and wide as possible and to just help solidify in people’s minds exactly what Punkee was,” he says.

“With that affinity we actually saw – even though we were producing less website content – we were seeing stronger click through to the website. The whole approach was very different to the way The Vine was run.”

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But the website – which has been described as the “antidote to the shitty news cycle” isn’t just for the consumer, according to CEO Ackland.

“The audience we have there, they love brands. They’re not cynical or snarky. If the offering is good, they love it. We often find that our branded content does better than some of the other content. It’s a very brand safe, brand friendly, brand fun environment. The tone of Punkee and the positioning enables us to break some of the rules,” he says.

Despite this, Ackland says the revenue is still lagging.

“The revenue follows the audience and I still think there’s a bit of lag there, to be honest,” he says.

“I’m not certain that the revenue has caught up with that just that. It’s coming, it’s getting there. But I still think there’s a lot more commercial potential.”

But according to Duggan, the publisher won’t always say yes to commercial opportunities.

“It’s a really brand safe space, it’s really brand friendly and that was intentional for us. It’s also an audience that is not really tapped into by anyone else. Our research showed us that there’s no other leading Gen Z digital title,” he says.

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“We certainly would say yes to most – but brands have asked if we can do a recap of their ad, and we’ve said no to that.”

While the last two years has been successful for Junkee’s younger sister, it naturally was forced to look beyond that and into the future.

Part of doing that was hiring BuzzFeed’s Tahlia Pritchard to take the helm of Punkee as Pitney takes on a broader strategic role.

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A lot of Pritchard’s role is building out Punkee beyond the Bachelor recaps. She’s spent the last four months brainstorming with the team as to where to take the Punkee brand next, from an editorial perspective.

“For me it was coming in and seeing where we could grow. Everyone knows Puneke for The Bachelor recaps but there’s a huge audience there and Bachelor doesn’t run for 12 months of the year so it was about what can we be doing to cement Punkee into the Gen Z audience and into the younger market,” Pritchard says.

“We are experimenting a lot with identity type posts. We’ve been delving a little bit more into the dating and relationship space – doing funny takes and seeing if that audience is there to appreciate it as well.

“It’s about drilling into that audience, seeing what works. Seeing if it’s high school content, if it’s dating content, what do they want to know about, what do they want to be learning about to an extent.”

But as she sees it, Punkee won’t lose it’s ‘relatable’ ‘fit in the crowd’ approach.

“For us, it’s really about remaining relatable and making our audience is having fun and we are having fun.

“The hardest thing is shifting to that audience and keeping up with what they do want and what they are looking for, ” she says.

For Ackland, it’s about building the brand across platforms. He’s hoping Punkee’s audience will feed into the Junkee Media audience as they grow older, but he’s more focused on how Junkee Media’s owner – Ooh Media – fits into the picture.

“The thing we wanted to do that we are focused on at the moment is with Ooh’s positioning, they’ve got a product – their study product – which is in university campuses across Australia,” he says.

“If you look at the student population, this year for the first time, 98% of all students fall into the Gen Z age bracket. We have effectively got a huge audience on campus everyday and a huge audience online everyday who are Gen Z. What we are trying to do it bring that together in a way that’s commercially viable for brands.

“That’s the evolution of it. It’s not an online only brand. It’s about existing in locations, be that digital, or real world locations, where that audience are and being able to take those content ideas and being able to amplify it.”

In the meantime however, Duggan is relishing in the success of the year just gone.

“We are so proud of the fact that in one year we have been able to have such a big impact. I think of how many media brands are there out there, and in one year Punkee has been able to establish itself as a place where tens of thousands of people come to comment and share it with their friends,” he says.

“The combination of the experience we have at Junkee Media at knowing the audience plus the talent we have in Tom and Tara and James and now Tahlia, the editor. We’ve got a really experienced team. All of that combined with our knowledge of how to build brands, have all combined to create Punkee and make it the media brand of the year.”

Junkee Media are sitting on a panel which looks into how youth audiences will change the publishing industry of the future. Get your ticket now


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