Jungle Creations’ founder and chief executive Jamie Bolding has this week (11 January) announced he will step down from the digital media company, with execs Melissa Chapman and Nat Poulter stepping up as joint CEOs. Following a year of record revenue growth at Jungle, the co-chiefs tell The Drum how they plan to advance the business.
In 2020, Jungle Creations – home of media brands including Twisted, Craft Factory, VT, Four Nine, Level Fitness, Lovimals and Blue Crate, as well as the social agency The Wild – reported profit growth of 342% year-on-year and 38% revenue growth (£19.5m revenue and more than £3m Ebitda). And so founder Jamie Bolding’s departure comes at a high point for the business.
From 1 February, Bolding moves into a director role, with current chief content and brand officer Melissa Chapman and chief operating officer Nat Poulter stepping up. It has been seven years since the entrepreneur founded the business at the age of 23 – a story that several digital media rivals share.
The Drum sat down with the new chief execs to suss out where’s next for Jungle Creations.
Jungle’s media brands sit in verticals such as food and fitness. These neatly align with brand partners – and at relative scale, with it boasting 120 million followers across all platforms.
Poulter explains: “Our brands are the flywheel that drives all areas of the business, be it platform and onsite advertising revenue, branded content, the insights and data that drive our marketing services business, or indeed commerce.“
Bringing audiences closer to these brands is the objective – increase the frequency that they engage. This requires expanding into the platforms where they’d be expected to be. 2020 saw it push into TikTok and Snapchat. 2021 marks a different journey into the world of podcasting and OTT (something the Dodo has done). Poulter emphasises developing “even higher quality original programming that can sit natively cross-platform“.
Social’s been good to the business, but it has been a few years since its eggs sat solely in any single basket. Poulter puts it: “While social will always be our core business and no doubt will be where all ideas start, 2021 will be the year we really start to build relationships beyond social with audiences IRL.“
Twisted, its food vertical, showcases some of the industry’s boldest pushes into IRL, be it cookbooks, restaurants and cocktails deliveries, all inspired by content from the channels.
And, to meet its goals, it has made some lofty hires, including a programming director, head of brand for VT, a managing director of commerce and an SEO director.
But Poulters’s counterpart Chapman claims 2020 has “proven the resilience of social publishing“. There’s a caveat of course. “With the right company structure and strategies in place, social publishers are the ones with the agility to move with the conversation as it happens.“
Chapman claims that social publishers, which by their very nature should have real-time feedback on the emotions and trends of audiences, were the fastest to react during a turbulent time. “What was happening in the world was changing daily, even hourly at times, so it’s no small feat for brands to shift narrative and strategy with that, and we’ve found that social publishers are a business typically best structured to cope with these daily demands.“
Across the board, the public spent more time on social. Especially during lockdown. Social publishers had the chance to facilitate, and be a part of, these conversations
“I think many in younger generations have long seen social publishing as their number one means of consuming entertainment, reading news and connecting with their friends,“ she says. “But in 2020, the wider world saw that too.“
Chapman and Poulter have been a significant driving force behind Jungle’s pandemic response. Partnerships with Major League Baseball, Mars, Unilever, Heinz, Braun Audio, Silverspoon, Decathlon and more have kept the commercial team busy.
It’s all part of the plan. Chapman has been at the company for seven years and Poulter three and a half.
For Poulter, there’s a “clear road map and purpose“. The mission has been to diversify income for at least three years now. “It better served our clients’ and advertisers’ needs and enabled us to maximize the value a publisher can drive from its audience, while not being reliant on one revenue stream.“
So, he says, half of Jungle’s record revenue comes from media platforms and accompanying advertising. The remaining half came through a growing side of the business, including its creative marketing services via The Wild and the commerce that piggybacks its media verticals. In 2020, The Wild’s revenues were up almost four-fold. With production stymied at the start of lockdown and brand staff either furloughed or unsure what to say, the opportunity came knocking for the agency brand.
Jungle veteran Chapman joined a team of three all those years ago. Going against the grain of the industry, she believes “the business benefited tremendously from our respective inexperience“.
From supposed ignorance, Jungle wasn’t “wedded to idealistic, and perhaps archaic, notions of what the growth journey of our media business should look like“.
The proof is in the pudding. The business model isn’t directly comparable with any rivals. It has been quite the journey. Chapman cites the shift from user-generated content into originals and building strong defined brands as high points, but admits: “Did we envisage selling products to our audiences back in 2014? Probably not in our wildest dreams. Did it make total sense to do it with the audiences and brands we’d built? Absolutely, yes.“
Reflecting on his stint, Bolding says that setting up the company was the easy part. “Turning it into a successful, profitable and reputable business was much more difficult, so to be sat here today almost seven years later and the company be all three of these things, I’m immensely proud.“
He’s looking to “step into the next phase“ just before his 30th birthday. “There are more things I want to do and to achieve, while at the same time ensuring Jungle is led by people just as passionate about the business as I am.“
Chapman, as one of Bolding’s first hires, concludes: “It has been a great privilege to work with Jamie for the past six years. His faith, encouragement and unwavering trust in me as an individual has been fundamental to my own growth and development as a person and as a leader, for which I will be eternally grateful.“