Frank Passalacqua ’15 has 1.28 million YouTube Followers
By James Jaskolka ’16
Frank Passalacqua ’15 still isn’t used to meeting his fans.
“It’s such a bizarre experience,” he says. “I’ve probably met 20 or so people, just randomly, who recognized me from my videos.”
Passalacqua has gained massive popularity with his YouTube channel, RandomFrankP, where he uploads tech reviews and how-to videos and guides fans on room tours of impressive video gaming setups. His channel currently has 1.28 million subscribers. Producing its content is his full-time job.
Like many millenials, Passalacqua, who earned his degree in communication studies, grew up with YouTube and social media still in its infancy. He understood the way the medium encouraged user-generated content and developed an interest in video production.
“I saw the potential for it, and I always wanted to have a viral video,” he says, citing comedy skits he would upload with his friends as a teenager. “There’s always been a part of me that wanted to be in that space.”
As he grew up and his interests developed, Passalacqua’s YouTube channel became devoted to video games. His videos featured gameplay commentary and helpful hints for popular games. He posted infrequently, but began to develop a small following.
Things changed the first time he went viral.
One 2013 video, a rather profanity-laced clip of Passalcqua getting penalized in-game for cursing on a headset in the popular basketball game “NBA 2K14,” gained notoriety quickly. The clip was picked up by ESPN and Howard Stern, and received over a million views in only 48 hours.
“It exploded overnight,” he recalls.
With more eyes than ever on his channel, he began to post videos more frequently. Eventually, he realized there was a niche not being filled within the community: reviews for gaming accessories and peripherals, like wireless headsets and gaming keyboards. So in an effort to give potential buyers information he wished he’d had, he began to post reviews of these items.
“Before I’d buy something, I always looked at reviews, and there weren’t too many…so I would buy things that I wanted and review them myself. I noticed those videos started to do a lot better,” he says. “Once I saw that there was immediate interest in those peripherals in PC gaming, I figured I would start to do that more often.”
One video, a comparison between two high-tech gaming keyboards, became incredibly popular, amassing over six million views since its upload five years ago. Passalacqua saw the interest and knew he was on the right track.
As Passalacqua continued to make videos, his channel grew in popularity, gathering advertisers and sponsors, and reaching 40,000 subscribers in a few months. With graduation quickly approaching, he knew he had a choice to make.
“As I was applying for jobs, I looked at starting salaries in public relations and compared them to what I was making at that time. There was still a huge gap,” he recalled. “But I figured I could take that summer off and work on the channel, treating it like a full-time job, doing everything I could to grow it and see where I was at…I doubled my subscriber count in those two or three months alone.”
Since then, Passalacqua has turned his YouTube channel into a full-fledged career. This is mostly possible through a partnership he made with BroadbandTV, a Multi-Channel Network, or MCN. Similar to booking agents or management companies, MCNs will sell space in their clients’ videos to advertisers, provide them with music libraries for their videos, assist with strategies for audience growth and retention, pay for travel expenses and so on. This has allowed Passalacqua to receive a monthly payment from his videos.
Passalacqua says he has gained other income from sources other than his YouTube channel. He frequently creates marketing materials for companies he’s reviewed products for, like LG and Corsair. He makes videos and takes photos for these companies but never releases them on his channel, instead allowing the company to use them in product rollouts.
Though it might be his dream job, Passalacqua emphasizes that it still is a job — and one that takes quite a bit of work, considering he remains a one-man operation.
“There are no days off. I’m constantly checking emails, or thinking of new video ideas, ways to try to get ahead of the curve,” he explains.
Most of his work happens behind-the-scenes: writing, studio set-up, filming and editing. Even the shortest videos require serious effort.
“Someone will see an eight-minute video and think ‘oh, this video took eight minutes to make’…but this one video I’m working on now, I’ve probably put in five 12-hour days already, and it’s a video that might not even perform well,” he says, laughing.
Passalacqua credits his time at Wilkes for developing and fostering many of the skills he uses today. His coursework in journalism and public relations trained him to break down company press releases and formulate scripts quickly; his logo, now iconic to more than a million people, was originally sketched in an integrative media class with instructor Steve Husted.
The biggest help, Passalacqua says, came from his time in Zebra Communications, Wilkes’ student-run public relations firm, with former professor of communication studies Jane Elmes-Crahall.
“Zebra definitely helped me big time, getting that real-world experience talking to companies to learn what they want,” he says. “When I’m doing sponsored or branded content on my channel, it’s gonna be all about the company in the end, and when I make a product review, I need something that’ll appeal to the audience, but also make the company happy.”
Elmes-Crahall remembers his former student’s time as board member for Zebra. She says his online persona differs from the off-screen student she knew.
“He stood out immediately for two reasons: his tech savvy and his extremely strong analytical and team-building skills,” Elmes-Crahall says. “What might be most surprising considering his current YouTube following is that Frank was often quiet and thoughtful when faced with a question. But when he spoke he had thought through many perspectives and offered great insights.”
Having high-quality content and staying as up-to-date as possible have kept Passalacqua in the spotlight, but he credits consistency as the biggest factor in his success. He posts videos three times a week, usually on weekends, to best reach his target demographic. Most importantly, he committed to consistency when it mattered most.
“If it wasn’t for me taking the time off at the end of college and treating it like a full -time job, who knows how far it may have gone, or how little it would have grown?” he said.
“I knew that if I took a nine-to-five with 40,000 subscribers and didn’t focus on that, or learn what would become of it, I’d always wonder ‘what if?’ I think I’m a lot happier now than I would have been working a job I didn’t like,” he says. “It was just a matter of taking that leap and hoping it all went well, and thankfully it did.”