One of the first and most well-known Instagram accounts about Perth is headed up by two young lads, who’s idea to create a user driven Instagram account showcasing the best bits of this fine city and it’s surrounds has become bigger than just the small side project they thought it would be. We chatted to extremely busy 26-year-old Luke Whelan about Perth is OK! and his ever growing list of projects.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and Perth is OK! Is it just yourself behind this brand or are you working with a few people behind the scenes?
Ah yeah so it’s me and a guy called Blake Callaway, we both came up with the concept for Perth is OK! about 18 months ago… around November 2014. Both of us have come from event backgrounds. I am also one of the Directors of Metric Events that does events and several club nights throughout Perth plus Castaway Festival at Rottnest and in Queensland, plus we also do Wonderland Festival. We own two venues, Jack Rabbit Slims and Flyrite, in Northbridge, and we have Pilerats as well, and through all that Blake and I also work on club nights.
We both wanted to do something a little bit different to a more diverse audience. We had developed our social media knowledge and skills so we thought it would be cool to do something a little bit broader outside of our normal field of the 18-27 year-old market, just to see what we can do with it, so the idea was kinda born from that and it has kind of gone pretty well I guess!
It was when Instagram was in the beginning and was really just blowing up. Some people were starting to utilise their audiences and their sway to actually do some cool things rather than just be sitting there on a platform. I guess our goal was to try and create something that was really cool, different and unique for WA. We’ve all flown the WA flag and we know that Perth is more than OK but, externally, it tends to have that sleepy town kinda feel to everyone else so it’s an excuse to tie all those things together.
Well you’ve certainly done really well with it. 124,000 followers and counting…
Yeah I think we’re bigger than the official Western Australian account! I think we’re nearing on half a million unique hashtags, so it’s like we’re getting a hashtag a minute of people submitting their photos, which is really awesome. It’s like a little army of people out there flying the Perth flag now as well, it’s a really cool vibe in the community.
With that, you mention the Western Australian account, are you guys in contact at all? Will you share some of their stuff or vice versa? Or is it strictly competitors?
Ah I wouldn’t say we’re competitors whatsoever… I guess we have the freedom that Government run accounts can’t have. They always have to have strict guidelines and I guess they’re never going to have the passion that some freelancers have, and the ability to be a bit cooler and current. Where the Western Australian account is very much just geographic photos and beach landscapes, we try to mix it up between big aerial photos as well as what’s on, new bars, new food joints, new artworks and all that kind of stuff. I guess we’re trying to be a bit more all-encompassing. So I wouldn’t say we’re competitors but not directly in contact with them either. They kind of do their thing but we have reached out to the Tourism board before to see if they’re interested in collaborating with anything but they get a lot of their stuff done from interstate company, like a big marketing firm, so nothing really happened from it but hey, we’ll see, maybe one day!
All the landscape photos and images on your account are absolutely amazing, these are all submitted to you guys and you just select the best one to promote?
All of our content is user driven so it’s all submission based. That’s the kind of strength of what we’re doing. We don’t really have motives ourselves, we’re not photographers or anything like that, we’re just good at social media. So yeah it’s really good cos it showcases the photographers or it showcases the bar in particular as well as it encourages other people to be going out and taking photos and I think that’s where it’s strength comes from… cos if it was just us putting up our photos we’re going to be biased (laughs). We have the freedom to just pick the best photos that we think will showcase Perth in the best way and give people a leg up, from photographers to small businesses to whoever really.
Look I must admit that I’ve actually hashtagged a couple of photos of my own with #perthisok but umm no love from you guys yet so if you could just have a look through…
Oh yeah sure no worries (laughs) we’ll sort you out.
So you an Blake started Perth is OK! but no one knew it was you behind it all? And that’s how you wanted it?
I guess that was a big thing for us, Blake and I never told anyone it was us until more recently just because we didn’t want it to be… (pauses) I guess we wanted it to stand on its own legs. We had other products and other businesses and stuff that was known so we sort of wanted it to gain traction under its own weight and stand-alone rather than being attached to the other things we do.
Tell us a bit more about all those other things you do… got a fair few projects going on in the background?
Ah yeah its kind of confusing! So we’ve got Metric Events which is events based stuff, predominately for the 18-27 youth market, Triple J kind of stuff with club nights, youth festivals, outdoor stuff, which is kind of a wide range of things. Then we started Pilerats which is a blog, probably the biggest blog in WA. It’s getting around 300,000 unique hits a month and that’s music and lifestyle based. And then from that we started a creative agency which now has about 16 traders on it. Then we bought a venue, started a record label which is a subsidiary of Warner and then Blake also does a few different other Instagram accounts and he runs events as well so yeah… I guess you could say we’re busy (laughs).
Perth is OK! has been a side project and now it’s sort of gotten to a point where we’re looking at the next thing and working out where to go and how to use our audience and stay true to what we wanted to do. We’re looking at different avenues of either starting a mail out to show what’s on, things to do and exciting things in Perth or potentially a blog down the track but yeah just taking it as it comes at the moment.
Wow, yeah you are extremely busy! So how did you get into all of this then? Did you go to Uni?
Actually yeah I was studying engineering at UWA and then I met a few guys and we started doing the events stuff. I wanted to throw my birthday party at a nightclub but they wouldn’t let me do it cos I wasn’t a promoter. So I Googled what a promoter was and called the guys and started doing that so (laughs) yeah we quickly had a regular weekly thing and it evolved into a festival and the team just grew. We had all these great creatives so we started Pilerats, which started off as an iPad magazine which was fucking hard work, and then we quickly evolved that into a blog and a website so our content was going out there to everyone and not have to be restricted to the Apple store. It all just grew organically in the last six years since I dropped out of my final year of Uni, which my parents weren’t overly stoked about (laughs) but I still managed to avoid getting a real job as I like to call it so yeah, life’s pretty good!
Well that is the dream, yes…
(Laughs) sure is!
So the venue, Jack Rabbit Slims, that’s in Northbridge?
Yeah it’s the old Black Betty’s/Parker. We started that in July last year. We repositioned it and rebranded it and made it a live music venue so that’s going really well. We’ve decked it out like a 50’s retro diner so as soon as you walk in you get alcoholic milkshakes in there along with like flavoured fries and there’s booths too. Then there’s a secret door that brings you into the venue as a whole. It’s a small bar at the front and then there’s a 500 capacity gig room there too. There’s a whole lot of quirky stuff going on, we’ve got a Harry Potter quiz night going in there tonight which is pretty funny and we host national touring bands and local bands… the whole lot. It’s a great multi-functional venue. I work quite heavily on the festivals and the venue and then Perth is OK! on the side.
Sounds just like what Northbridge needs…
Well after The Bakery closed we saw that there was no venue really of that sort of size that was doing a good job, and cos we were promoters first we had worked with most venues doing our own shows so we sort of knew what we wanted to do very astutely from our experiences both positive and negative from working with other venues.
Rottnest Island, image via PerthisOK! by @airprints
Well you definitely know what you’re doing so I’m sure you guys will be successful! Final question… if I managed to scroll through the 1200-odd posts on the Perth is OK! account, what would I find as the very first Instagram post? Do you remember what is was?
Not at all! (laughs) I think at the beginning when we starting off from scratch we were just using going through generic Perth and Western Australia hashtags to try and get it going. The whole user driven thing, it takes a while to hit that point where people want to submit their photos.
Ah yep ok cool well when I get through all 1200 posts I’ll shoot you an email and tell you what the first post was.
(laughs) ok cool, I’ll talk to you in a few months then!
Follow the guys on Instagram at @perthisok
All images are from the Perth is OK! Instagram page