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How a Concordia grad went from superfan to creative director

Barbara Dunkelman, BComm 11, leveraged her versatility, leadership, social media marketing skills — and lots of passion
November 13, 2019
By Ian Harrison, BComm 00

Barbara Dunkelman , BComm 11 “I think the most valuable thing I learned [at Concordia] was how to work in a group: how to be a leader and how to step back and collaborate.”

In 2005, when Barbara Dunkelman was 16 years old, she attended a fan event in Toronto for a web series and comic sci-fi phenomenon called Red vs. Blue.

Created by Rooster Teeth, a media and entertainment upstart from Austin, Texas, Red vs. Blue had rapidly gained an impassioned following for its absurdist spin on the blockbuster video game franchise Halo.

Dunkelman — now a Concordia grad, BComm 11, and as of this September, Rooster Teeth’s new creative director — was all in.

As a teenager, she often felt she “didn’t belong to any group”. Her smile that day suggests someone who’d finally found her tribe.

“It was life-changing,” Dunkelman recalls. “That was my first time meeting anyone from Rooster Teeth, or anyone from the community.”

Before the ascendancy of internet and social media giants like Facebook, Rooster Teeth offered a kind of virtual clubhouse for like-minded members with niche interests.

That powerful sense of belonging led Dunkelman to volunteer at future Red vs. Blue events, and when she graduated from Concordia’s John Molson School of Business with a marketing degree in 2011, Rooster Teeth offered her a job as the website’s first community manager.

Dunkelman’s rise at Rooster Teeth was quick. As its director of social media and community marketing and, since September 2019, its creative director, she has been at the heart of the company’s growth and diversification.

Today, across its many channels and social media accounts, Rooster Teeth has 200 million monthly views and more than 45 million subscribers. And there’s no question of Dunkelman’s influence.

‘At Concordia, I learned how to be a leader’

When Dunkelman relocated to Texas for her first job at Rooster Teeth, the skills she acquired at Concordia helped soften the transition.

“I think the most valuable thing I learned at Concordia was how to work in a group — how to be a leader, and how to step back and collaborate,” she says. “I also learned about social media marketing, which was new at the time.”

Barbara Dunkelman finds her tribe in 2005.

In short order, Dunkelman was implicated in many aspects of the business. Her versatility served her well as Rooster Teeth enjoyed a period of growth.

The company branched out with podcasts, animated shows, live-action shorts and content for gaming channels — all produced out of its Austin studios. A series of annual gaming and internet conventions, known collectively as RTX (think SXSW meets Comic-Con) and first held in 2011 with some 600 fans in attendance, drew over 60,000 people to the Austin Convention Center in 2018.

Dunkelman is a program director for RTX, the voice of Yang Xiao Long in the anime-inspired web series RWBY, and she has acted in numerous other Rooster Teeth projects. Plus, she hosts a popular weekly video podcast, Always Open. The lively and intimate (and cocktail-fuelled) panels she moderates cover “life, love, sex, and everything in between.”

‘On social media, it’s all about balance’

While Rooster Teeth’s founders still run the business, as a subsidiary of AT&T’s Otter Media, the company has had to work hard to woo diffuse new audiences and persuade core fans it still has the heart of a scrappy Austin startup. This delicate dance is taking place against a backdrop of widespread internet media consolidation.

Meanwhile, the global video game market has matured to a point where analysts expect it to eclipse US$180 billion in annual sales by 2021, dwarfing music and film sales combined. Yet in many respects, the industry remains resistant to efforts to make it as diverse as its consumer base.

“I think in general it’s becoming more inclusive,” Dunkelman observes.

“The term ‘girl gamer’ is becoming less and less common, which is nice. I don’t call guys ‘boy gamers’! But you still see people who judge women’s looks and are more harshly critical of women in the gaming industry.”

Dunkelman’s personal standing on social media is considerable; 351 thousand followers on Instagram and 471 thousand on Twitter.

Tending to that kind of audience is “definitely hard work.”

“I try to interact as much as possible and try to involve followers in the conversation,” she says.

“It’s all about balance. In order to develop a relationship with the fan community, you have to be open. But it’s up to the individual person to determine how open they want to be.”


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