Gary Vaynerchuk is never shy of punchy view or a lofty ambition. On the back of one of its most successful years, the digital media guru and founder of the VaynerX holding group has set his sights on elevating VaynerMedia as a “creative relevance” powerhouse in the UK and Europe.
Last week, VaynerMedia reshuffled its EMEA leadership team, appointing Daisy Domenghini as EMEA managing director for the outgoing Sarah Baumann, and bringing across VJ Anand from its Asia-Pacific business as the agency’s lead creative in this region. Other key executives include head of strategy Allan Blair, head of media Ben Allison, head of finance Ryan Fitzpatrick and head of people and experience Kate Thrumble.
The pair take the reins of an agency that has grown its London team by 21% in the past year to around 144 staff, increased revenue by around 36% and recently won a social and strategy brief for Durex.
Its other retained clients in this region include Hydrow, Kraft-Heinz, NatWest Group, TikTok and Tinder. It also has projects with PepsiCo, and Unicef, among others.
Vaynerchuk is bullish about the agency’s future and stature in the London and EMEA markets and has ambitious expansion plans, but more on that later.
He admitted that it has been a difficult nut to crack against more established advertising agencies since opening a London office in 2016.
“We have probably got more inbound inquiries from Europe in the last 60 days on LinkedIn and our website for meaningful UK work than we have in the last three years combined,” Vaynerchuk told Campaign on a video call from his office in New York.
He puts this “substantial uptick” in demand down to two factors. The first is the agency’s sweet spot – social creative.
“I’ve been talking about this [for years] and have gotten a lot of grey hairs waiting for this day,” he said. “My observation, because we are feeling it globally, is that Covid-19 sped up the education of the CMO about the importance of winning on relevance on social media, and that has been a huge performance media. So clients are saying, ‘Hey, instead of programmatic and TV, what else can you do with our working media?’”
The other reason European clients are taking notice of VaynerMedia is due to the inroads it is making working on TV campaigns in the US. This year VaynerMedia brought back the famous Clydesdale Super Bowl ad for Budweiser – a landmark above-the-line advertising brief for the agency.
“I feel like that [Super Bowl success] has started to finally allow us to have some credibility in the UK market as a creative AOR,” Vaynerchuk said.
“Our hypothesis is that because of our true social creative work – this is not spray and pray, throw it against the wall and see what sticks – it’s really contemporary marketing that gives us a level of consumer insights that allow us to really be strong in our creative above-the-line product.
“I think that somewhere in the last 24 months, people went from cynical or dismissive to that hypothesis, to intuitively believing it.”
VaynerMedia has evolved from a social media creative specialist into a full-service operation that creates above-the-line advertising, data analytics, consulting, media planning and buying. In the US, it grew the media billings it handles for clients by 75% year-on-year.
Vaynerchuk is well known in the industry for his self-promotional skills and is widely regarded as a digital media evangelist, but his agency is starting to receive plaudits in areas it is not as well known for.
In March, it picked up the Breakthrough Media Agency of the Year prize for the trade title Adweek, and also earned praise when it was awarded the No 5 spot on AdAge’s 2022 A-List, noting that the agency has ‘grown up, taking brands from TikTok to the Super Bowl’.
In the UK and Europe, its presence as a full–service shop is somewhat less developed; VaynerMedia took part in Campaign’s School Report for the first time this year and showed promising growth but its client list and figures indicate a rising smaller shop with three new account wins – Durex, Hydrow and Tinder and handling media billings just shy of £8m.
Campaign marked the agency’s performance a six, the agency marked itself an eight. Its most significant UK campaign in 2021 was the sea shanty campaign it ran for TikTok – its biggest spending client.
The #SeaShanty legend lives on. Here’s to @NathanEvanss who got the whole world aboard and made his dream come true. @220_kid @billented1 #ItStartsOnTikTok pic.twitter.com/hAatrsI68K— TikTok UK (@tiktok_uk) January 23, 2021
Vaynerchuk admits that he hasn’t been able to scale the business as rapidly as he would have liked in this market, and that lessons have been learnt along the way.
“The world was not in the same place five years ago when it came to respecting the kind of work that we do. Nor do I feel that we had matured enough in having senior enough creative executives to do some of the traditional media creative work in the way that clients want to see it,” he said.
“But now when you look at our 25 creatives (in EMEA), everybody's worked at Wieden, Droga and Crispin (Porter + Bogusky) and Grey, and all of a sudden they're more comfortable than what they used to see, which was kids that I was [coaching]. We have a global team of 300 creatives who all produce creative…they're not just sitting in meetings coming up with ideas.”
He believes marketers in EMEA are now starting to catch on to the secret sauce that has brought VaynerMedia much success in the US, and told Campaign that he plans to expand a presence across the continent.
“When we talk to a client, we're looking for significant consumer segmentation work so that we can do something creative that wins on relevance to 40 different consumers, not just one.
“One video reaching a millennial in Shoreditch that lives in a loft will have a very different impact to a millennial that lives and works in Manchester. It’s crazy that people continue to do television segmentation, with the internet and social. In my opinion, especially in EMEA, brands are not playing the relevance card; they're playing the reach and creative subjectivity card.”
He is betting that European marketers are coming to value social media creative as an insights tool for above-the-line advertising rather than “matching luggage” – and this is important to VaynerMedia’s model of integrating upper and lower funnel activity.
“We are a better priced version of the holding companies in media and creative,” he added, a claim that Campaign has not verified.
“When you look at the output of creative and the executions in media, we’re better bang for the buck. And now that we're global and at that scale, I think that probably has a lot to do with it… people are looking for a better cost for output.”
So what next for VaynerMedia in EMEA?
“I want to be the greatest creative relevance machine in the world. And I think to do that, we're going to need to have actual human bodies in Milan, in Berlin, in Amsterdam.
"I like this concept of five, 10 and 20-person offices.”
Vaynerchuk is convinced his creative relevance proposition can spread its wings across Europe and told Campaign he has also got his eyes fixed on other markets such as Dubai and South Africa in addition to offices across the US, Latin America and Asia-Pacific.
The question remains: is the world ready to be conquered by Gary V?