Vice Media’s co-founder and CEO Shane Smith has said the freedom he has to act as the “Stalin of Vice” and not have to answer to shareholders has allowed the business to take risks in a way that traditional brands and publishers cannot.
This was just one of the insights he gave agency The&Partnership’s Johnny Hornby during an interview at the Cannes Lions festival where he discussed a variety of topics including how Vice got unprecedented access to ISIS and why traditional media companies are struggling while Vice is growing.
Calling himself the ‘Stalin of Vice,’ Smith said one of the reasons he can take more risks compared to more traditional publishers is because he doesn’t have to “answer to the markets”.
“I vote 95% of the board, so I can get mad at myself, and I am sort of self-eviscerating when we fail – but I don’t have to answer to the markets; I don’t have to answer to bosses – I don’t have to,” he told Hornby.
He framed the company’s propensity to take risks around the production of its five-part documentary about ISIS called “The Islamic State”.
“I think everybody would like that story, embedding with ISIS. I think the reality of it is that they’re closing their bureaus,” he said of more traditional media outlets.
“And so they don’t have people who can get in there as quickly, and we’re opening bureaus as fast as they’re closing theirs. The only way you can get embedded with ISIS is to have somebody who actually isn’t going to get their head chopped off,” he added.
He also discussed the important of deal-making, saying “as anyone knows when they do a big deal, and go through due diligence – you rip out the wires, you rip out your guts; you show everything,” adding that going through that process makes people realize what’s not very good and what’s really good while it also forces change.