VaynerMedia, helmed by internet-famous businessman Gary Vaynerchuk, is plotting the next move in its international growth plans - Asia Pacific.
The company has been scouting out office space and staff for the past few months and as it draws closer to putting feet on the ground, chief media officer Jeff Nicholson spoke to The Drum about how it’ll make its mark.
To start, the company is moving some of its big global names out to help establish the business and ensure that the VaynerMedia culture is instilled in the new office. Vice president of Media Avery Durnam is just one exec getting ready to make the move over.
Nicholson says this is a winning strategy for Vayner, of moving over “top-tier talent” to hit the ground running and transfer the unique culture to local new starters that it’ll invest heavily into training up.
“We want to be as close to the mold as possible. I have a term, I call it ‘fragment from the beast’. If you're building a beast, an animal of the team, you want to take a very strong piece of the animal so that when you're going to grow a new one it's going to look like what? The DNA clone. It's kind of a weird analogy, but it's the reason Avery Durnam is moving over, she is one of the top executives and she's coming to run the media organization here. I also have two of my top five tactical leads moving to the region, one from London and one from New York,” he explains.
It’s fighting talk from Nicholson, who believes that the VaynerMedia approach to talent and training can be where it fights off competition by creating a unique outlook for the business.
“Culture will be a differentiator in the space. One of them is how we approach the market philosophically. The other one is just culture as a team, how we operate. I'm taking the best of the best, moving them here because they're excited about a new opportunity and growth as an entrepreneur. Then we take university grads, we're famed for this, and we train them from scratch. One of the women who's coming speaks multiple languages. She was born in China and she's literally going to train everyone. She's the best trainer in my organization. So, what will happen is we’ll have this huge delta of talent, which is probably the biggest opportunity in this market because everyone struggles for digital natives because it's so new. Well, I'm going to produce them at lightning speed compared to the rest of the competition,” he says.
VaynerMedia has already secured four clients in the region, secured on earlier visits, which it plans to turn into case studies to gain further business as it sets up the team, while global clients also present a big opportunity.
“The four initial clients are all regional clients that were here. For us, that was really important to me to show that we have regional clients to start off immediately in the marketplace, and we're servicing clients at a functional level so people can taste and feel a case study and understand that we're in the market. I'm also working currently with our global clients to extend our relationships at a more macro scale. That's to facilitate a lot of the success we've had in North America and bring that over because the continuity for some of those large clients can be a big win when you start to think about the complexities of a large scale global organization,” he says.
Asia Pacific is a region that has struggled to move digital ad spend beyond the walled gardens, largely due to issues in measuring the impact of digital ad spend. The ease of spending with the likes of Facebook and Google has been appealing as many Asia Pacific markets mature in the complexity of digital strategies. It’s well suited to VaynerMedia which is a huge believer in digital ad spend and the future of social media as the place most consumers will spend their time.
In Asia, where some markets have a different set of leading digital platforms, it may not be as easy as copy and pasting the strategy. However, Nicholson says the business is already working on relationships with the likes of WeChat.
“The luxury we have is that almost everyone was based on Google, so our core foundation, pillar and execution level and understanding on the platform translate to all those markets. I already talk to Tencent and WeChat and they don't even have an API integration from a reporting perspective and you have to use a third party to measure and track. So, there's a variety of integrations with each of those players, but navigating that world is our core competency.
"I don't have a lot of worry outside of making sure that we have the relationship, we learn the nuance of that platform in the market from a language perspective and a creative perspective and then apply it. The principles of buying media, targeting, and facilitating metrics and data are universally the same. I think the nice thing for us is even my early conversations with players like WeChat, is that they're very excited about it. Because why? We're already playing with their competitors on a very large scale, so the ability for us to obviously push their business and grow, it's a mutual partnership,” he explains.
The key difference in the VaynerMedia model versus more traditional agencies, according to Nicholson, is around transparency and the ownership of data. He says the larger advertising network agencies aren’t being transparent by not allowing clients to have direct contracts with the likes of Google or Facebook.
“There's a lot of players in this market who have had to pick from the same three or four offerings for the last 10 years and they haven't seen much change or differentiation in what they can buy or purchase. I think we are a big representation of that,” he says.
To be a differentiator to the more traditional agencies, he believes transparency is the key way to get a foot in the door. He uses it as a call to arms for clients to think longer-term about how they are managing their data and contracts and says it’s how he’s winning business.
“We'd start with transparency, on a level that goes from legal, procurement, and data orientation. The majority of those agencies own their contracts and own their tech, for instance. It means the clients don't own their own data. They don't own their data continuity, so if they were to fire one of the holding companies they'd lose everything. Any client who has that current service offering, they're going to have to make a decision eventually to change, because they can't live that way. Or, they're going to live like that forever.
He added: "You're getting taxed for your own data and your own money. You should own that instance and have a partner who wants to enable you. Anyone who's already set up that way, I have a really nice entry point to say that we don't service you that way. We completely changed the model. They could own the contract directly with Google and the other player and I'm there to make that relationship better, not to control it and sit in the middle and tax you. It's how I won my first client in the market. I literally reviewed their contract and there were two things. One, they were getting absolutely destroyed on price. Their price was double what they should be paying, and two, they didn't own their own accounts either on an analytics level or an account level. I won that in 10 minutes."
A key to this model, he says, is putting yourself in the shoes of the client and treating the problem from the perspective of someone who owns the business and the budget. With brands in Asia Pacific-facing increased complexity but seeking new ways to reach an increasingly digital and mobile audience, it’s likely to resonate. However, it’s very early days for VaynerMedia and its mission to up-skill in APAC talent, while traditional agency models are fast-adapting for the future marketer's needs.