Either Vice Magazine is going mainstream, or WPP just got a lot cooler. The holding company announced on Tuesday that it made a major investment in Vice Media, the increasingly expansive digital media company best known for alternative culture mag Vice.
Tom Freston, the founder of MTV and former CEO of Viacom, and the Raine Group, a media merchant bank, joined WPP in the investment, which is in the "high eight figures," according to The New York Times.
"Vice has long been accused of having ambitions for total global domination," said Vice founder Shane Smith in a written statement. "Today, we acknowledge the truth: we want the whole ball of wax."
Vice began as a small punk magazine in Montreal in 1994. Today it has grown into a vast if slightly ragtag media conglomerate that includes a full-service media agency, a book label, and a record label. It employs about 750 people in more than 30 countries.
Vice will use the investment and partnerships to expand into Brazil, China India, and South Korea, while building out a network of studios to produce work from directors, artists, writers, and musicians.
"Having this group aboard is like having a rocket strapped to your skateboard," Smith said of Vice's new partners. "When they turn on the jets you're in for a hell of a ride."
The partnership with WPP brings the promise - or specter, depending on your point of view - of closer collaboration with blue-chip brands for Vice. Virtue Worldwide, Vice's brand strategy and creative development firm, already claims companies like Dell and Nike as clients. Freston will take an advisory role with the company, focusing on global expansion.
Vice simultaneously announced that it has signed on with the William Morris Endeavor agency as its representative across all media.
"WPP is investing in Vice to further develop our content capabilities, particularly in new media and amongst the youth consumer segments," said WPP CEO Martin Sorrell in a statement. "Vice has been extremely successful in developing and repositioning major brands in these areas. It's also an opportunity to work closely with Tom Freston and Ari Emanuel and his WME talent agency."
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Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
March 19, 2014