Gary Vaynerchuk Wants to Fill the 'Empathy' Void

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VaynerMedia has named a chief strategy officer, Justine Bloome.
VaynerMedia has named a chief strategy officer, Justine Bloome. Credit: VaynerMedia

VaynerMedia has hired its first chief strategy officer, Justine Bloome, in an effort to bring empathy to agency leadership, according to agency CEO Gary Vaynerchuk.

In addition to bringing on Bloome, who previously served as executive VP and head of strategy and innovation at Carat USA, VaynerMedia has introduced five narrowly focused practices: VaynerTalent, which helps people build personal brands and businesses; VaynerSolutions, a digital consultancy; VaynerExperience, which focuses on experiential efforts; VaynerBeta, to help accelerate small and medium-sized businesses; and The 4D's, an immersive consulting session.

Ad Age talked with Vaynerchuk to hear more about Bloome, the industry's empathy void and Vayner's new offerings. This interview has been lightly edited.

Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia.
Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia. Credit: VaynerMedia

Why was now the right time for Vayner to bring on a chief strategy officer?
We've grown hyper fast, so it's about evolution and growing into ourselves.

Were you thinking about creating this role for a while?
It's been on my mind, but it wasn't something I felt we had to do tomorrow. To be very honest with you, had I not met Justine, it could have been another six months or a year. But when we met, I knew I had found the person. I was blown away by her emotional intelligence.

What is she going to be doing?
She's going to be synthesizing culture and filtering it through her and her team's filter to allow us to do to the best work on the creative and strategy sides.

Explain "synthesizing culture."
There's a lot of data points that strategy could be looking at and, for me, what matters is having a pulse on society. And that can come from surveying or big data, but if you're not a good decoder of the black and white and grey of society, I don't think you can be successful. You need a human element to make those decisions, and the talent of those people is imperative because at some level, data is commoditized.

You think strategy needs to be humanized?
Empathy is needed from a strategy perspective. The inner dynamics between accounts, creatives, strategy, insights and analytics is extremely important and if you don't have leadership that is emotionally intelligent, which really means empathetic, to all the other disciplines, you're in deep trouble.

Is this missing throughout the industry?
That's what's hurting so many agencies and even us in pockets. It's when accounts wants to point at creative or creative wants to point at strategy. Everyone is pointing fingers.

How long have you felt this way?
One of the biggest reasons I didn't bother the trades a lot in the past is because I thought it'd be audacious at best or tone-deaf at worst for me to comment on the ad industry when I wasn't living it, but now that I've been incorporated for eight years, I feel like I know enough to say the following line: The advertising industry needs more empathy internally. People need to be more empathic of other people's roles to make these inner departments work well and it starts at leadership.

Do you think this empathy will give Vayner a competitive advantage?
What empathy leads to is speed and speed leads to advantages, so yes. But to be very frank, our complete religion to consumer behaviors and where their attention is is probably an even bigger factor to our success.

Your complete religion?
Meaning, I can't wait to be on stage making fun of social media because it's overpriced and past its prime. We have no religion to any tactics or any platforms. The only religion we have is: Where does the end consumer spend his or her time and how do we story tell within that environment?

Talk about Vayner's new offerings.
They're all your kids and children. The one that's going to be most important is VaynerSolutions. We meet clients every day and a lot of them have other agencies they're happy with and many different politics, but what Solutions does is allows clients to spend $200,000 to $300,000 with us, which is a fraction of the cost that they're paying McKinsey or Boston Consulting Company or Bain to do digital talent assessments or whatever it may be.

So, the consulting group helps brands launch or test digital tools, as well as new marketing and organizational models?
It's a very good way for people to get a taste of VaynerMedia's differential in looking at the world without rocking the boat. Our retention for a second consulting opportunity has been the highest ROI we've ever faced. The fact that people can buy us for hundreds of thousands instead of millions and the fact that they're coming back and doing it again means we clearly figured something out.

How is the 4D's consulting offering different?
The 4D's is a one-day consulting session at VaynerMedia where you get a blitz for 10 hours of all disciplines in a small group, whereas the Solutions consulting session is sometimes a four- or six-month project.

Are they all clients?
99.9% of them are not clients. They're much more for small businesses or one- or two-person business, where VaynerSolutions has been for Fortune 500's, like Pfizer.

Let's talk about the recent reports of layoffs at Vayner.
This is headline reading versus reality. I know the headlines said layoffs, but it was a restructure. We didn't have layoffs for any other reason than we had to have different talent to service all these things and we didn't have enough of that internally.

How are you staffing up the new offerings now?
Some of it has been staffed internally, but there hasn't been one week since the layoffs that we haven't hired. We're in full investment mode. We're going to end up with more people working for us in December than we had in January.

What else do you have your eye on in 2017?
We are obsessed with creative for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. And we're obsessed with audio. We've been killing it with Alexa consulting and skills creation for a lot of clients and podcast consulting.

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