VICE Media Group today announced its acquisition of PLTFRMR, the brand consultancy formed last November by Chris Garbutt, former TBWA\Chiat\Day global creative chief, and Colin Mitchell, who previously served as McDonald’s senior VP-global marketing.
With the acquisition, the duo will assume co-president roles at VMG’s creative agency Virtue. Garbutt will also become Vice Media Group’s chief creative officer, while Mitchell will serve as VMG’s chief innovation officer. Both will report to Nancy Dubuc, global CEO, VICE Media Group.
The pair had opened PLTFRMR with the aim of helping companies “define, design and develop” their brand platforms as well as pinpoint their “value exchange” with consumers—that is, how they should entertain, be useful or meaningful to consumers so that they feel “compelled to reciprocate,” Garbutt told Ad Age in November.
To support that goal, they developed a proprietary, modular suite of strategic tools designed to help clients’ needs at whatever their stage of development. They also set up their consultancy to mimic the “Hollywood” model, featuring a core team of execs who would work with a “talent cloud” of hand-picked creative professionals around the world across design, tech and traditional creative.
As part of the VMG acquisition, PLTFRMR’s model will be integrated into the offerings of Virtue. In their new posts, Garbutt and Mitchell will partner with VMG Global Chief Marketing Officer Nadja Bellan-White; Rob Newlan, chief operating officer and head of Europe and AMEA, Virtue; Krystle Walters, Virtue Americas managing director; as well as Virtue’s entire global leadership team.
The acquisition was unexpected. Bellan-White, a two-decade global marketing vet and former Ad Age Woman to Watch, had joined the company in the newly created role of global CMO in October. She originally brought Garbutt and Mitchell, who had been her former colleagues at Ogilvy & Mather, to help develop a brand strategy.
“Every business strategy starts with brand strategy, and what I needed to do with the team was create one and operationalize it,” she says. “I had a limited amount of time—usually it takes a year and I had to do it in months.”
In the process of developing it, “we saw an opportunity,” she says.
“We loved them immediately and we also got really excited about where they’re going,” says Mitchell. “It’s not the Vice of old; they’re a truly integrated media group that spans publishing and production. Virtue, in the middle of all that, can be a portal for brands to access of all that. Increasingly, clients are going straight to production houses and content creators of different stripes, and Vice Media Group has all the capabilities to do that, but it also needs some marketing savvy people who understand brands. That’s why Virtue exists, and where we thought we could really help as well.”
Their own company hadn't even reached the five-month mark, but Mitchell and Garbutt saw in VMG the chance to scale up their ambitions for PLTFRMR sooner than they could have hoped. "VMG's geographical, production capabilities, coupled with the smarts and strategy of our own tools, it would almost be like PLTFRMR on steroids," Garbutt says.
Vice Media Group spans 35 cities around the world and comprises five key businesses: Digital content platform Vice.com; feature film and production studio Vice Studios; international TV network Vice TV; its Peabody-winning news division; and global full-service creative agency Virtue. VMG’s portfolio also includes digital media company Refinery 29, production company Pulse Films, i-D magazine and art and design-focused media company Garage.
When Mitchell and Garbutt first started working with Vice, “the big thing we saw was that the whole group has a unique proposition for clients—being the predictive engine of culture,” Mitchell says. “Probably the most valuable asset is their ability to see five minutes into the future and understand where the world is going because a lot of CMOs are at a loss with that. They have this incredible intelligence because of their boots on the ground in cities around the world—like in journalism, a network of ‘stringers’ embedded in culture.”
In short, “it feels like the future,” he says.
The company’s creative agency Virtue has offices in 21 cities around the world and worked for clients including P&G, Target and IKEA. It is behind award-winning and notable campaigns such as “Q the Genderless Voice,” Carlings’ “adDRESS the Future,” Weedmaps’ Museum of Weed, and L’Oréal’s digital makeup line “Signature Faces.”
In their roles, Mitchell and Garbutt will be looking at how to leverage the VMG network, including Pulse Films and Vice Studios, to enhance the “modern agency model” of Virtue.
“We believe Virtue as an agency can do for marketing what Vice did for media and disrupt the category,” Garbutt says. “The tension of brands being left outside of culture is real, and brands are going to need to navigate that and embed themselves in an authentic, trustworthy and credible way.”