This story has been corrected. See corrections below.
Gary Vaynerchuk’s next stop: media mogul.
The Internet entrepreneur and agency CEO is building three new content hubs that are “independent” but backed by brands including Axe and GE.
VaynerPublishing, which is itself an independent venture, will run the sites.
One of the publications is Axe’s Magnifier Magazine, and will cover style, grooming, culture and relationships for the millennial man. And an editor’s note by managing editor Justin-Rayne Bryant said it will feature a “concept” every month that is geared toward magnifying all aspects of the modern man’s life. It has 17 followers on Twitter.
— Magnifier Magazine (@MagnifierMag) January 29, 2016
When asked about what was going on with VaynerPublishing a month ago, Vaynerchuk told Digiday that his company has been working with brands including Mondelēz and GE on projects involving publishing capabilities. “We’ve been flirting with this,” Vaynerchuk said then. “It’s not at the tippy-top of my focus, but it is a capability.” Vaynerchuk was not available for further comment on this story. The editorial director of VaynerPublishing is Dean Praetorius, formerly of the Huffington Post.
Along with Magnifier, there’s a second publication called Tektonist that is currently looking for an editorial lead, according to VaynerMedia’s careers page. There’s also Braindecoder, which covers neuroscience news and says it is an editorially independent site by VaynerPublishing that is “brought to you” in partnership with GE. It has two editors. Katrina Craigwell, director global content and programming at GE, said that it has been a partner in Braindecoder with VaynerPublishing since it launched late last year. “We’re always looking to help shed light on the best science and tech stories,” said Craigwell.
It’s unusual for an agency company to be entering the publishing business, although plenty of them help run branded content companies for clients. But VaynerMedia said that VaynerPublishing’s sites are “editorially independent” even though they are supported by brands. (One big reason for the disconnect is that agencies aren’t exactly cash cows.) A Vaynermedia spokesperson said that VaynerMedia does not receive any money from Vayner/RSE.
Vayner/RSE, a private equity fund Vaynerchuk is a partner in, has invested in a multitude of publishing companies to some degree, including a series B round at Food52 and seed rounds at Epic Magazine. Sources said the company also last year acquired LostLettermen.com, a sports blog and database that was launched by former ESPN journalist Jim Weber. According to LinkedIn, Lost Lettermen was sold to VaynerMedia in January 2015. (Former Lost Lettermen staffers declined to comment.)
VaynerMedia, which does mostly digital work for clients, is often seen as an interesting agency model in that it effectively pays for other “side-gigs” Vaynerchuk may operate. A Vaynermedia spokesperson said that revenue derived from VaynerMedia only goes to the company’s owners: Gary Vaynerchuk; his brother AJ; and RSE Ventures.
However, sources said that the employees at VaynerMedia and the work it does are able to pay for other investments like, for example, Resy, the reservations app founded by Vaynerchuk and Eater CEO Ben Leventhal. VaynerPublishing — wherever it ends up — is a new diversification for Vaynerchuk, said sources. But owning media properties that VaynerMedia may advise clients to buy with raises the spectre of a conflict of interest. VaynerMedia could also emphasize its publishing capabilities in pitches to content-driven clients.
For Vaynerchuk, an Internet posterchild who has done pretty much everything — including judge a Miss America pageant, be a wine entrepreneur, and write several books — getting into the media business is not such a reach.
Last year, Vaynerchuk announced a large-scale expansion of his agency, VaynerMedia, opening a fourth office in Chattanooga, Tennessee. VaynerMedia’s 2015 net revenue was $67 million, up 63 percent from 2014 net revenue of $41 million. VaynerMedia now has 599 employees and when the expansion was announcement, Vaynerchuk said the agency would now compete against established agencies, and yes, publishers.
Correction: This story initially said that VaynerMedia receives money through venture company RSE. It does not. Digiday regrets the error.