Over the past decade, Internet posterchild Gary Vaynerchuk has spent a lot of his time doing everything but running an agency: judging the Miss America pageant, being a wine entrepreneur and writing books, covers of which dot the VaynerMedia offices in Manhattan’s Flatiron district.
It was only over the last four years that he dedicated his attention toward running VaynerMedia. Which is odd considering his agency has been around since 2009, when Vaynerchuk founded it with his brother AJ.
“The first couple of years I was very half-pregnant with Vayner.” he said. “It’s been fun for me to join the agency world, where people are like, ‘Twitter Boy is going to try to do this thing,’ and I liked having this chip on my shoulder.”
But Vaynerchuk says the company is taking off now, with 2014 revenue of $40 million, up 79 percent from 2013, and 500 employees across the country. The company has outposts in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles; its fourth office, set to open next month is, surprisingly, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Vaynerchuk is setting the agency’s sights beyond its social media roots to a wide-ranging digital agency of record. Part of that is because everything, to Vaynerchuk, is social media. Instead of selling a client on a site, he can sell them on a Pinterest page that doubles as a website, for example.
“I don’t think there is a ‘social media,’ I think social media is a slang term for the current state of the Internet,” he said. “Our behavior is far from a social media agency.”
And with a new identity comes new competition: VaynerMedia is poised to compete against everyone, from creative shops to digital shops to publishers. “I view media companies more my competitors than I do agencies,” he said. “Sure it could be Saatchi & Saatchi or Droga5 or 72andSunny, but it could also be BuzzFeed and Mashable. I think every brand should do everything internally if they can do it right. But they usually can’t.”
Vaynerchuk says Chattanooga is also making waves as a tech hub in the Southeast. Vayner’s offices will be part of the city’s new “Innovation District.”
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“I love selling stuff. And most of my clients sell stuff. And a lot of that stuff sells in Chattanooga, not L.A. or New York. I think most great agencies get very deep into coast mentality,” he said. “We have the coolest and the hipster-est and beard-iest characters in the game, but you forget about Sally Arkansas going to Dollar General and buying a 30-pack. It’s important for me to have an office in the places where the work we do are real factor.”
Chattanooga, for its part, is perfectly pleased to be the belle of the ball. “VaynerMedia’s selection of Chattanooga’s innovation district to grow their operations is an exciting reinforcement of our commitment to create an environment that attracts the talented people and companies poised for growth,” said Andy Berke, the city’s mayor.
Photos and original video editing and production by Hannah Yi/assistant producer: Tanya Dua