Virtue wants brands around the world to know that it’s no longer one with Vice.
Just over one year after officially consolidating its marketing divisions under one umbrella, folding the Carrot brand and parting with CEO Mike Germano, the still-young media company’s ad agency promoted Cameron Farrelly to the role of North American chief creative officer.
According to principals at the Brooklyn-based shop, this appointment caps a roller-coaster year that saw Virtue recover from some significant challenges—not least among them an unflattering December 2017 New York Times report on Vice’s culture—to move significantly closer to its goal of becoming a stand-alone force in the creative marketing field.
President Ryan Mack called Virtue “the first publisher-born agency to really make it with its own identity, rhythm, workflow and leadership team, anchored in [the] most valuable assets Vice can provide to a creative agency: insights.”
That leadership team now includes Farrelly and Mack, who was formerly chief operating officer, as well as head of business development Krystle Watler, head of production Jill Rothman and strategy lead RG Logan; all were promoted over the past year.
Virtue added 20 new clients to its North American roster in 2018, including Google Chrome, Marriott Rewards, Skyy Vodka and 20th Century Fox, while expanding its presence in the APAC region with offices in Singapore, Seoul and Sydney. In November, director Robert Rodriguez partnered with the company to launch La Reyna, an Austin, Texas-based agency designed to help brands better reach Hispanic audiences.
The agency’s 2018 reel reflects its unorthodox roots.
“We can talk all we want about culture … but until we actually have a body of work, it’s just a pitch deck,” said Farrelly, who acknowledged that Virtue has “baggage we have to overcome” in “showing that we are not Vice.”
Still, Farrelly said the team at Virtue now has “our own office, P&L, leadership and creative movement.”
According to Watler, the agency increasingly competed against other, more established shops for new business in consultant-driven reviews over the past year. “One of the first opportunities was from Bob Wolf Partners in the Marriott Rewards review, which we won,” she said. And while the vast majority of Virtue’s content previously lived on Vice Media’s own channels, Watler said that number is now “maybe .01 percent.”
“We evolved,” she added.
“Virtue’s strength is primarily in social (content creation, influencer marketing, community management, etc.) and most of their client engagements are project-based,” said partner Ken Robinson of marketing management consultancy Ark Advisors, which picked the team to compete in at least one 2018 review.
He added, “Like most media property-based ‘agencies,’ Virtue has a distinct house style (in this case, one that appeals to Vice’s primary audience). It’s often helpful for an agency to have such a clear position and cultural identity. It makes qualifying them for a review much easier.”
So what do clients expect when they come seeking Virtue?
“Relevance,” said Farrelly. “That doesn’t mean being cool; it means existing” in the lives of the demographic most attuned to what remains the world’s top youth media brand, despite its own recent challenges.
When discussing how 2019 will be different for Virtue, Farrelly and Mack ran through a laundry list of projects including two broadcast TV shows, a feature film, a new bottled water company and a museum—all of which they described as “living, breathing intellectual property” that will be “entirely owned by brands.”
“You’d be confused to see it all coming from what you’d call an agency,” Mack added.
Only the market can ultimately decide whether this all makes sense.