Shane Smith Tells Agencies to ‘Stop Being So Afraid’ to Work With Vice

4A's panel encourages marketers to take risks with media

Shane Smith, founder and CEO of Vice and Cannes Lions "Media Person of the Year," knows a thing or two about dealing with a world of disruption and breaking the status quo. "When we started Vice, we were told that young people don't care about news, and it was a given that they don't care about international news. Our success showed that everyone was wrong," Smith said at the 4A's Transformation 2106 conference in Miami today.

On a panel, Smith—along with Mark Thompson, president and CEO of The New York Times, and Susan Credle, global chief creative officer at FCB—discussed how brands and ad agencies could stand out in a data-obsessed world by bringing their focus back to creativity and high-quality content.

Smith suggested many agencies are afraid to work with Vice because they're leery of breaking away from traditional ad-buying models and experimenting with native advertising. When asked how agencies can better work with Vice, Smith said, "Stop being so afraid. We like you. We're your friend.

"Our problem has been that when we started doing native advertising, CMOs said, 'That's exactly what we want,' and media planners didn't. We want to work with agencies. We want to make great shit, and make things that they can get buy-in for; however, it's a war, because people don't want to get out of standard operating procedure."

Smith said that premium content, such as Vice's video efforts, is more important than ever as media outlets consolidate. "You're going to see a bloodbath this year. Mainstream media is going to consolidate, and online media is consolidating now," he added. "The downward pressure put on pricing by programmatic has left everyone searching for this premium [content] holy grail, because it's the only way you can survive."

The New York Times also has been investing in its video efforts over the last several years, and Thompson noted that experimentation is paramount to its success. "There has to be a balance between caring about data and algorithms, and caring about creativity," he said. "It's easy for organizations to get paralyzed by disruption. If you don't experiment, you don't learn."

Credle advised agencies to focus more on creativity and less on data. "We talk about media mentions and data all the time. Rarely do we talk about the creative process," she said of the ad industry. "We need to get back in the business of making great creative. We need to stop thinking we're in this business to make money.

"If we start thinking about how to make things that are important and matter to people, the money will come."