A Marketing Shop Fresh Off the Vine

NEW YORK Gary Vaynerchuk has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. He’s a Web celebrity with a popular online video series, Wine Library TV, and a Twitter following 859,000 strong. He’s been on Late Night With Conan O’Brien and the Today show with his New York Jets spit bucket in tow, and he scored a $1 million, 10-book deal with HarperStudio in April. He also built his family’s wine store into a $60-million-a-year business. And, next month, with the release of Crush It, Vaynerchuk becomes a published author who hopes to inspire others to pursue their passions as their livelihoods.

Four months ago, Vaynerchuk added marketing maven to his resume. He has teamed with his younger brother, AJ, to form Vaynermedia, a company he hopes will transform his skill at marketing wine (and himself) into a business helping brands to remain relevant at a time consumer empowerment reigns supreme. But can Gary Vee, as he’s known online, muscle onto agencies’ turf?

“My outlook on agencies is grim,” Vaynerchuk told Adweek. “They get value out of spending their clients’ money. I think it leads to bad decision making. I’ve now met a lot of people in that world. I realize there are a lot of B and C players.”

There’s no doubt Vaynerchuk is an A player in social media. When he began posting online wine reviews in 2006, his enthusiasm and everyman persona caught on (each episode regularly receives about 90,000 views). He also has a devoted following on the conference circuit.

According to Vaynerchuk, Vaynermedia — which he calls a “listening and storytelling agency” — has signed on a handful of brands including the National Hockey League and New York Jets. For the Jets, Vaynermedia has built a Twitter strategy; several players are now on the service, and he started a virtual Twitter version of the ubiquitous “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!” chant. He also instituted jersey giveaways during games.

Just as some oenophiles turn up their noses at Vaynerchuk’s wine expertise, there’s a risk some in the marketing world will do the same with his branding advice. Vaynerchuk points to his business creds: He built his family’s Shopper’s Discount Liquors store in Springfield, N.J., into a local wine juggernaut called the Wine Library and, more importantly, quickly developed his own brand.

Still, his prescription can seem simplistic: stop talking and start listening; create great content; and reach audiences through niche producers.

His voluble style has led some to compare him to motivational speaker Tony Robbins and the late Billy Mays. “I respect people who don’t like me,” he said. “I make definitive statements. I talk about big subjects and speak simply about them.”

The risk, according to Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, is that lessons learned from building a personal brand don’t necessarily translate to corporate brands that have to take into account factors including non-sexy concerns such as risk management.

“It’s very easy to motivate non-decision makers [into thinking] social media is going to be a big thing,” he said. “It’s another thing when it comes to convincing decision makers that it can be important to their businesses.”