They throw a party and don't bother to show. They may have had $10 million stolen from them after allowing a 23-year-old to make a TV series. They hire workers with no experience. Vice Media plays by its own rules, a strategy that is attracting major advertisers and partners eager to be in its business.
Vice's secret to its success is its utter focus on today's youth. "Every decade we hand over the company to interns," quipped Shane Smith, founder, CEO, Vice Media during a discussion at Cannes Lions with Spike Jonze, co-president, Viceland and moderated by Time magazine's Joel Stein.
In order to connect with Millennials, you need to be Millennial, they say. Most of its staff is under age 30. Ideas matter more than experience. It's an easy fix. Vice serves as a "mini-finishing school" to train them properly, says non-Millennial Smith. Everything can be taught. Jonze works closely with writers, hosts, and editors to teach them the fundamentals.
Vice presents a delicate balance for advertisers. Brands want to be associated with the "cool" of Vice and tap into its massive Millennial fan base, yet they tend to get scared by its controversial approaches.
The channel has embedded journalists with ISIS, stood with pro-Russian gunmen, and infamously took Dennis Rodman to North Korea. "People were pissed at the sensational [topic] without seeing the piece," says Smith. Rather than bring a basketball star to party in Kim Jong-un's secretive state, Vice's show on HBO featured the delusional life under a dictator. And Vice "got access no one else got," he says.
For its part, Vice prefers to upend conventional wisdom. The media brand publishes 7,000 pieces of content a day across its various platforms on topics that matter to its audience. "What side of history do you want to be on?" asks Smith.
“Look at America," he says. “Weed is going to be legalized and gay rights have become normalized. Millennials are the largest media consumers in history,” he says. “You have to reach them in the right way and have to get their minds right.”
There have been some challenges. Vice experienced some growing pains after the February launch of its network, says Jonze. Viceland had to restructure some "stuff" and put "more systems in place."