WPP forges 'unholy alliance' with Vice stake

Nick Clark
Wednesday 06 April 2011 00:00 BST

Sir Martin Sorrell has dusted off his youth credentials with an investment in Vice Media, the group that publishes Vice, the self-confessed "coolest magazine in the world".

Vice Media announced yesterday that advertising giant WPP had invested alongside MTV's founder Tom Freston, and the merchant bank The Raine Group. The company would not reveal the exact size of the injection, beyond saying it was in the "high eight figures".

The group also announced a strategic partnership with the agency William Morris Endeavor (WME), run by Ari Emanuel, the super-agent who is believed to be the basis for the Ari Gold character in the hit series Entourage.

Vice's founder Shane Smith described the partnership, in his inimitable style, as an "unholy alliance that will ensure no other media company will ever stand a chance against Vice's relentless onslaught". He added: "Sir Martin Sorrell and WPP, Ari Emanuel and WME, along with Tom Freston and Joe Ravitch are so good at what they do that they scare me. Having this group aboard is like having a rocket strapped to your skateboard – when they turn on the jets, you're in for a hell of a ride."

The group intends to "continue its transformation into one of the world's leading youth media companies". It is looking to expand globally, specifically targeting the emerging markets of Brazil, China, India and South Korea.

WPP will help Vice get in the door at some of the world's largest brands, it said. Sir Martin Sorrell said: "WPP is investing in Vice to further develop our content capabilities, particularly in new media and among the youth consumer segments. Vice has been extremely successful in developing and repositioning major brands in these areas." Tom Freston, a former chief executive of Viacom, will advise on the company's expansion. He said Vice Media "is bursting with creativity".

Vice was set up by friends Shane Smith, Suroosh Alvi and Gavin McInnes in Canada as a free fanzine in 1994 before it moved to New York. The company now distributes more than a million copies of each issue around the world. It launched a UK edition in 2002, with about 85,000 copies distributed through clothing and music outlets and cafes.

Vice operates in 31 countries and has set about heavily expanding over the past four years, to the extent where Matt Elek, the group publisher for Europe, said the magazine is "just a part of what we do". Last week, it announced the launch of a new music channel Noisey.com in partnership with Dell and Intel. Divisions include Vice Films and Vice Records and it has expanded into books, DVDs, and an online TV network, VBS.TV. The channel was launched in 2007, with Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze.

Mr Elek said the investment would help the group expand, adding that it was not selling out. Asked what he thought about the magazine's reputation as the hipster bible, he replied wearily: "That is vaguely true, but I like to think it's a whole lot more than that."

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