On Brand with Natalie Sportelli
'On Brand' is an ongoing interview series where we talk BX (brand experience) with industry experts, from content strategists to art directors and everyone in-between.
This week we caught up with Natalie Sportelli, Director of Brand and Content at Lerer Hippeau. In this installment, we dive into content — how to generate the best ideas, brands she believes are getting it right, and her go-to resources for staying on top of trends.
Read Natalie's answers below.
Hey Natalie! Tell us about yourself.
My first byline was in a local newspaper back in high school. They even sent a photographer to my school to take my photo to go with the story — braces and all. After that, I became completely obsessed with the rush that comes with publishing: print, online, social, you name it.
The newspaper job led to a communications internship at my college (Colgate) which helped me land summer internships at CNBC and Forbes. What I loved most about my role at Forbes was writing about founders and startups and, as Associate Editor for 30 Under 30, helping build the franchise through stories, social, video, events, etc. I wanted to find a way to work more closely with founders, and thought venture capital would be an awesome way to be more supportive.
Today, I’m Director of Brand and Content at Lerer Hippeau, the most active venture capital firm in New York. I manage Lerer Hippeau’s blog, newsletter, web presence, social media, I help host and promote our events, oversee our media strategy, and serve as a resource for the hundreds of founders at our portfolio companies.
A couple years ago, I decided that I wanted to find and create ways to use my affinity for social media to support people and causes I care about. So on the side, I co-run an account called @bywomenvcs that amplifies content by women in venture capital, serve on the Junior Board of nonprofit RaisedBy.Us, and publish a newsletter about brand and brand people called Found Objects.
Hello,— Natalie Sportelli (@N_Sportelli) August 6, 2020
Today I am launching a newsletter called Found Objects. My goal is to share insights from fellow brand people, feature cool open roles, spotlight things I'm noticing in the brand world, and some other stuff.
Subscribe here! 😇https://t.co/DIzHxzBToJ
Usually I wrap up work and immediately launch into cooking something that’s probably overly ambitious and then collapse on the couch and watch Guy’s Grocery Games or Chopped because I am the world’s biggest Food Network fan. I’ll also try to read before bed. I love sci-fi and exclusively read fiction (it’s the English Lit major in me).
Why do you think content has become so important to modern brands?
There’s a tendency for brands to jump on something because they see that it works for other folks — be it color scheme, marketing tone, web design, you name it. In this capacity, content is such a key way to differentiate yourself in the market. It’s a direct line to providing value, connecting with customers, answering their questions, and so on. Consumers are smart, they do their research before buying anything. The more ways they can get to know a brand before purchase, through their social media, content, video, etc. the more connected they’ll feel.
When it comes to content, modern brands should figure out what makes the most sense for them. It needs to draw us in and give us a reason to keep coming back.
Can you give us a few examples of companies you believe are getting it "right" when it comes to content?
One company that’s doing an awesome job with content is DocSend. DocSend is a secure documents sharing company that has a ton of data on how much time investors and founders spend on pitch decks. They use it to bring to light discrepancies in fundraising for underrepresented groups and generally provide helpful information and trends related to the startup space that are always changing.
Other companies tapping into data for their content include Vangst, a talent network for cannabis jobs, and LeafLink, a wholesale cannabis market. They provide the go-to reports and white papers about the state of the space that are invaluable to those watching it. I would always encourage B2B companies specifically to tap into data for content because it is so propriety and unique.
How do you know whether content is well-received? How do you measure success?
For us, success is measured in a couple different ways. For example, if our blog post is in support of a founder’s fundraise I’ll ask myself:
Was the founder happy?
Did it do well with views?
Did it spark inbound media requests?
Can I trace the post to any new customers/partnerships?
With our content, I’m not trying to sell a service or product. I’m working to promote people, ideas, and companies we believe in or stand behind. For the newsletter, I love seeing a high click rate, which tells me the information we’ve included is actionable and helpful. Open rate, of course, is a great measure as well.
How do you develop new ideas for content at Lerer?
I tend to look for the gaps and ask myself where people aren’t going to share content or build their brands. Is there a new format or channel we can explore and be the first there? Once I’ve started, I try to keep my head down and focus on what we’re working on.
I don’t look around so much because it can be distracting. You have to take big swings to stand out, but usually those big projects take time. I have a running list of wild ideas I would love to tackle that I am slowly chipping away at.
What common mistakes do you see brands make in regards to content marketing?
There are two major things I see:
First is being overly promotional. Content marketing should have a different goal than direct advertising. It should answer questions, offer perspectives, give useful information, and build on itself. Overly promotional content marketing can really easily turn a customer off.
Second is not making the most of their time on the page. There should be a super clear call to action. How can you push that reader to your newsletter, your socials, or other ways to connect ahead of a purchase? If it’s not easy to find places on the page to go deeper with your brand, readers probably won’t.
Marketing is constantly evolving, how do you stay up-to-date on trends and best practices?
I read Adweek daily, as well as Morning Brew’s marketing newsletter. I’m in Air’s BX Camp Slack (highly recommend) but also other groups for content creators, marketing people in NYC, and one specifically for VC marketing leaders which has been hugely helpful.
The VC marketing space is still relatively new and niche so there aren’t so many really specific resources. But I learn so much from other folks in this role at other firms. We’re all collaborative and share what’s working and what’s not. That community has been absolutely a lifeline as we’re all figuring it out.