Attention Capital’s Lisa Gersh: ‘What’s A Great Brand? You Know It When You See It’

Attention Capital executive partner Lisa Gersh will speak at AdExchanger’s upcoming Industry Preview conference in New York on Jan. 28-29, 2020.

Lisa Gersh knows a good brand investment when she sees one.

Before joining new media venture group Attention Capital as an executive partner over the summer, Gersh spent most of her career in key executive roles at top brands and broadcasters, including CEO stints at fashion brand Alexander Wang, at Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, Goop, and at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

Gersh also co-founded Oxygen Media, the female-focused cable television network now acquired by NBCUniversal in 2007.

Now she’s taking all of that experience and using it to help Attention Capital identify media brands that need help growing and maximizing their potential.

“We’re looking for brands where our management expertise can help take them to the next level,” said Gersh, pointing to Attention Capital’s first two investments as prime examples.

In August 2019, Attention purchased a majority stake in Tribeca Enterprises as part of a deal led by James Murdoch’s private investment firm, Lupa Systems, followed last month by the acquisition of Girlboss, a media company targeted at millennial women.

AdExchanger spoke with Gersh.

AdExchanger: Part of Attention Capital’s stated purpose is to invest in quality brands. But how do you define “quality”?

LISA GERSH: What brands get our attention? The answer is, brands that have curated content and brands that have meaning.

These are the kinds of brands we look at.

But how do you know it’s actually worth investing?

We start with the same premise and many of the same variables you would apply to any asset. We look at the capital structure, the management team – all of the standard things you need to evaluate before making an investment.

Beyond that, we’re simply looking for great brands. And what’s a great brand? You know it when you see it.

What’s something you think is going to take off this year?

I’d say that the ability to use and analyze data will continue to be a major factor that people will look at and pay for. The data is out there. Using it effectively becomes the most important thing.

What sets off your BS meter or whispers in your ear, “Don’t invest in this.”

If you look at the capital structure of a lot of digital companies, they’ve raised so much money that you can’t come up with a reasonable offer where people will feel like they did well as a result of the investment. That makes us hesitant. Why did they raise so much money and why haven’t they gotten either to profitability or on the path toward it?

How tough is it to be a content producer in 2020?

On one hand, there are so many platforms out there through which to distribute and deploy your content, while on the other, the world is completely different than it was 25 years ago. It’s gone from, “Can I sell my content to a network, get to 65 episodes and make money off the backend,” to a new world in which it’s all about the frontend: Making content, and trying to get someone to give you money upfront. It’s a very different way of thinking.

It’s great that you’re not just pitching four networks and cable providers anymore, but you’re also trying to figure out how to monetize and get noticed – which isn’t easy if you’re not already Shonda Rhimes.

What was it like to sit in the top spot at Goop, a brand with a polarizing reputation?

I’m not going to necessarily agree that the brand is polarizing, but one thing I often say is that if a lot of people have a strong feeling about a brand, that’s an important thing. That, in fact, is what makes a brand.

There may be people who feel negatively about the brand, but many of them still care about what Gwyneth thinks, what she’s wearing, why she looks so great – they want to see her aesthetic.

The truly good curators of lifestyle content – like Gwyneth, like Martha Stewart – have an incredible sense of style and aesthetic, whether it’s your taste or not. One of the reasons Goop is so popular is because people like to talk about it. And, really, everything Goop writes comes from a strong and consistent point of view. There’s so much consistency to that brand.

Sounds like a similar vibe, albeit a different aesthetic, to Martha Stewart.

This is my favorite story about Martha: She had a rule that every single recipe printed in the magazine had to be tested at least five times, including by her. One day, she and I were walking together in the office and someone asked her to taste something and she said, “Lisa, you try it.” So I did and said, “Wow, delicious.” Then Martha glanced down and without even tasting it said, “Needs more lemon.” She could tell just by looking.

Gwyneth has the same ability, to look at a product and know right away whether it’s the right thing or not. That’s the kind of person who builds a brand. A brand is always going to have its critics, but if you only think about the critics, then you won’t be able to thrive.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

 

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