When Grace Helbig, Connor Franta and several other Internet stars checked into hotel rooms two years ago while attending the world’s largest online video conference, VidCon, something caught their attention. Their room keys appeared different.
Natalie Novak had added color, some gloss and a brand name to otherwise ordinary card keys. The seemingly small change helped in part finance VidCon.
Novak, a UCLA Extension alumna and digital media agent at United Talent Agency, is in charge of business development and sponsorship sales at VidCon. She was named last month to the 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 Hollywood and Entertainment list.
Novak is the agent for some of the biggest upcoming talent in the digital media space, representing YouTube stars such as iJustine and Joey Graceffa, Viners Lele Pons and Brandon Bowen, and Instagram’s canine favorite, jiffpom.
Sitting in a usual brainstorming meeting, Novak had pitched the unusual idea of offering hotel room keys up for sponsorships.
“This was a thing we hadn’t done in the past, and when we thought of it, Natalie sold it within a day or two,” said Colin Hickey, the managing director of VidCon.
Even though managing young talent excites Novak, she said bringing her own projects to fruition gives her a sense of ownership.
“(VidCon) has been probably one of the things that I’ve been most proud of in my career,” Novak said.
Novak said her creativity stems from her experience in the entertainment industry. When she started as a digital media agent, it was still an emerging practice. Being a young person who grew up in the digital-first age, she said helping identify the next generation of talent excites her.
“It was not something that I anticipated doing whatsoever, and I ended up loving it,” Novak said.
Now that her personal brand is larger and her client list longer, she has become an advocate for her clients. Novak said her job is to facilitate the growth of young artists. To help them accomplish success in new media, she said, a talent agent either elevates the work of artists or helps them finance larger projects.
“Probably, the biggest challenge was that (traditional entertainment) didn’t think our clients were talented,” Novak said. “It’s a little bit more into the common vernacular in entertainment, where it is not such a hard sell anymore.”
When Graceffa signed with UTA, he had just released a YouTube short-form series called “Storytellers,” financed by a Kickstarter campaign. Novak said she recognized his ambition to succeed in traditional creative production and garner a broader audience.
Graceffa has since published a New York Times bestseller, “In Real Life,” and is now going into production on a murder mystery series that will feature on YouTube Red, a premium programming service that launches Wednesday.
Novak worked with Graceffa to both identify his goals and then put in place a plan so he could achieve them, said Brent Weinstein, the head of digital media at UTA.
While working as an assistant for Weinstein in 2012, Novak said she signed up for a legal primer on the entertainment business at UCLA Extension to advance her career in the industry. In between attending classes on Wednesday evenings and assisting Weinstein, Novak said she learned the skills it takes to become an agent.
“There is no schooling you can take to be a talent agent, so you just have to learn as you go,” Novak said. “Being an assistant, you sit on every phone call, you do the scheduling, you start to know the people in the industry, you learn the business. You start to create your own relationships.”
Having surrounded herself with flourishing young talent – the average age of Novak’s clients is about 21 years – Novak said she envisions the future of the industry as rapidly evolving.
“There will continue to be new talent that is rising,” Novak said. “I think there are new platforms that are going to be coming out, where there is going to be new talent explored.”
Her constant search for new digital talent and its evolution keeps her active around the clock, she said.
“(Online video) is the next big kind of media, and (Novak) sees that,” Hickey said. “I think it excites her. She sees the potential of where it could go, and that’s where she wants to be.”