Closing the loop

On Thu, May 5, 2011 at 12:16 PM, Betty Hudson [NGS Executive Vice President, Communications] wrote:

Dear Alan

Betty Hudson

It has been brought to my attention that you have published on your website from an internal National Geographic communication about accessing an employee meeting to be held today at the Society. These are regular meetings that management has with our employees to discuss future directions, strategy and on going events, much of which is confidential, proprietary and could be of interest to our competitors, which could of course harm the Society. Accordingly, we have made certain adjustments to limit access to this meeting to just Society employees. We trust you understand the need for such internal meetings with Society employees. We appreciate your continuing interest.

Best regards,
Betty Hudson
EVP Communications
National Geographic Society


On Fri, May 6, 2011 at 10:52 AM, Alan Mairson wrote:

Dear Betty,

Thanks for your email, and for the update.

First, please accept my apologies if my plan to liveblog the “all hands” meeting created a problem for you in sharing the webcast in-house. That was certainly not my intention. My goal is to help our Society find solutions to the serious challenges we face — even if that means highlighting our trouble spots. (You can’t fix a roof unless you know where it’s leaking.)

Second, I’m obviously disappointed you closed the webcast. I figured that putting the meeting on Livestream without password protection meant you were finally opening our Society’s doors a bit — something you know I’ve been nudging NGS to do for a very long time. (I shared some of these same ideas with you when we had coffee back in 2006.) I guess I took John Caldwell, NG’s President of Digital Media, seriously when he said:

“All media is social in the current climate and media-consumption culture,” said Caldwell. “National Geographic is an inherently social company….”

An “inherently social company” should be opening doors, not closing them — don’t you think?

Third, you mentioned that sharing information from John’s “all hands” meeting might pose a strategic risk that could harm NGS. Please know that I only want National Geographic to grow and prosper. That’s what Society Matters is all about: Imagining a better future for our Society — and our society.

But I’ve sat through many such meetings with John, and he’s never shared anything that would remotely pose such a risk — and I think you must know this. Why else would you approve yesterday’s password-protected webcast which posted live public thumbnails of the meeting, complete with Powerpoint slides, for all the world to see? {click to enlarge}

[Ed. note: Again, these thumbnails were public — visible to anyone in the world who visited during the NGS meeting.]

You certainly would not have webcast these images if they contained any Big Secrets. And, best I can tell, they don’t. (There is, however, an editorial problem: You might tell Melina that “Exploiting a Market Opportunity” isn’t the best choice of words when talking about our kids.)

As you know, my biggest fear is a very different risk, namely: What our Society is actually doing — or not doing — out in the open, day after day, for all the world to see:

•  We’re teaming up with autocratic thugs who may be Green — but who terrorize their own people.
• We’re recruiting soldiers for India’s army.
• We’re supporting a demagogue who may soon be thrown in jail.

• We’re self-censoring stories about China to keep our Chinese partners happy.
• We’re letting Rupert Murdoch drag our Brand through the mud.
• We’re signing business deals with companies that get an “F” from the Better Business Bureau.
• We’re silent when we should be speaking out.
• We’re selling our Brand equity over & over again without a clear business plan for how we will replenish that equity.
• We’re creating a byzantine corporate structure that makes it tougher to fundraise. (Rupert, again.)
• We’re pretending that our Society has “no agenda” — and that National Geographic has been agenda-free for “more than 120 years” — when that’s demonstrably not true.
• We’ve abandoned the Story that made National Geographic great.
And, best I can tell…
• We’re running our corporate communications not much differently today than we did in 1985 — pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook, pre-link, pre-web. (That is: HQ talks, and the world is supposed to listen, which isn’t very social.)

I think these mistakes “harm the Society” far more than showing the world our redesigned Brain book (photo, above) — don’t you?

To sum up: John recently wrote:

I believe we are in an excellent position to embrace the new technologies and be one of the most vital and loved brands on a worldwide basis for many years to come.

If John truly believes this, then why don’t you encourage him to share his vision with the world? He’s a smart, charismatic guy. Why keep him — and all the talented people who work at National Geographic — huddled behind a password-protected firewall? Given the freedom to speak honestly and openly, the staff — and everyone out here who wants only the best for NGS — just might surprise you, and help chart a sustainable future for our Society.

In a world where media is increasingly social, our old tag line says it best: Join the Adventure!  🙂

Thanks again for getting in touch….

all the best,

Alan Mairson
Society Matters

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