“Unleashing ‘National Geographic’ Style Violence”

Redefining The Brand (cont’d)…

Read the whole thing here

Rupert Murdoch laughs

John Fahey National Geographic


Squeezing National Geographic “like a tube of toothpaste”

Has the meaning and focus of the “Afghan Girl” photo changed over the years? Has Sharbat Gula become the poster child not for the plight of Afghan refugees, but for the National Geographic Society itself? Food for thought….


Read the whole thing here.

Cause for alarm

A bogus news flash
the death of an iconic American media brand (cont’d):

Brand Confusion Rising

Over at Reddit, an announcement plus a prominently placed edit:

Reddit announcement re National Geographic

The reason for that edit at the top? Reactions to this announcement from Redditors was decidedly mixed. Among the concerns (click images to enlarge):

Reddit comment 1

Reddit comment 2

Reddit comment 3

Reddit comment 4

Reddit comment 5

Reddit comment 6


That last comment isn’t really accurate: National Geographic News is (I believe) part of NG’s Digital Media division, which is part of National Geographic Ventures, which is a taxable entity; it’s not part of the tax-exempt 501(c)3 Society. Jeffhert59 is blurring a line which is quite distinct in National Geographic’s 2010 org chart (click image to enlarge):


Also, that last comment from National Geographic staffer Jeffhert59 (above) is worth remembering. To paraphrase: Yes, the public might see everyone at National Geographic as part of a single company. But we’re not. Honest. “Please don’t mix us all in the same pot.” We are separate. We are NOT the Murdoch people. You can trust us (even though who “us” is  remains a major point of confusion).  

Then again, for some people, this brand confusion is not a bug, it’s a feature:

Rupert Murdoch laughs

John Fahey National Geographic



As National Geographic’s content converges
on a single digital device,
John Fahey will discover that his grand Brand strategy —
high road in the Magazine, low road on TV —
is dishonest and unsustainable.


Our Society, by the numbers (update)

Here’s the latest financial snapshot of our Society
via IRS Form 990:

(click to enlarge)NGS_990_2011_2007_summaries

It’s worth noting that in just four years:

  • Revenue from membership has dropped roughly $25 million, or 16 percent.
  • Net revenue has nosedived by $76 million (96 percent).
  • Net assets have dropped $190 million (21 percent). 

The good news, if you’re simply counting the money, can be found at National Geographic Ventures (NGV), our Society’s wholly-owned and taxable subsidiary. NGV is the corporate umbrella for all our new media and digital initiatives. It’s also the legal home of the National Geographic Channel, which is majority owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (NGS has roughly a 30% stake in this joint venture.)

From all indications, the Channel appears to be a huge financial success. Exactly how big a success for NGS is difficult for me to quantify because NGV’s tax returns are not available to the public. But the 990s provide a hint about how much money is coursing through the Channel. On Schedule R (Related Organizations and Unrelated Partnership) in the 2011 filing, you’ll see this:


Column “f” says our Society’s share of the Channel’s income is more than $201 million; about half that amount is paid to the Society, while the remainder is retained to help the Channel grow. And grow it has: column “g” — $1.49 billion — represents the Society’s 30% share of the roughly $5.0 billion value of the Channel itself.

$1.5 billion out of $5.0 billion. That’s pretty serious money, especially when the Society’s initial investment in the Channel was less than $140 million.

How did the Channel do it? Why is it generating such impressive returns and experiencing such dramatic growth?

The short answer: People apparently love the programs about gangs… Nazis… drugs… prisons… sex addiction… prostitution… the Bikini Test… men who are sexually intimate with inflatable dolls… a woman who is addicted to having sex with strangers in a parking garage (with requisite on-screen analysis by a behavioral scientist)… Cops… lesbians in a Brazilian jail… and so on & so forth, ad nauseam.

Oh… and don’t forget about humiliating the Hutterites and the “gypsies.”

Programming brilliance? Not really.

Then again, this discussion really isn’t about Rupert Murdoch. We’ve always known who he is.

In the end, this is about who we are, and who we want to be – as a Society and as a society.

♦  Can National Geographic put its iconic name & logo on fairgrounds & brothels (the Channel) and, at the same time, on libraries & nunneries (i.e., the Magazine) — and still be taken seriously by the public?

♦  Can National Geographic build a sustainable future on a network of brothels, which are raking in the cash, while the libraries wither on the vine — and the Society’s members continue their mass exodus?

♦  Most of all: How can John Fahey manage the National Geographic brand when the Channel, which reaches hundreds of millions of people around the world, is beyond his editorial control?

Put another way: What happens to The Brand’s hard-earned reputation when the Channel showcases stuff like this in prime time…

… and programs like this one called Sex for Sale, which is about “high-end sex work”…

… while our Chairman & CEO shows this earnest face to the public:

… but makes jokes in private about the Society’s embrace of “factual fiction”:

From a no-nonsense, hard-headed business perspective,
is this wise brand management?
And: Is it sustainable? 

We posed that question to Professor Sanal Mazvancheryl,
an expert in brand management
who teaches at the Kogod School of Business at American University:


John Fahey National Geographic

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of National Geographic,
in a national radio interview 
on March 30, 2012:


November 12, 2012:c21media_NatGeoChannel_Yukon_Gold_mining_reality_tv

January 17, 2013: gold_mining_yukon_gold_NYTimes_oped

Dear John:

John Fahey National Geographic

The waning power of The Brand

When John Fahey arrived at National Geographic in the mid-1990s, he spoke frequently and with great conviction about the power of the National Geographic Brand. Protect the brand… leverage the brand… capitalize on our brand equity… the word has been the cornerstone of his strategic plan for our Society for more than 15 years.

So it was a great surprise to read this story — and this quote from John:


So much for the primacy of The Brand.

The good news is: John is right. And the question he asks is critical: What is National Geographic trying to bring that is unique?

The answer can’t be “good stories” or “great science journalism” or even “outstanding photography” because all those things can be found all over the web, in enormous quantity, for free.

The answer can’t be our history of exploration because that doesn’t speak to our present — or future.

And the answer can’t be expeditions such as James Cameron’s recent deep-sea dive because (a) it revealed nothing much that was new, (b) we can’t afford to launch such expeditions often enough to create profitable content, and (c) James Cameron is an embarrassment.

But here’s a viable and compelling adventure story upon which we can build a future: For 125 years, National Geographic has told the story of the West meeting the world — and it’s a drama that’s still underway. Perhaps the story’s most exciting element is that we — the citizens of free, open, and democratic societies — are both observers and participants. We’re not simply watching The Democracy Story unfold, we’re living it. We’re creating it. We all have a role to play, and each one of us has been blessed with a speaking part.

Imagine, then, if John Fahey stood up in the pages of our Society’s official journal and said something like this:

The skills needed by good journalists — the ability to ask incisive questions; to evaluate information; to communicate clearly — are the same skills that empower citizens in free and open societies. National Geographic cares about these societies at least as much, if not more, than we care about the fate of Big Cats.

To that end, we will help equip, empower, and inspire the members of our Society with tools, training, and community support. We’ll serve as an international basecamp for those who want to Join The [Democratic] Adventure.

Our ultimate goal: To make The Democracy Story (and the National Geographic Society) a success for generations to come.

In other words: Take these ideas, which John shared during a recent and barely publicized event in Washington, DC…


… and make them the cornerstone of everything we do at the National Geographic Society.

(Based on the video teaser for National Geographic’s Great Migrations.)


Your thoughts, John?

John Fahey National Geographic

When graphic designers run amok

Sometimes the visual people just don’t get it. 

See the petition here.



From UC’s Logo Blunder, by Arno Rosenfeld:

… But their current rebranding, which changes the logo from the historic 1868 seal to a new “monogram,” seems to have entirely missed the boat on what makes a strong university brand.

While the UC views a “logo” from over 100 years ago as a liability, it is actually a tremendous asset.

When newspapers made their first foray onto the internet, they made the blunder of assuming their dead-tree brand would be too luddite for an online audience That’s why you visit SFGate.com instead of SFChronicle.com and OregonLive.com instead of Oregonian.com.

The crucial flaw was that while newspapers may not have the sexiest websites, they’ve spent decades building people’s trust. By scrubbing their iconic gothic nameplates from their websites in an effort to appear modern, they actually just forfeit their credibility. …

People don’t want to attend a brand. 


David Lyle & The Layoffs

What a great name that would be for an indie rock band. Unfortunately, it’s our headline for the ongoing pistol-whipping of the National Geographic brand by our “partners” at Fox.

This week in Washington, D.C.:

One of our Society Matters stringers, who attended this session, sent along a few text messages:

“”Wow, in a talk where David Lyle is being grilled about ‘lowering” the NG brand. Ha. And holy crap that man has no censorship… As in “who actually buys the [National Geographic] magazine anyway?… They’re either 70 yrs old or dead. There’s a reason you see an old NG magazine and it doesn’t even look read… Because no one reads them!” Then he goes on to how he IS making something interesting and entertaining.”” 

“It’s Lyle and a guy from PBS. The talk basically put PBS (who “stood the high ground”) with ngc [National Geographic Channel] (who “went to the low ground“). Ha. Shocked the talk/conference is so bold.” 

“Lyle just went on about how he’s a commercial enterprise, and out to make money. But to not lower himself as low as i.e. Honey BooBoo which is laughing AT them, not with them (and then he said “if you stick all of those people’s IQ’s together, I’m still not sure they’d be able to sign a consent form.”

“Now the moderator just showed a clip of that Amish show I think it is with a bunch of girls talking about bikinis. Now Lyle is tryin to defnd himself.”

Stop and consider: National Geographic, which once proudly showcased its award-winning documentaries on PBS, is now the counterpoint to PBS in a Low Road vs. High Road debate. Yet Mr. Lyle somehow believes that slithering down the Low Road is good for the Brand. Here’s a tweet from the same conference session:

If no one is reading the Magazine — as Mr. Lyle insists — then the National Geographic Channel isn’t “supporting” the Brand; rather, the National Geographic Channel now IS the Brand, which Lyle is undermining with crap like this.

In related news: Five more National Geographic magazine staffers — all of them women — were fired this week by Editor-in-Chief Chris Johns.



NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.