Watch our Society make money for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp by fanning “the flames of violent racism”

From American Gypsies needs to catch up with the reality of Roma people’s lives, by  in The Guardian:

… Now comes National Geographic’s new reality series, American Gypsies, launched on the heels of TLC’s ongoing My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, itself a spin-off of the UK’s Channel 4’s enormously successful Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. Sadly, this spate of exoticising voyeurism has nothing to do with genuine interest in Roma or Travellers, the two ethnic groups lumped together under the term “Gypsy” (a term considered derogatory by most Roma activists). Rather, it has everything to do with the chase for ratings, which is at the heart of the tabloidisation of television everywhere. Consequently, these shows are built on tried and true tropes: broad stereotypes, artificially constructed conflicts, unidimensional characters, set-up scenes and scripted lines.

Accuracy is beside the point: these shows are invested in reproducing a version of what it means to be a “Gypsy” that broadcasters believe to be most comfortable for their audience – Esmeralda-like headscarves, belly dancing, innate violence, gaudy parties, psychic healing parlours. The teaser for the series [see below] manages to cram all of those cliches into one minute, with time to spare. The response has been predictable: within a day, online comments were rife with racial slurs and no small number of sympathetic references to Hitler.

I have seen this dynamic before. I grew up in an atmosphere permeated by the kind of stereotypes about violent, dirty and scheming “Gypsies” that abound in Europe. I am ethnically Romanian and grew up in Romania, where Roma were enslaved until the 1860s and deported to extermination camps during the second world war. The few who remained nomadic were forcibly settled during communism. Then, many were chased out of villages during violent, deadly pogroms in the 1990s. To this day, Roma children are shunted into dead-end segregated schools which trap them in the vicious cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement. …

These shows are especially harmful because Roma people do not have any alternative representations in the public’s imagination. There is no Roma equivalent to Leonardo da Vinci or Joe DiMaggio, to Rosa Parks or Barack Obama. In the US, where there is very little awareness of Roma, My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding and American Gypsies will likely turn ignorance into all-out prejudice. In the UK, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings has already led to a spike in bullying of Roma and Traveller children. Elsewhere in eastern Europe, where it has been syndicated, the franchise will only fan the flames of violent racism by playing into the hands of skinheads and nationalists.

{ Read the whole thing here. }

The high cost of brand promiscuity

I made this up, of course. Apple would never sign a licensing deal with Mr. Coffee because Apple would never “leverage the brand” that way. Apple’s core business is strong, Apple’s brand equity is high, Apple’s executives are confident, and Apple’s business vision is so clear that they’d never climb into bed with a guy like Mr. Coffee. Doing so would be a clear sign that Apple had lost its way, and was running on brand fumes from a bygone era.

Now, consider these deals:

I am not making these up. And while Davidoff Cool Water is technically a partnership (they give us money for our Pristine Seas initiative, and then get to parade in public with our Society’s logo), the others are all licensing deals to manufacture products under the National Geographic name: camping gear (American Rec), optics (Bresser), stationery (International Greetings), luggage (TravelPro), and area rugs (Concord Global Trading).

While these are some of the more recent deals, it’s worth remembering that this leveraging of the National Geographic brand has been going on for years (e.g., National Geographic-branded cheese, bedroom furniture, wristwatches, coffee beans, air freshener, and lots more.)

There’s nothing inherently wrong with such deals, of course. I assume all our partners make very nice products, and the revenue generated by such ventures helps support our Society. But when you think about the long-term sustainability of this strategy, you have to wonder: What will a 20-year-old consumer think of National Geographic when s/he sees our brand slapped on so many different — and unrelated — products?

Or, put another way: Why hasn’t Apple signed a licensing deal with Mr. Coffee?


Coming up:
My four-part video interview with a business school professor
who specializes in marketing and brand management.
Among my questions:
Can a business promiscuously leverage its brand today,
and still wake up tomorrow morning with its reputation intact? 

Setting the tone

from Mashable’s 7 Marketing Lessons From RIM’s [Research in Motion] Failures.

#5. Executives Set the Marketing Tone

Consider the most successful companies in consumer electronics (and two of the most successful companies in all of business): Apple and Amazon. Their chief executives set their marketing tone, and everyone follows. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch this YouTube video of Steve Jobs introducing the iPad, and listen to how everybody who followed him on stage used exactly the same words.

This is no accident. The next day, thousands of articles used the same words to describe the amazing, remarkable and awesome iPad. Amazon’s Bezos is the same way. The best marketers have high-level executives setting the tone. They not only teach the rest of the company how to talk about their products and services, but the customers, the media, and the market itself. Obviously, RIM’s co-CEOs did not set this tone. They couldn’t even agree on who the customer was. 

John Fahey National Geographic

The Center Will Not Hold (part 7)

When someone eventually writes a sequel to Bob Poole’s (highly recommended) history of the National Geographic Society, this moment will no doubt be a centerpiece:

The Great Convergence, Executive Edition

Message from NGS President Tim Kelly

via NG Communications, 1 February 2012

Today I announced a major reorganization designed to more closely align our print publishing and digital teams and further accelerate transformational growth across the Society. Declan Moore has been named President, Publishing and Digital Media, and John Caldwell will report to him in John’s new capacity as Chief Digital Officer.

Our future success will depend on our ability to create, coordinate and deliver cutting edge editorial that works across all of our platforms and for all of our audiences, serving our Channels as well as our Membership, Enterprises and Mission programs. This new structure, led by Declan and John, empowers everyone on the team with a broader view, which can only enhance our impact.

While this reorganization strengthens and streamlines our activities, it also means we’re eliminating the Chief Operating Officer role within Global Media, which impacts Ted Prince. While change is inevitable, in this kind of situation it is also incredibly hard. Ted has played an important role in the success of our Channels to date, and our growth in digital media, including our expansion into mobile, apps and games, and he has been personally instrumental in recruiting much of the incredible talent that is powering us into the future. I’m delighted that Ted will continue to contribute to NGS on a consulting basis, helping us refine our international media strategy for new digital platforms, and it’s our hope that we’ll continue to find ways to work together going forward.

As part of the reorganization, Maryanne Culpepper, president of NG Television, will report to me.

At the same time, Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President Chris Liedel and I are also announcing the formation of a centralized Finance group and the promotion of Mike Ulica to Deputy Chief Financial Officer, reporting to Chris. Adam Sutherland, senior vice president for Corporate Strategy and Development, will now report to Mike.

In other moves intended to further streamline our operations, Stavros Hilaris has been named Chief Technology Officer, reporting to Chris Liedel, and will also become a member of the Executive Management Committee (EMC). Over the next few months, he and Chris will work with John Nguyen to integrate our various IT and related technology activities. The goal is to create a more agile, nimble and focused organization that puts both our technology and financial expertise, systems and talent into centralized groups that can better serve the entire organization.

Another tremor

Kodak bankruptcy looms; news headlines

To be continued….

Harvard Business School: Compare John Fahey’s decisions at National Geographic with his decisions at Time Life, Inc.

New video available (7 minutes long; $150) from the Harvard Business School:

John Fahey, President and CEO of National Geographic Society, In-Class Comments, 02/11/2011, Video

by David A. Garvin
7 minutes.  Publication date: Aug 01, 2011. Prod. #: 312701-VID-ENG

In January 2010, John Fahey, president, CEO, and chairman of the board of trustees’ executive committee of the Washington, D.C.-based National Geographic Society (NGS), must decide how best to organize the 121-year old mission-driven organization for a world of accelerating digital convergence and decreasing magazine sales. Historically a proponent of evolutionary change, he is considering a radical move: creating a senior management position responsible for e-commerce to coordinate web-based offerings and outreach across the Society’s various departments, transition NGS from its many disparate and independent direct mail efforts to a more integrated and strategic e-commerce strategy, and leverage the NGS relationship with its members-currently defined as magazine subscribers, since a subscription comes with Society membership. Putting the final touches on the position and its reporting arrangements has led to significant debate within the organization, and Fahey is torn about how to proceed..

Learning Objective

This case and the associated videos are designed to show students how leaders manage change in an unpredictable and highly uncertain environment, especially at an iconic organization that is strongly mission-driven. National Geographic is a world-renowned brand, well known for its magazine and environmental commitments. The CEO has long espoused an evolutionary approach to change, but is now facing a world where digital technology and multimedia products threaten to cannibalize and replace the organization’s primary revenue source, its magazine. Students consider the nature of mission-driven organizations, the challenges of altering long-established, complacent cultures, the need for accompanying shifts in organizational structure and roles, and the best approach to strategy making in an environment that is rapidly changing.  The case can be paired with another case, Time Life, Inc. (A) (395012), which features the same CEO facing a similar set of challenges in the media business over a decade earlier. Students can compare the two situations and develop lessons about the need to adapt one’s leadership style in analogous but somewhat difference circumstances. [emphasis added]

The comparison is illuminating.

“Lack of open conversation kills companies.”

Dear John,
Why are you so quiet?

From The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual and its 95 Theses:

34. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.

35. But first, they must belong to a community.

36. Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.

37. If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.

38. Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.

39. The community of discourse is the market.

40. Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.

41. Companies make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against competitors than against their own market and workforce.

42. As with networked markets, people are also talking to each other directly inside the company—and not just about rules and regulations, boardroom directives, bottom lines.

43. Such conversations are taking place today on corporate intranets. But only when the conditions are right.

44. Companies typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other corporate information that workers are doing their best to ignore.

45. Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct something far more valuable: an intranetworked corporate conversation.

46. A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any union.

47. While this scares companies witless, they also depend heavily on open intranets to generate and share critical knowledge. They need to resist the urge to “improve” or control these networked conversations.

48. When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.


Worth noting:

• National Geographic’s Communications division recently allotted $1.5 million to “improve” NG’s intranet.

• A new Director of Internal Communications will soon be hired to frame and manage the corporate “conversation.”

• Interested in applying for the job? If so, here’s the sort of content you’ll need to generate during what is perhaps one of the most dramatic and challenging periods in the history of publishing — and in the history of our Society.

From the NGS intranet:

May 11, 2011

April 27, 2011


More from Cluetrain:

51. Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.

52. Paranoia kills conversation. That’s its point. But lack of open conversation kills companies.


Dear John: Let’s Talk.

Dear Chen Wei & other enemies of the Motherland: Our Party is for you, too — if you’ll just shut up.

Here’s an incomplete list of people who have disappeared in China in the last month or so (via ChinaGeeks):

People who we know have been arrested:

  1. Ran Yunfei 冉云飞 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  2. Ding Mao 丁茅 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  3. Chen Wei 陈卫 (inciting to subvert state authority)

People we know have been detained:

  1. Quan Lianzhao 全连昭 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  2. Liang Haiyi 梁海怡 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  3. Zhu Yufu 朱虞夫 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  4. Guo Weidong 郭卫东 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  5. Sun Desheng 孙德胜 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  6. Liu Huiping 刘慧萍 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  7. Wei Qiang 魏强 (illegal assembly)
  8. Yang Qiuyu 杨秋雨 (illegal assembly)
  9. Hua Chunhui 华春辉 (endangering national security)
  10. Li Hai 李海 (inciting disturbance)
  11. Li Yongsheng 李永生 (inciting disturbance)
  12. Wang Lihong 王荔蕻 (inciting disturbance)
  13. Ma He 马贺 (inciting disturbance)
  14. Wei Shuishan 魏水山 (unknown)
  15. Bi Mingkai 薜明凯 (unknown)
  16. Huang Xiang 黄香 (unknown)
  17. Ai Weiwei 艾未未 (unknown)
  18. Wen Tao 文涛 (unknown)

People under house arrest:

  1. Tang Jingling 唐荆陵 (inciting to subvert state authority)
  2. Ye Du 野渡 (inciting to subvert state authority)

People being held in mental institutions:

  1. Qian Jin 钱进

People who are missing (an incomplete list):

  1. Liu Guohui 刘国慧
  2. Li Tiantian 李天天
  3. Jiang Tianyong 江天勇
  4. Teng Biao 滕彪
  5. Zhang Shanguang 张善光
  6. Qi Zhiyong 齐志勇
  7. Gu Chuan 古川
  8. Liu Shihui 刘士辉 and his wife
  9. Yuan Xinting 袁新亭
  10. Zhang Tao 张涛 (aka 呆麻雀张)
  11. Zhang Xianle 张献乐
  12. Cheng Wanyun 程婉芸
  13. Liu Dejun 刘德军
  14. Liu Anjun 刘安军
  15. Zhang Haibo 张海波
  16. Lan Ruoyu 蓝若宇
  17. Hu Di 胡荻
  18. Zhang Jingpeng 张敬朋
  19. Li Shuangde 李双德
  20. E Laoda 鹅老大
  21. Peng Xinzhong 彭新忠
  22. Zhou Li 周莉
  23. Wang Yanfen 汪燕芬
  24. Ni Yulan
  25. Ding Jiqin
  26. Zhang Dajun


Before it was (erroneously) considered to be a business liability,
celebrating human freedom
was of great interest to the leaders of the
National Geographic Society.

NGM, February 1976


NGM, September 1987

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