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National Geographic Society: Case Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Marketing
Wordcount: 2038 words Published: 16th May 2017

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For the past 100 years National Geographic Society (NGS) has successfully generated revenue through its magazine subscriptions and network television programming highlighting human interest stories rather than focusing on purely science based content. In addition, NGS engaged in research and exploration sponsorships becoming over the years more as a populist entity providing environmental and geographical knowledge though its printed products (namely its magazine) which across 33 languages and over 60 counties. Yet at the time that Fahey had been appointed CEO, NGS was in a downward trend, decision making was a slow process and divisions within the organization were operating independently with no collaboration.

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At the same time, digital strategy was emerging which altered the way NGS provided deliverables to its consumers. To compete in the digital world the organization had to shift from providing limited platform deliverables in a form of magazine or network programming to a more robust multiplatform digital business. Fahey was well aware that with a shift in market and the popularity of digital technologies, NGS would not have equal footing by solely depending on printed publications as its main source of income and in response he made some immediate changes such as establishing diverse management team to revamp NGS’s culture, encouraging healthy risks bringing cross divisional collaboration and vision. For instance, NGS proactively revamped its organizational structure by placing the organization’s activities under three distinct groups, namely the Missions Programs, the Enterprise Group and the Global Media Group.

The Enterprise Group was in charge handling travel expeditions for customers, retail businesses, cataloging, e-commerce and merchandising, while the Global Media Group was in charge of enhancing coordination among editorial units, refining the digital media content output and harnessing assets in new media. In essence the Global Media Group was set out to serve NGS members and partners while rationalizing its mission at the same time. This arm of the organization provided the efficiency component that was needed within NGS, because it was able to reduce department overlapping and conflicting digital content materials by ensuring and providing more tailored and integrated content offerings. This achievement significantly contributed to NGS’s mission of providing a single global brand to its customers. In addition, the Missions Group (while unchanged in its core responsibilities) arguably provided the stability and foundation that NGS needed to launch into the digital area of the market. This group facilitated the flow of business from the past while NGS through the other groups pursued diverse challenges. In these ways, as NGS became a mission oriented and customer driven organization, it began viewing its customers more holistically as it developed strategies to maximize revenue from its different product offerings. These customers, while enabling NGS to increase its revenues would constantly view the brand in strong and positive light, thereby ensuring NGS’s survival and competitiveness.

Yet, the new mission brought with it challenges and conflicts especially from investing stakeholders and television networks. By illuminating issues of science with facts NGS sought to empower its international audience however in the process was risking its reputation for objectivity as well as exposing its partners’ activities and interests negatively. Nevertheless, the leadership of NGS was convinced that the new mission would drive the organization to develop contents that are credible, authoritative, pleasant, readable, inspirational and appropriately descriptive to enable significant product differentiation in the market place, especially with regard to the challenges that emanate from advocacy orientated entities. Therefore, the new mission was advantageous to NGS in that it not only allowed the organization to publish magazines and produce television shows, but to pursue a journey where it was able to make discoveries and inspire its global audience. It could be argued that purpose was greatly inculcated within the organization through its new mission, when it was revealed that the institution was deploying scientific, educational and media assets to focus on both problems and solutions in areas like climate, living habitats, and planetary lifelines and the languages and cultures that are pertinent to the human story. As a result of these strategic accomplishments, NGS was able to strive and gain higher levels of competitiveness, even in very challenging market environment. However, the disadvantage to the organization in embracing the new mission (focusing on issues about the environment, the climate and to care about the planet) was the fact that a number of its activities became incompatible thus creating tension among NGS’s financial supporters and sponsors. For instance, partnership with oil exploration and extraction industries was a sensitive area since the activities were not compatible with NGS’s mission. Content on television networks that focused on high seas industrial fishermen rather than marine life destruction was another example of an incompatible activity. Perhaps the ultimate challenge surrounding the new mission was balancing the delicate line between focusing on environmental challenges while remaining unbiased and maintaining NGS’s reputation for its objectivity-a possible risk of its reputation should NGS falter in this balancing act.

Thus, to stay above the competition Fahey established a new membership model through engaging members from other media by making membership a more meaningful experience and beyond a mere subscription platform. The idea was to engage, educate and involve NGS audience by providing personalization as well as niche interest through developing an ecommerce strategy. Hence, by rebuilding the organization, Fahey was preparing NGS for the digital era and in order to ensure the success of this endeavor, he took a radical approach in creating a senior management of ecommerce position that would coordinate NGS’s web-based offerings across various divisions, create an integrated ecommerce strategy that leveraged the NGS relationship with its subscribers and maximizing that relationship by providing its customers products they wanted to purchase.

The shift in the focus of NGS after more than 100 years of operation, may also in the short term alienate its customers, and when this is coupled with the possible retaliations from its previous partners, who may then provide support to its competitors, NGS may have problems keeping its members among the international audience. There is also the likelihood of NGS risking its international reputation when it adopted this new mission. NGS had built a brand image that was characterized by high levels of objectivity and excellent scientific stores, yet it taking a new approach in spite of this image, because of the emerging trends that was threatening it survival in the current market. In light of such threat it was not surprising that the organizational leaders timely proposed a new shift for attracting new members into their business operations.

This proposal emerged from a survey among employees who felt that (a), membership in the company should be given the highest priority, (b), the present membership was not being leveraged, and (c), the company was not being marketed as a single brand on the international market. This made the proposal organic as it entails personnel that had the feel of where the company they love should be heading. This proposal could be regarded as an excellent one, it that it facilitated a breakdown of the different market segments the company had, and enable its personnel to focus on them using appropriately constructed strategic models. Furthermore, this new shift enabled NGS to extend its membership platforms and expand recruitment to all its readers, because it provided opportunities for engagement, inspiration, education and involvement to them while transacting business. Thus, NGS shift proposals opened new society wide communication strategies for the company to develop. Indeed, it identified sources of revenue for the next 5 years, facilitated niche market discussions, and most importantly led to an organizational restructuring to accommodate e-commerce personnel within the organizational structure. The proposal for new membership was therefore a vital towards the future development of NGS ensuring that the organization would remain viable and sustainable in future market.

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Therefore as the concept of new membership became more paramount so did the need to develop ecommerce strategy as a catalyst in engaging members, making membership more meaningful experience and increasing revenues. Thus, Fahey made the decision to create a new senior level position to advance in this space. However, the debate among NGS’s management team was to decide to whom the senior management position of ecommerce should report to. One option was to have the senior manager report to Global Media Group, the second option was to report to the Enterprise Group and the third option was to report directly to Fahey.

With respect to reporting directly to Fahey while this would further underline the importance of the position and provides neutrality among different divisions, may not be the most feasible option. First, Fahey already has 14 direct reports and second (perhaps more importantly) this position is meant to be centralized thus bridging the gap between various product groups while fostering a holistic view customer needs. Under the Global Media Group, the position would have a better chance of influencing its initiatives since 90% of direct consumer revenues are directly from products such as magazines, books, DVDs along with interactive products such as video games and mobile applications, yet the senior manager may experience added pressures from the various units that oversee magazines, catalogues, and expeditions wanting to push their products. Thus, this would ultimately dilute the big picture-promoting growth and brand awareness through consumer engagement.

Lastly, the Enterprise Group would be the best choice given the following reasons. First, the group was already in charge of licensing, catalog, ecommerce, travel division and works with a large team of researchers, writers, photographs, explorers to support the organization overall mission. Second, the staff had knowledge in ecommerce and web experience. Third, the group already supported the idea of centralization (at least in part) through developing products and retail programs that supported the NGSs’ overall mission. Therefore, the senior management leader would have little trouble serving as a linking mechanism, ensuring that various products groups had the necessary funding and information to invest in products that consumers deemed valuable, thus moving toward a customer driven perspective.

The success of this position in moving NGS from process driven organization to an action based one cannot be done in a vacuum. The organization’s mindset would need to also change to ensure NGS had the competitive edge and at the same time consumer oriented, this would mean fostering an organizational change in behavior that would encourage each employee to work towards the greater good and not just for a specific group within NGS. The mission to” inspire people to care about the planet” would mean collaboration and willingness to share ideas across various groups and rewarding successes instead of just punishing failures. In essence, by making changes in culture and values of the organization, emphasizing the importance of collaboration rather silo way of thinking and placing the right individual such as a senior manager in charge of ecommerce, Fahey is pulling multiple levers to facilitate integration and lift the value proposition of the NGS higher than its competition.


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