How National Geographic’s 128 Year-Old History Helped Pioneer The Media Landscape



This event took place at Social Media Week in New York. You can get the SMW Insider Digital Subscription to access the full video of this event and 60+ other #SMWNYC sessions.

The Power Of Storytelling In A Fragmented Media Environment, Featuring Claudia Malley, Chief Marketing Brand Officer, National Geographic

“Exploration is in our DNA.” At the TimesCenter this morning, we heard from Claudia Malley, Chief Marketing Brand Officer for National Geographic. Claudia discussed National Geographic’s legacy for storytelling, and their emergence as one of the biggest brands on social media.

Claudia began her presentation discussing the history of National Geographic, which has existed for 128 years. “128 years ago, the purpose of National Geographic was pretty similar to where we are now.

Back then, it was about diffusing geographic knowledge. Our focus today is similar, but a little wider, as we are the global leader in visual-factual storytelling. Our real focus now is how do we captivate, elevate, and educate the world,” said Claudia.

She mentioned how this is all able to happen through storytelling. “We invest in world’s best storytellers. I like to call them the dreamers. But really, they are scientists, explorers, photographers, journalists, and filmmakers. We really allow them to go to the edge of the world.”

Claudia then discussed National Geographic’s brand, noting how they were one of the first brands to go into TV. “We then started focusing the brand on areas where we knew there were huge, passionate groups, like travel, and kids.

We built big businesses that focused on those areas. We went from ink on paper, into digital, and into virtual reality. We continue to think of what it is that will get the consumer to engage, and to think differently.”

Furthermore, Claudia discussed National Geographic’s impressive presence in media, reaching nearly 730 million people around the world, across all platforms.

Claudia also highlighted her guide towards achieving great visual storytelling. Her first point included leading with visuals. “There is nothing more powerful than a big, bold image that tells a story, and gets you to stop and engage.

For National Geographic, Instagram is where this is so unbelievably apparent.” Claudia showed the audience a chart representing the top brands on Instagram. National Geographic was the only non-celebrity brand to make the list. Her second point included the importance of investing in storytelling and storytellers.

Regarding appealing to millennials, Claudia mentioned how “being authentic, and the real deal” is extremely important to them. Her third point discussed the significance of not just producing great content, but focusing on “where, when, and how” the consumer wants this content. Next, she emphasized the importance of a brand being able to remain flexible and adaptive.

For example, National Geographic was able to adapt to Snapchat. On Snapchat, “we took a much more fun, accessible, and curious approach to the content. So, not forgetting who we are, but trying to package it in a different voice.” Lastly, she mentioned National Geographic’s ability to lean into their purpose, and connect with the consumer.

An example of this included National Geographic’s “Big Cats Initiative”, a campaign to save endangered lions around the world. This campaign helped them engage with their audience on social media, while also raising awareness for the cause.

Following Claudia’s presentation, she sat down with Toby Daniels, the Founder and Executive Director of SMW, for some questions. One interesting topic Claudia discussed was how National Geographic has about 100 photographers that are able to freely contribute to the company’s Instagram account. “We give them the keys to the kingdom.”

“We take people places,” Claudia said. “If an article or picture doesn’t make you feel something, then what’s the point?”

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