National Geographic is one of the world's most established media brands, yet somehow the activity of its magazine is taken for granted.
Yes, it contains some of the best photography in a magazine anywhere in the world but with its heritage you'd expect that, wouldn't you? And, OK, it delivers features on natural and cultural wonders in an easy-to-digest fashion but then it's been doing it for decades, so you'd assume that to be the case.
However, the publisher of National Geographic has taken steps to create a sense of dynamism around the title. Under its editor-in-chief, Chris Johns, a lauded photographer who has been in the job for a little more than a year, it has beefed up its focus on stunning photography while attempting to offer more to advertisers.
On the commercial front, it has moved its international advertising hub to London and established a dedicated UK sales operation rather than outsourcing the task. A raft of new publishing launches are also expected.
Declan Moore, the title's vice-president and general manager of international advertising, says: "It's about demonstrating more flexibility and being more alert. We are talking about what we can do with the magazine and tapping into other assets of the Society to deliver integrated campaigns.
"There's a greater commitment to the international marketplace," he adds.
"If anything, we're coming along later than other publishers and have perhaps under-leveraged the brand in the past, so there are very significant gains to be made."
1. National Geographic magazine was launched in 1888, nine months after the National Geographic Society was formed by a group of 33 geographers, explorers and teachers at the Cosmos Club in Washington. Its aims remain broadly the same today - although the magazine is now a significant commercial enterprise, its profits are ploughed back into the Society to encourage educational and scientific discovery.
2. The title claims 1.7 million UK readers, some 46 per cent of whom are in the AB demographic. Its 2005 UK sales figure was 356,438, up by 3.7 per cent. More than 90 per cent of this circulation is subscription-based. On one hand, this reassures advertisers there is a stable readership. On the other, it counts against the title in that it's hard for it to create a buzz around newsstands.
3. Last week, National Geographic boosted its UK sales operation with the promotion of David Middis to sales director, British Isles. Nadine Howarth, a former sales director at Time, joined as the sales manager, international. Howarth's arrival bolstered an international team led by Steve Middleton, the sales director, international. The magazine's international sales operation relocated to London in October 2004 under Declan Moore.
4. Although this move has brought National Geographic closer to non-US advertisers and agencies, some feel it has more pressing issues related to the changing needs of international advertisers. Vanessa Clifford, the managing partner at MindShare, believes that its long lead times can create difficulties for advertisers. She says: "What we do, even at a European and global level, involves tighter lead times and National Geographic operates on very long lead times. They're now planning their issues well into the summer, so this is a headache."
5. These long lead times are partly because National Geographic and its 29 local variants are all printed at one site in the US. While printing eight million copies a month in one location provides economies of scale, it also means shipping times and other distribution issues have to be factored into production schedules. However, the system has enabled National Geographic to invest in its product and in regional editions at a time when publications such as BusinessWeek and Forbes are scaling back their regional content.
6. National Geographic offers advertisers a range of options. A full-page colour ad in the British Isles edition will cost up to £19,995, while a page in the worldwide edition (6.3 million sales) costs up to $245,000.
A similar ad in the EMEA edition (705,000 sales) costs $61,600. However, it offers discounts on repeat executions and has built partnerships and special advertising projects for the likes of Kodak, Canon, IBM and Ford.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- The April issue has a "refreshed" look, introduced by Johns. It contains more ad sites - including an extra spread and opportunities alongside prime editorial such as the table of contents. Johns has also taken steps to improve the title's emphasis on stunning photography.
- National Geographic is set to launch its spin-off magazines more confidently. For instance, it is looking at a UK launch of its National Geographic Kids magazine and wants to target travel advertisers with a travel title.
- National Geographic's international and UK ad teams are looking to offer more cross-sell opportunities for advertisers by working more closely with their colleagues at National Geographic's TV channel.
- National Geographic's plans to launch a UK children's title might have an impact on publishers in this area, such as BBC Magazines. However, it is looking at publishing the title under licence, presenting an opportunity for a UK publisher to form a partnership.
- Because the National Geographic Society is non-profit-making and any profits from the magazine are put back into scientific and educational projects, the title has perhaps not been as aggressive as some of its rivals when targeting business readers for the likes of consumer technology and travel advertisers. There are signs that this is changing, though, with publications targeting the travel market and special gatefold activity for HP.