January 25, 2021

HBS Cases: National Geographic Society

HBS Cases: National Geographic Society

Teaching a case study on the National Geographic Society for the first time, HBS professor David A. Garvin walks out to the middle of the horseshoe-shaped classroom and asks his students, “How many of you have familiarity with National Geographic magazine?”

Nearly all 72 students, many from foreign countries, raise their hand. “What do you associate with it?” The yellow border, answers one. Others note the stunning photography, detailed maps, and magazines piled up all around the house.

A few minutes later National Geographic CEO John Fahey is addressing the class, and recalls the remark about magazine piles. “That has come back to haunt us,” Fahey says. “People today don’t want clutter.”

It turns out that many things that made National Geographic one of the world’s top brands during its 123 years are obstacles to overcome. Like many other print publications, National Geographic’s subscription revenue has declined significantly, from $284 million in 1999 to $211 million in 2009. The value of becoming a member of the Society, once a matter of prestige, has eroded. The institution has made large bets on various forms of media—Internet, movies, TV, cable programming—but is still trying to figure out the best strategy for integrating them. Despite repeated structural changes, employees still operate in silos.

Source: Harvard Business School Working Knowledge

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