ACROSS THE UNITED STATES; July 17, 2017—Rarely do you literally drive head-on into the challenges and opportunities of licensing as my wife Riva and I did this summer.
The property: National Geographic, founded in 1888.
Tracing the route: Start with an elaborate, beautifully orchestrated presentation at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, an early stop on what turned into a 9-week cross-country road trip visiting primarily national parks and forests.
Add 45-minutes the next morning with a bleary-eyed but no less enthusiastic and articulate Rosa Zeegers, who I first met during her 12+ years in licensing and business development at Mattel, and who is now EVP Consumer Products & Experiences at National Geographic Partners, the for-profit spinoff of the National Geographic Society that was formed two years ago by 21st Century Fox (which owns 73% of NG Partners) and the Society. A percentage of all profits from the operation benefits the Society.
But our paths didn’t stop crossing in Las Vegas, and it was those additional crossings that drove home, so to speak, so much of what was presented at the summit and that Zeegers and I discussed.
The talk of Yosemite National Park, where we happened to be on June 3rd, was how rock climber Alex Honnold scaled the 3,000-foot El Capitan without ropes in a record three hours and 56 minutes that morning. Who documented the event? National Geographic.
Heading north to Redwood National and State Parks, who had documented the height of the tallest Sequoia sempervirens — better known as a California redwood about 10 years ago? National Geographic.
Who publishes the detailed trail map to Olympic National Park (among many others) that our rock-climbing son-in-law lent us? National Geographic.
Throughout our trip, which covered about 10 parks and forests in the U.S. and more in Canada, references to National Geographic cropped up repeatedly. And therein both the challenges and opportunities.
Name and logo recognition? Check.
Your grandparents’ magazine? Check.
Dusty stack of old National Geographics in the basement or attic? Check.
You get the idea.
At its Vegas presentation, which served as a summit for existing licensees but also included select potential licensees the company was hoping to impress and bring into the fold, the emphasis was on National Geographic’s efforts to attract millennials. Touting its status as a No. 1 social media brand (the No. 1 title seeming a bit fabricated, based on “the number of social actions” such as likes, shares, comments, and retweets over a three-month period in 2015, as measured by Shareablee), spotlights the divide between the substantially older group that follows the classic print magazine and books, and the younger audience for the TV and online offerings. Theme-based issues of the magazine such as those on gender, or on Mars, have skewed younger than the traditional audience, and more of these are on the boards.
But bridging that gap is the challenge that hangs over all future opportunities — opportunites that are varied, numerous, and not limited to licensing.
For example, Zeegers says the company is “moving up [the] vertical integration” ladder, having recently purchased Global Adrenaline, a tour operator it had worked with on a licensing basis in the past “so we earn more than a royalty.” National Geographic has 16 partners in the travel segment, as well as lodges. That travel group represents an effort that was started 17 years ago and which has shown 20% annual growth over that period. Up next for travel: Adding river cruises.
The company plans on “building a kids franchise” with various potential spinoffs. “Millennial parents want kids to play with toys that add substance, that pull them away from the tablet and educate — but are still fun,” says Zeegers.
Focus will also fall on National Geographic Live, e-commerce, books, and, of course, licensing, among other areas under Zeegers’s purview. Outdoor fashion and footwear, she suggests, are organic brand extensions which Zeegers sees as an opportunity “for a retailer to grow together with us.”
The timeline for new licensing agreements? Two years, with a two year option, and assuming a year for negotiating and product development. “What’s five years in 129?” Zeegers asks with a smile.
The franchise she is looking to drive in new directions, to younger audiences, is living history. After 12,124 miles I can vouch first hand.
P.S. The photos accompanying this story are Riva’s and mine, not National Geographic’s; the video link is theirs!
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