How National Geographic Partners with the Business Community to Accelerate Impact

by Rahim Kanani | rahimkanani | Rahim Kanani Media Group, Inc
Sunday, 14 September 2014 19:44 GMT

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The success of any partnership is rooted in the alignment of vision and values between the partner and the organization. I like to think of it as a “marriage” of sorts that builds on that alignment with clear expectations, open communication and respect for the roles of each entity,” explained Claudia Malley, Executive Vice President and Worldwide Publisher at National Geographic. In an interview, we discussed how and why nonprofits should partner with the business community, how to structure those partnerships as win-win collaborations, advice on leadership and much more. 

Claudia Malley is Executive Vice President and Worldwide Publisher, National Geographic overseeing all global partnership and sponsorship, as well as domestic media properties, including magazines and digital. She joined National Geographic in 2003 as associate publisher of National Geographic magazine. She became vice president and U.S. publisher of National Geographic magazine in 2004 and senior vice president and publisher, NGGM, in October 2009. She was promoted to her current position in October 2010. 

As head of corporate partnerships for National Geographic Society, tell me a little bit more about your role in the context of a nonprofit environment.

Our team creates mutually beneficial partnerships with companies interested in purpose-based initiatives that engage consumers and deliver global impact. With a clear purpose to inspire people to care about the planet, National Geographic is clearly differentiated for both consumers and our partners.

Since we are a non-profit, securing partnership and sponsorship support is essential to our work, which encompasses funding groundbreaking scientific research and exploration, illuminating those stories, and providing context and clarity to some of the most important issues facing our world through trusted journalism and groundbreaking photography. We are working to inspire the next generation to better understand how the world works and their role in making it better.

What are some examples of the most interesting and unique corporate partnerships either currently in place or from the recent past.

Our strongest partnerships are those most aligned with our global quest to inspire, illuminate and teach. We are one of the world’s largest educational and scientific non-profits, and also have a huge global media megaphone we can use to leverage the full scope of our global communication and storytelling assets for our partners. This is a very unique capability and a powerful differentiator—no other non-profit has the media strength that we have, and no other media entity is rooted in a larger purpose. So it’s a very smart investment for companies who are interested in doing something that is real, global and has impact. 

One clear example of this is Davidoff's multi-year partnership with our Pristine Seas project—an exploration-based initiative that combines science, storytelling, and engagement with a goal to help protect ten percent of the world’s oceans by 2020. By partnering with us, Davidoff is able to send a message regarding the importance of protecting the ocean across both our global media network, as well as through their brand and product communications, delivering a measurable return on their investment. 

What made these partnerships successful, and how would you advise other nonprofits looking for corporate partnerships to approach the challenge? 

The success of any partnership is rooted in the alignment of vision and values between the partner and the organization. I like to think of it as a “marriage” of sorts that builds on that alignment with clear expectations, open communication and respect for the roles of each entity. While companies seek to incorporate purpose in their brands, it is important for non-profits to stay true to their missions, which will ultimately deliver more value to the right partners. The downside is that not everyone will want to align with you, but in the end you want to work with the right partners, for the right reasons.

And when building multi-year partnerships it’s also important to create a flexible framework that allows for partners to adjust parts of the partnerships to reflect the changing needs of their business. 

For example, Shell is a long-time partner with National Geographic’s The Great Energy Challenge, which inspires, educates and engages a global community in one of the most critical issues: energy. This partnership encompasses a mix of expert digital voices, interactives, energy news, and a solution-based grant program that helps realize energy solution in areas challenged by energy. We have built a leading digital destination and a community of energy engaged consumers, and worked to make energy personal through the stories from the field.

Through the flexibility of the initiative, we recently added a series of Great Energy Challenge events, which convene a multi-disciplined mix of experts to discuss some of the “harder to answer” energy questions. These local events add value for Shell because we are able to involve their local teams and constituents in the discussion, and have brought an additional circle of influence to our initiative.

Are there organizations that you simply wouldn't partner with, based on principle or otherwise?

We have partnership principles and practices that align with our editorial ethics of accuracy, integrity, impartiality and transparency. Staying true to this enables us to deliver the best product for the consumer, our business and our partners. 

Our editorial integrity is first and foremost, and we spend a lot of time reviewing language to ensure that the consumer is clear on the relationship between us, and our partners.

What are some of the leadership lessons you've learned as it relates to collaborating with the business community?

Don’t underestimate the power of measurement. Meaningful metrics are critical. And businesses need to show the value of all of their philanthropic and marketing investments. By providing them with priceless insights and metrics that prove the return on their partnership, we increase the likelihood of garnering internal support and renewing the partnership.

We include custom research and third-party research for our partners to ensure we are measuring what is most important to them, as well as to us. We have even created a “value equation” to help quantify the impact of harder-to-measure engagement.