Nat Geo Partners Reorg: Top Digital, PR and Consumer Products Execs to Exit

Rachel Webber, Rosa Zeegers and Laura Nichols to depart joint venture between 21st Century Fox TV and the National Geographic Society

Last Updated: July 31, 2018 @ 3:54 PM

National Geographic Partners will lose three of its top executives in a restructuring, CEO Gary Knell wrote in an internal memo obtained by TheWrap on Tuesday.

Rachel Webber, executive vice president of digital; Rosa Zeegers, executive vice president of consumer products and experiences; and Laura Nichols, executive vice president and chief communications officer, are all set to depart the company. Zeegers and Nichols are leaving today.

Webber will transition into an advisory role in which she will “identify growth opportunities,” including exploring VR experiences and developing an OTT strategy.

The reorganization comes under the leadership of Knell — who was appointed CEO of Nat Geo Partners in February — in an attempt to streamline the company’s editorial operations, combining print and digital efforts.

Susan Goldberg, currently editor-in-chief of the print magazine, will serve as serve as editorial director for the new combined-print-and-digitial division, NG Media. David Miller, currently general manager of digital, will expand his duties to become general manager for NG Media.

“As in any newly constructed enterprise, it takes concerted effort to pull pieces together and create clear goals through which we can identify success,” Knell wrote. “We must decide at times what to ‘double down’ on and what to minimize. These are often hard choices and not crystal clear. But decisions need to be made and history, of course, will judge their success.”

“As in nearly all reorganizations, we face the unhappy reality of parting with outstanding colleagues who have contributed greatly to Nat Geo’s success,” he continued. “Please join me in thanking Rosa Zeegers and Laura Nichols for their work in setting up a new foundation for NGP. We wish them nothing but the best in all future endeavors.”

A joint venture between National Geographic Society and 21st Century Fox, National Geographic Partners combines the brand’s television channels with its media and consumer-oriented assets, including the magazines, National Geographic studios, books and related digital and social media platforms.

Read Knell’s full memo below.

Dear All,

When National Geographic Partners was formed in 2015, the objective was simple: transform one of the world’s most iconic media brands into a streamlined global business, aligned in every way with the Society’s historic excellence in science, adventure and exploration.

As in any newly constructed enterprise, it takes concerted effort to pull pieces together and create clear goals through which we can identify success. We must decide at times what to “double down” on and what to minimize. These are often hard choices and not crystal clear. But decisions need to be made and history, of course, will judge their success.

In order to best realize our potential and at the same time recognize the competitive world in which we operate, we are announcing today some important changes to our structure and operating model.

First, understanding how vital our global television platforms remain, we cannot emphasize enough how critical the Nat Geo Channel 2.0 strategy is to support. It makes Nat Geo relevant by creating outstanding world-class programming, it creates a great buzz with audiences, it pays off with important cable and satellite affiliates, and it brings in vital sponsors to support our work. Over three-fourths of our revenues come from these platforms.

Courteney Monroe will continue her outstanding work as CEO of Nat Geo Global Networks, overseeing a team of producers, schedulers and promoters, and coordinating with our international teams in Europe, Latin America and Asia. We have an incredibly exciting program agenda this next season with such major platforms as “Mars,” “Cosmos,” “Valley of the Boom” and others. These will build off a year in which our ratings are up and we have received a record 18 Emmy nominations. In order to centralize relationships with producers and talent, Courteney will also oversee a reenergized National Geographic Studios, which will combine our video formats – long-form and branded – that will allow us to drive creative excellence across NGP video platforms.

We need to look at our editorial hub as “one newsroom” and work to eliminate artificial divisions between print or digital-only staff. Our editorial staff will thus be aligned across all platforms and in collaboration with Courteney’s team on tentpole series. Susan Goldberg will serve as Editorial Director of the newly founded NG Media unit. There, all short-form content, photography, storytelling across platforms, cartography and graphics will be centrally organized under Susan’s leadership. The content verticals around animals, science, travel, culture and environment will be overseen by editors. And each platform, from the magazine to Facebook to Instagram, will have teams focused on what best performs there. We need to work across all platforms, in keeping with many other major media companies, mirroring the way our audiences access content. Susan will, of course, remain Editor in Chief of National Geographic Magazine.

I’ve asked David Miller, currently General Manager of Digital, to expand his duties to become General Manager of NG Media – co-leading this new unit together with Susan. David will be charged with driving subscriptions and membership for print (magazines and books) and digital platforms, as well as coordinating on sponsorships and ad-driven content. We will work to roll out a more directed agenda around membership focusing on print renewals first. David will also oversee our Photography Business and NG Creative teams, as well as our Maps group in Colorado.

As we continue to face ever-changing consumer behavior, we need to keep thinking ahead and prepare for the next big opportunity. In that context, Rachel Webber will transition into a strategic advisor role and help us identify growth opportunities in areas like AR, VR, live experiences and gaming, as well as an OTT strategy.

Our Strategic Partnerships team, led by Brendan Ripp, will continue to develop innovative sponsorships across television, digital and print platforms, working with our colleagues at 21CF. The Strategic Partnerships team will add product licensing into their portfolio so that brand extensions in non-media iterations, such as kids products, apparel and other consumer goods consistent with Nat Geo’s high standards, will be managed there to better reflect our desire to engage with world-class organizations.

Nancy Schumacher will continue to lead our successful Travel group. It’s impressive what these folks have achieved and how they continue to grow. With the integration of our private jet business, we are well prepared for running this high-profit engine that brings our brand to life in a unique way.

We will create a combined Marketing, Communications, Research, Data and Insights team under Jill Cress. It will be a “one-stop shop” to help drive a consumer-inspired approach to support our growth and revenue priorities. Key areas of focus include creating premium marketing to drive engagement and revenue around our priorities – including the Channel, magazine and membership. In this context, we need to better design performance metrics to measure how our investments are delivering results with our audiences in financial and brand-building terms. We need to simplify the direct-to-consumer marketing of our shows and platforms to better promote our great content and build affection with our audiences.

As part of that effort, the Global Communications team will now move into Jill’s group, with Chris Albert and Courtney Rowe reporting directly to Jill. Chris will continue to lead communications around all Channel priorities as well as continue to strengthen our talent relations efforts and lead the events team. Courtney Rowe will lead our internal and external corporate communications including the work she has been doing with the partnerships team. There will be more clarity on specific roles related to the defined priorities, which Jill, Chris and Courtney will review and share in the near future.

In recognition of her outstanding work before and during the transition, I’ve asked Marcela Martin to add to her important role as CFO by taking on a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) function to coordinate our operations, facilities, and technology platforms. Marcela will also be chairing our new Operations Council that will coordinate the corporate support functions – Legal, HR and IT. As part of this change, Marcus East will now report to Marcela as Chief Technology Officer. Craig Mutch and Jeff Schneider – who have done outstanding work through this transition – will continue to report into their respective 21CF HR and Legal structures. They will also partner with Marcela on the Operations Council so that we have a more cohesive, responsive and efficient corporate structure to serve the content-driven agenda for NGP.

And as you recently heard, I’m delighted that Timo Gorner has become our Chief of Staff. He will help me push things faster through the enterprise and should be a resource to improve decision making and drive our priorities across the board.

As in nearly all reorganizations, we face the unhappy reality of parting with outstanding colleagues who have contributed greatly to Nat Geo’s success. Please join me in thanking Rosa Zeegers and Laura Nichols for their work in setting up a new foundation for NGP. We wish them nothing but the best in all future endeavors.

Finally, we will ask our newly appointed leadership team to come back with detailed operational plans in the next couple months. There is no shortcut to aligning all the pieces and we will work diligently over the summer to create the best, most common-sense approach to our work.

It is my sincere hope for us to focus on what we do best: create great content which will continue to inspire wonder and inform the world of the many challenges facing our planet. We are all in this together, and recognize our brand’s singular power and role as leaders and keepers of history. We will provide resources through subscriptions and advertising to support that content. That was true 130 years ago….and is still true today. Different skill sets, but the basic business hasn’t changed.

To hear more about these organizational changes, I encourage you to join me for an All-Hands Meeting at 10 a.m. ET in Grosvenor or via livestream (details will be sent shortly).

Thank you for what you do every day and we look forward to engaging with each of you on what you can do to help us all succeed together.

Best,

Gary

Variety first reported the news.