FutureComms 2019: How Can a 131-Year Old Brand Stay Relevant

 In Comms Heroes, Future of Work

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Everyone knows and loves National Geographic, with its iconic yellow frame and beautiful, exotic photos from around the world. But how have they continued to be leaders in scientific and nature-themed media —with an Instagram following on their hero account, @NatGeo, of over 105 million?

So, we’re thrilled to have Bethany Powell James, Vice President of Digital Products & Experience Design at National Geographic, speak at this year’s FutureComms, April 24 in New York City.

Bethany’s work has received widespread recognition for design and digital storytelling from the Society of Publication Designers, Society of News Design, Online News Association, Communication Arts, Digiday, The Webbys, and more.

It started as a dream

It was a dream of Bethany’s to work for National Geographic, and she started in the photo lab in the early 2000s, digitizing photographs. This was at the turning point of photography becoming digital. After about six months, she moved to the magazine and fell in love with the editorial process.

She then went back to school to get her M.F.A in Graphic Design at Yale, and later returned when National Geographic magazine was launched on the iPad. They had a partnership with Adobe for a digital edition, and Bethany saw this as an opportunity to rejoin the organization.

Today, she leads a cross-functional team of UX designers and product managers who help shape the consumer experience for digital readers on National Geographic’s websites, apps, community platforms, partner platforms, and immersive storytelling experiences.

Working hand-in-hand with the editorial team, part of their design strategy is to use storytelling to give complex science topics a human layer. They typically offer two parallel narratives with the writing and the visual content – because their research has shown that some people immerse themselves in the photos and captions, while others want a more text-based experience.

One recent example is a story about Katie Stubblefield, who is the youngest person in the U.S. to have a face transplant. On the National Geographic website, readers get a completely immersive journey into Katie’s story, with large-format photographs, compelling copy, and powerful videos. The viewer feels completely taken into Katie’s life before and after her life-changing surgery.

And the pay-off was incredible. Online they had over 2.3 million pages views with readers spending over 7 minutes with the article, crazy engagement on Apple news, reporting by other news outlets, and a “Best in Show Award” from the Society in News Design.

Hear Bethany speak at FutureComms  

Learn more about Bethany’s immersive storytelling strategies, how she uses data to inform content decisions, and National Geographic’s “secret sauce” to stay relevant for today’s on-demand world, at FutureComms, April 24, 2019 in New York.

Read the entire agenda and register today before we sell out!



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