National Geographic Partners is undergoing a reorganization under new CEO Gary E. Knell, and shedding top executives in the process.
Variety has learned that digital chief Rachel Webber, consumer-products head Rosa Zeeger, and top communications exec Laura Nichols will exit National Geographic Partners — the joint venture between 21st Century Fox Television and the National Geographic Society that oversees the National Geographic brand’s television channels, magazine, digital media and other businesses such as book publishing and travel. The move comes five months after Knell, former head of the society, was named CEO of the joint venture, succeeding Declan Moore.
“Under the leadership of our new CEO Gary Knell, National Geographic Partners has made adjustments to our organizational structure to better streamline operations and drive growth,” a spokesperson for the company said. “We look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead for our 130 year-old brand as we continue to build a stronger National Geographic for fans around the world.”
The National Geographic spokesperson decline to comment about specific employees leaving the company.
Webber joined National Geographic as executive vice president of digital product in 2016. She had previously served as senior vice president of Fox Television Groups, where she focused on content distribution and brand partnerships.
Zeegers also came to National Geographic in 2016, as EVP consumer products and experiences, overseeing global licensing, merchandising, travel, location-based entertainment and National Geographic Live. She previously spent 12 years at Mattel, where she worked in global consumer products.
Nichols had been EVP and chief communications officer since 2016. She joined from the Motion Picture Association of America, where she had been EVP, global communications.
Sources tell Variety that Zeegers and Nichols’ positions were eliminated in the reorganization. Webber has opted to step into an advisory role at National Geographic Partners for the next few months while pursuing other opportunities. Under the new structure, National Geographic Global Networks CEO Courteney Monroe will continue to oversee the company’s television channels and studio operation; Editorial director Susan Goldberg will continue to lead editorial content and the National Geographic magazine. NationaGeographic.com general manager David Miller will now oversee all digital for the company; Chief Marketing Officer Jill Kress adds oversight of communications.
UPDATE: Read the letter to staff from Knell detailing the changes below:
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.
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