Growing up in the late ‘50s-early ‘60s in a small Oregon town, Chris Johns was transported to amazing places through the plethora of books and magazines he devoured when visiting his grandparents home. His favorite publication was National Geographic, with its distinctive yellow spine and trademark yellow portrait-frame cover, that inside teemed with brilliant color photography, foldout maps and fascinating tales from around the globe. “That magazine captured my imagination and took me to places, connected me to cultures, landscapes and environments that I never dreamed I would ever visit,” says Johns.
Dare to dream. The images of Johns’ youth became the daily subjects of his life as he became a renowned photographer and ultimately, the editor in chief of the magazine he always adored. Since assuming the throne in 2005, Johns has lived by the mantra that content is king. He has tirelessly worked to deliver exciting and appealing content to the magazine’s millions of readers in new and relevant ways.
Johns and his trusted lieutenants have been on a journey to expand beyond the printed page and deliver content through other venues, including TV, books and museums. Most impressive is Nat Geo’s all-encompassing Web site, which serves as the umbrella for all the brand’s assets. For harnessing the brand’s value through top-notch photography intertwined with robust reader interactivity, NationalGeographic.com is AdweekMedia’s Magazine Web Site of the Year.
The site opens with a rotating series of stunning photographs, which were made more prominent by a January relaunch. Recently, it highlighted shots from the Chile and Turkey earthquakes; a church in drought-stricken Venezuela re-emerging from underwater in an area that had been inundated for a dam; and the blood-red waters of the Japanese dolphin fishing village portrayed in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove.
Along with the amped-up photo presentation, the redesign introduced flyouts along the site’s navigation bar that show the breadth of content, including news photos, videos and stories.
Readers are artfully directed to a “weird” section, blogs and links to popular places like the highly successful My Shot and Your Shot amateur photographer sections and features on animals, the environment, travel and kids. The portal also guides users to NatGeoTV and a retail store.
“It’s a beautiful site that stands out for both its design and content,” says Dave Martin, svp of media at Los Angeles-based agency Ignited, who has used NationalGeographic.com for client Princess Cruises. “I love the updates and the links to blogs. And it’s very easy to navigate.”
National Geographic — an outgrowth of the not-for-profit National Geographic Society founded in 1888 to promote “the conservation of the world’s cultural, historical and natural resources” — spawned its site in 1996, making it a pioneer of sorts among print properties exploring the possibilities of the Web. Even though it’s one of the oldest magazine-based brands, it has blazed trails in approaching new ways of expanding its raison d’être. The magazine was one of the first publications to run black-and-white photos, followed by its leadership role in using color, underwater, high-speed and digital photography.
The relaunch is the achievement of Rob Covey, svp of content development and design for National Geographic Digital Media. A longtime print and television artistic designer, he was brought on board in 2007 by Johns to tap the portal’s potential.
“The clear purpose of the redesign was to build a site that placed photography out front because that’s one of the strongest representations of the brand,” Covey explains. “We wanted to let the photography be the centerpiece around which we designed a branded house of all the component parts of National Geographic. And we wanted it to be representative of the magazine: clarity of design, direct and unadorned imagery, ease of navigation and based on the philosophy of the society — not to mention a ton of content.”