FNG and Nat Geo colleagues at Columbia University’s ‘She Opened the Door’ conference: Digital innovation, women’s voices


Last month, Columbia University hosted its first “She Opened the Door” women’s conference to bring its alumnae together to celebrate its network of women and learn from each other’s professional and personal experiences. The event featured a conversation with Associate Justice and alumnae Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One of the sessions, “The Future Is Here and It Is Digital,” featured three leaders from Fox Networks Group and National Geographic. The panel discussion focused on how businesses are adapting to the digital age and gave speakers an opportunity to talk about giving women a greater voice. 21st Century Fox and Fox Networks Group were among the sponsors for the event.

Danielle Maged, EVP, Global Solutions at Fox Networks Group, was an organizer of the conference, which welcomed more than 800 Columbia alumnae. She also moderated the “The Future Is Here and It Is Digital” panel, which included Rachel Webber, EVP, Digital Product at National Geographic Partners; Elizabeth Ferdon, SVP, Business Development at Fox Networks Group; Danielle Lee, Global Head of Partner Solutions at Spotify; and Anushka Ramchandani Salinas, GM of Subscription at Rent the Runway.

Digital relevancy and innovation

When Danielle asked the panel how they are driving their brands in the digital age, Rachel said she and her colleagues at National Geographic are always mindful of making its revered and meaningful brand relevant in people’s lives. This is clearly seen in its Instagram handle, @natgeo, which boasts more than 86 million followers.

“We’re actually putting our brand in the hands of our photojournalists,” Rachel said, noting that the 123 accounts @natgeo follows are the contributors to National Geographic’s Instagram presence.

She said National Geographic is mindful of “platform-intentional storytelling.” For instance, Instagram live videos are intimate, while Stories often have a narrative arc, and the main feed is for content that has permanence and weight. Meanwhile on Facebook, Nat Geo WILD’s Safari Live page shares live streams twice a day, which get an audience of about half-a-million fans.

“It all comes from leaning into the DNA of what National Geographic is all about,” Rachel said. “This is not reinventing what National Geographic stands for; we’re really leaning into the incredible storytelling, the incredible visual storytelling and really wanting to enable people to explore their world and understand their place in it.”

Left to right: Elizabeth Ferdon, SVP, Business Development at Fox Networks Group; Danielle Lee, Global Head of Partner Solutions at Spotify;

Anushka Ramchandani Salinas, GM of Subscription at Rent the Runway; Rachel Webber, EVP, Digital Product at National Geographic Partners;

and Danielle Maged, EVP, Global Solutions at Fox Networks Group.

Elizabeth focused on the balance between providing advertisers and viewers an optimal experience. “We have maybe been disrespectful or forgetful about what the TV experience is like,” she said, adding that innovation is constantly needed.

Fox Networks Group’s six-second ad format is one step forward, a successful attempt at leveraging a lesson from the world of online and mobile video – namely that users tune out when served a 30-second ad. Serving six-second TV ads during the World Series and beyond has turned out to be a creative, effective solution now replicated by others.

Voice for women

Recently at the 2018 MAKERS Conference, National Geographic pledged to achieve gender parity in the production companies and creative agencies it works with by 2020. And while National Geographic enjoys wide-ranging female leadership, Rachel sees an opportunity for even more progress – in its roster of journalists and photojournalists, for example.

“These are the issues that we’re trying to solve together. We’re taking a very active approach in engaging with our community to do so,” she said.

Elizabeth echoed this sentiment and highlighted 21CF’s investment in theSkimm in June 2016 as an example of what’s being done to bridge the gap. theSkimm is multiplatform audience company that curates news and events for millennials. The company began with a popular newsletter, or “your study guide for the news,” Elizabeth said.

“When we thought about it, we weren’t necessarily investing in a newsletter or news content. For us, we were really investing in these two women,” she said, referring to theSkimm co-founders Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin. Elizabeth told the audience to look for updates about theSkimm in the months to come.

Learn more about “She Opened the Door” and watch a replay of the conference’s conversation with Associate Justice and Columbia alumnae Ruth Bader Ginsburg.