Skift Take

Although it is playing it safe to a certain extent, National Geographic pulls off the trick of both hiring from within and getting a new digital perspective.

National Geographic Traveler has named its replacement for Editor-in-Chief Keith Bellows who left in October after 16 years at the top of the masthead.

Maggie Zackowitz, a 31-year veteran of the National Geographic brand, takes over the reins from acting Editor-in-Chief Norie Quintos, who has held the position since Bellows’ departure. Quintos will return to her previous role as executive editor.

Zackowitz was previously director of short-form content for National Geographic magazine. She will be the head of much of the brand’s public-facing travel content, including serving as editor of National Geographic Traveler magazine and leading National Geographic’s digital and social media travel strategy. She will not be running the company’s guide book business, or overseeing any of the travel ancillary brands, such as its new hotel collection. Zackowitz will report to Chris Johns, National Geographic’s chief content officer.

“I want to make a magazine for people who are interested in relateable travel,” Zackowitz told Skift. “I have built my career on creating creating great content — fun, smart stuff — and I want to bring that to the travel sphere.”

Zackowicz is the third new editor-in-chief of a major U.S. travel magazine to take over in the last two years — a rare shift in leadership that is typically measured in decades, not years. She follows Pilar Guzman at Conde Nast Traveler who took over in August 2013, and Nathan Lump of Travel + Leisure who took over in August 2014. It also marks the only time in National Geographic’s 125+ year history that both its National Geographic and its Travel magazines have both been led by women.

“I’m not interested in what other people are doing,” Zackowitz says. “I’m interested in paving the way and making this a unique resource. I want to make the magazine I want to read.”

National Geographic is playing in a field where it commands a large distribution network, especially considering its 17 international editions. Despite the brand’s age it has long been a pioneer in social media, dominating many other travel media brands on Instagram (2.8 million followers), Facebook (3.6 million likes), and Twitter (1.6 million followers).

But in terms of growth related to its peers it faces challenges in digital and print reach, according to both SimilarWeb and the Association of Magazine Media.

Brand Audience

Title Overall Print, Web & Mobile Reach Aug. 2014-Jan. 2015 % Change YoY SimilarWeb March Website Visits
Travel + Leisure 8,954,000 24.1% 2,800,000
Conde Nast Traveler 5,478,000 23.6% 3,000,000
National Geographic Traveler 10,574,000 5.2% 2,400,000
Departures 5,715,000 5.5% 180,000

Source: MPA The Association of Magazine Media and SimilarWeb

The traditional number chalenges don’t really worry Zackowitz. “I’m competing with the nightly news and the kids soccer game and everything else going on,” she says. Neither do the burdens of a legacy brand. “It’s our challenge to keep a foot in the past to remind people what we’ve always been, but also to remind people to keep stepping forward.”

Move Into Content Marketing

National Geographic also announced today the formation of a new Editorial Council of Travel Advisors, which will be run by its president and publisher Kimberly Connaghan. It consists of current Nat Geo Traveler contributors Robert Reid, Annie Fitzsimmons, George Stone, Andrew Nelson, and Costas Christ.

The new council will focus primarily on partnerships with travel brands that both highlight the brand’s expert insights and the highlights at a destination, hospitality organization, or other travel brand.

Connaghan says that the group will also provide more general insight into travel developments. “We will be getting the talent together on a regular basis to understand current trends and where travel is going.”

This will largely take shape similar to recent content initiatives that Nat Geo has had with both Visit Florida and Swiss Tourism.

Reid says, “To me it’s a perfect model. Brands are putting trust in experts and an independent editorial voice.”

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Tags: execs, magazines, national geographic traveler

Photo credit: New National Geographic Traveler Editor-in-Chief Maggie Zackowitz. National Geographic

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