At NewFront, NatGeo Goes Wild for Visual Storytelling

Brand's Instagram account has more than 17 million followers

National Geographic CEO Gary Knell gets a big smile on his face when he tells people Nat Geo is in the same category as Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, LeBron James and the Kardashians… on Instagram.

Nat Geo's Instagram is the top non-celebrity account on social media and the only media brand among the 20 most-followed accounts. With more than 17 million followers, 75 percent of whom are millennials, every country on the planet is represented by at least one follower.

"I want you to leave today with some answers and understand why, we believe, National Geographic is indeed a smart investment," Knell said to assembled media buyers, advertisers, and partners at a NewFront presentation at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, where the 127-year old company's beautiful and iconic photography was highlighted early and often.

"We carry the mission of a non-profit but have the strength of a global media powerhouse," Knell said.

The first half of the event was meant for mingling. Chefs cooked up scrambled eggs with assorted vegetables and served them on warm biscuits, creating somewhat of a breakfast slider.

After an hour of socializing in the wide open atrium, glistening with natural light on perhaps the nicest day of the year, guests were ushered downstairs into a dark, all wood auditorium with stadium seating.

Charlie Hamilton James, Stephanie Sinclair and Cory Richards are three of the brand's star photographers. They took the stage for a discussion about their work and upcoming projects.

Nat Geo isn't solely focused on photography and has quite an impressive slate of digital programming in the works, including:

  • Your Doc: a user-generated video community that combines Nat Geo producers with viewers to encourage storytelling and engagement.
  • In A Weekend: a group of friends attempts to complete an amazing adventure in just one weekend.
  • Investigation Explorer: an investigative journalism series that digs deep inside major global stories.
  • Take It Outside: five photographers in five different locations capture their own view of nature intertwined with social media campaigns.
  • World Explorer: an interactive platform with a focus on interactive maps, livestreams and social outreach.
  • Adventure 5: five "need to know" adventure facts on a variety of topics, from Kayaking terms to must-climb mountains.
  • Campfire stories: viewers gather "around the campfire" with Nat Geo adventurers and explorers telling epic tales.
  • QuIQkthinker: a daily video series offering scientific insight into news subjects.
  • Long Story Shorts: the complete history of an interesting topic in under one minute.

Nat Geo also recently launched on SnapChat Discovery and has quadrupled its short-form video production.

"You're going to hear from a lot of media companies in the next two weeks about how important 'purpose' is to their brand. But purpose is our brand and always has been," Knell said.