Category: GEMA, GEMA Alumni Spotlight

Title:GEMA Alumni Spotlight – David Miller (C’99), Executive Vice President at National Geographic and The Walt Disney Company

David Miller (C ’99) is Executive Vice President, National Geographic & The Walt Disney Company. In his role, he leads the global editorial and business functions for National Geographic Magazine, Digital and Social.

What was your first “big break”? Or, what is the most significant experience you have had that has made your success possible?

I worked in Sales and Marketing for the first few years out of college. In 2002, a small start-up by the name of Lightningcast asked me to join their team to help start monetizing video on the internet. Video wasn’t really a “thing” at that point, but I joined and learned everything I could about the online video space. We eventually powered the ad serving for Hulu as well as the first time the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament was streamed. Lightningcast was eventually acquired by AOL and I started to lead Video across a much larger organization. Eventually, National Geographic presented itself as an opportunity because of the experience I had with content development, digital, and technology, all of which were areas viewed as integral for the brand’s long-term success. Saying yes to one start-up literally changed the course of my career.

What is the most challenging part of your job? What is the most rewarding part?

I work in an industry that changes on a daily basis. Everything from consumer behaviors to new competitors in the marketplace, to new platforms and technologies are constantly in flux. We must be nimble and be willing to test – but also know when to change course or kill a project before we waste too many resources. Another challenge is that while working for a renowned brand like National Geographic gives us tremendous credibility and love from our audiences, those same audiences also have clear ideas of who they think we are and what they expect from us. We have to balance expanding our storytelling styles and formats to engage with new audiences with also keeping current customers satisfied. It is most rewarding to me when we figure out how to tell the core part of a story across multiple platforms – meaning we deliver the same level of premium storytelling to our audiences regardless of whether they are engaging on Instagram, our mobile app, the print magazine or other platforms. We are really meeting the audience where they are.

What is something current you are working on that you are excited about?

The merger of technology and storytelling. Technology’s role is to enhance an individual’s creativity (not replace it) and it is incredibly exciting to think about the ways technology can enhance how we tell our stories, the formats and platforms on which they can be delivered, and how we can dynamically update those stories at the individual level. There is going to be an explosion of creativity in the comping years and a brand like National Geographic – and our focus on immersive experiences – is well positioned to be a leader.

How is the ever-changing media landscape affecting your industry?

I feel these changes every day as we try to expand beyond our legacy businesses. It is a balancing act to know how quickly to change investment and goals against each of the different platforms and media types. We are constantly monitoring performance data across every platform to understand what is driving engagement and, for our business, ultimately results in acquiring new subscribers.

Are there any ways that you feel Georgetown especially prepared you for your career?

I grew up in Savannah, GA and when I arrived at Georgetown, I was thrust into a world of individuals who had different experiences, opinions, hopes for their lives. The education I received from my classes was incredible but I think I grew and learned just as much from being exposed to so many different points of view and perspectives. Georgetown really fosters an environment where diversity of thought is a priority.

What is your best advice to those who are starting out in your field?

Don’t focus on one area. Many individuals I mentor are new to the workforce and expect success is continuing to do the same thing but moving up in management. Don’t do that. Success is achieved by getting as much experience as you can. I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t take chances on myself by taking some lateral moves into new areas (operations to sales to product, etc). The experiences, which at the time may not have been obvious moves, diversified my skills and exposed me to a variety of things, which allowed me to be more successful later in my career. My advice, even if it isn’t your long-term vision, take as many assignments or new positions or stretch projects– even if just short-term – as possible.

Best Business Advice Received:

Every job is a Sales job. You are selling your content to consumers, you are selling yourself and your strategy to your teams, and you are selling your ideas to your peers. Treat people honestly and respectfully but also understand how to relate positively to everyone.

Trait You Most Admire in People:

Empathy is a trait I talk a lot about with my team. It is needed from strong leaders, it is needed for creativity, and, frankly, it is just needed more in society altogether. The ability to understand others’ perspectives – and why they believe what they believe – allows for a deeper connection among people and ability to find common ground and solutions.

Favorite App, Website, Podcast or Social Platform (other than related to your own company):

I was a fan of National Geographic’s Instagram account (@NatGeo) even before I started working here, but if you see me out walking my dog, you might hear me awkwardly laughing out loud listening to Smartless. It is my guilty pleasure podcast.

Favorite Georgetown Professor:

Dr. Steven Sabat for his psychology classes and Dr. Diana Owen had a great Politics and Film class that I really enjoyed.

Favorite Georgetown Restaurant or Bar:

I had friends that worked at The Tombs, Champs, and Chadwicks, so I have incredible memories at all of them. For food, I lived off the Chicken Madness at Wiseys.

Favorite Georgetown Memory:

Living with a group of guys I still consider my best friends was great. I also met my wife at Georgetown. The truth is that there are too many to share, and I wouldn’t change a thing about my four years at Georgetown.