That same day in the same section, there was a piece touting a major content marketing deal among National Geographic Channel, Imagine Entertainment, Asylum Entertainment and GE for a six-part, multimillion-dollar documentary series about science and technology dubbed “Breakthrough.” Not surprisingly, GE is bankrolling the series because it will highlight work being done by technologist and scientists, some of whom work for or with, you guessed it, GE.
Other moves Immelt has made include shedding units like NBCUniversal and planning to sell the bulk of GE Capital. However, the deal with Imagine and Nat Geo is part of GE's content marketing legacy that goes back decades. Indeed, Welch made sure that GE was front and center in branded content on NBC, underwriting public affairs programming such as “Meet the Press,” as well as Sunday political gabfests on rival networks.
While initially nonplussed by the broadcast business, especially broadcast news, Welch soo learned that NBC's blue-chip programming would help the GE mothership brand bask in its glow. In 1988, after being in the audience at an NBC News-hosted presidential debate, “the light bulb went off for Welch,” a former top NBC News executive told me. “He realized the power a news division and network had -- and what it produced was a kind of branded content for the company as a whole.”
Just think about Welch's decision that same year to put the GE logo on top of the iconic Rockefeller Center. Talk about brick-and-mortar branded content.
(Roll back even farther in GE's marketing legacy and it's all part of a branded content continuum. Ronald Reagan hosted the feel-good American anthology TV and radio series “General Electric Theater.” Political historians have long noted that GE played a key role in bringing Reagan's political career to life.)
Fast-forward to the current content marketing deal with Nat Geo, Imagine and Asylum. Interesting to note that the pact was engineered by GE CMO Beth Comstock, herself a former top NBC executive, who had close ties to Welch. When Immelt took over GE in 2001, Comstock was widely viewed as the freshly minted CEO's eyes and ears at the Peacock Network.
Comstock, who is also chief executive of GE's business innovations, is a savvy marketer who took a major stand to push digital expansion in her NBC days. She's gamely said the new series won't be heavy-handed in promoting GE's thought leadership in science and technology, but will clearly note that GE is behind it -- and the hopefully entertaining things it brings to light. Much as the corporate giant has done for more than half a century.