Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Beth Furtwangler
Internal Communications Director at National Geographic Partners
I enjoyed talking with Beth Furtwangler to learn about her career path. This is her internal communications story.
Beth Furtwangler is the Internal Communications Director for National Geographic Partners in Washington, D.C., where she has worked since 2013. Previously, she was a film publicist at Allied Integrated Marketing in D.C. and a publicity manager in New York at Wenner Media, the publisher of Rolling Stone, Us Weekly and Men's Journal magazines. Beth graduated from George Washington University with a degree in communication and she received a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?
I like to say that I didn't choose internal communications, it chose me. In college, I did a lot of internships in journalism and PR while an undergraduate at George Washington University. Then, I attended Northwestern University to get a Masters in Journalism to pursue my dream of working in the magazine industry.
After I graduated, I moved to New York City with the hope of becoming a magazine editor, but because I had a lot of experience in PR, I took a publicity role with Wenner Media, which published Rolling Stone, Us Weekly and Men's Journal. As part of a three-person team, I gained so much valuable experience in public relations and the non-stop entertainment news cycle.
Then, I moved back to DC and worked for an agency that did movie PR. But, I never forgot about my magazine interests. When a role popped up at National Geographic, I took a position where I focused on PR for the travel group, digital news, video platforms and more. Following the creation of National Geographic Partners, which was a joint venture between the non-profit National Geographic Society and 21st Century Fox, I ended up stepping into an internal communications role and I never looked back!
Over the years, I have realized how critical this role is for a company's success. For several years, I was a one-woman shop sitting on an island of internal communications. I was part of the larger media relations team and I was very focused on our staff. It was challenging, but very exciting. I was able to really craft our employee engagement and internal comms strategy.
When National Geographic became part of The Walt Disney Company, I oversaw our internal messaging and helped guide our staff through a roller coaster of changes. There were certainly difficulties along the way, but I learned so much and it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to help our employees through major transitions.
How do you describe internal communications to others?
I look at my team as an internal agency. We really help leadership figure out the best ways to get information to the stakeholders — whether that is a certain segment of staff or the entire company.
My role is about connecting the dots and serving as a connection point. Ultimately, my goal is to keep staff informed and engaged. I care deeply that staff enjoy their job. I don't have control over every aspect of their work or their career, but if I can do as much as I possibly can to ensure they know what's going on across the company and feel connected with an affinity towards the organization, I will have made an impact.
I work closely with a lot of teams, including, IT, HR, Security, and Facilities. I let them know that I’m here to be a partner if they have something they need support on. It’s really important to build and maintain those relationships with internal people.
At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships — whether you are working with journalists and producers or employees, it’s incredibly important to maintain those connections and for people to feel they have the support they need.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
We used to send a weekly note from our Chairman, but when we went home at the start of the pandemic, that newsletter became the NGP Daily. We’ve published nearly 300 editions. I thought it was only going to last for two weeks but it has since turned into over a year! In every single issue, there’s a note from our Chairman, in which he shares company news and celebrates accomplishments.
We also include other announcements and info about upcoming events, along with some fun stuff, like photos of staff pets or a dish someone cooked. I always say that people come for the pet photos, and stay for the company announcements! I hope some of the fun staff-submitted content helps people connect while we’re not in the office together. We’ve also invited our employee resource groups to contribute content to the Daily, which has been a terrific way to amplify the work they are doing.
When the Daily started, it was sent to our core employee base, and now the audience has really grown to include people from all parts of the company and around the world. I think it’s been a great way for people across Disney to learn more about National Geographic and all of the exciting projects we work on.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
It’s so important to be solution-oriented. I really strive to have my internal comms team be a team of yes. Even if I don't have the exact solution, I will help point you in the right direction or work with you to create a solution. We're here to help and make everyone's job easier.
It’s important to be open-minded, experiment, and take risks. I don't always know if a communications plan that I have created is going to work and sometimes it doesn't, but learning from those experiences helps inform future decisions.
Whether it is developing a new fire drill policy or rolling out a new software, I always try to be strategic about getting the information to our staff in the most effective way. Sometimes it means I’m doing personal follow up or answering individual questions as a liaison to the IT team, but I’m always willing to play that role. It might not be glamorous work, but if it helps our staff, we’re always going to say yes!
How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?
Internal communications is working the best when you don’t know it’s there.
A lot of internal comms people are alone in our companies so networking with others is helpful. It’s extremely gratifying to hear that other people are dealing with the exact same things as you. All companies face similar challenges whether you are a massive global organization or a small start-up, so these experiences can be transferable and relatable.
I also want to emphasize that having a positive attitude and bringing enthusiasm to the job is so critical. It’s important to be there as a trusted source and be able to confidently provide guidance to executives, and it’s equally important to understand what employees want I know what our staff responds well to because I have built relationships with people across the company. I speak up for what I know is going to work.