Small business: Telling the NZ story - Brian Sweeney

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Telling your company's story to international markets is crucial for exporters but first you have to get the product right. Brian Sweeney is the New York-based chairman of SweeneyVesty, the New Zealand-founded corporate communications company.
Have the 'New Zealandness' element of your story worked out, whether at the forefront or in the background of your messages. Photo / Greg Bowker
Have the 'New Zealandness' element of your story worked out, whether at the forefront or in the background of your messages. Photo / Greg Bowker

What sorts of story telling skills do you need to make potential international customers excited about you?

Everything starts with having a world changing product. It is all about product; have something truly original and the story will flow from here. You can't dress up something ordinary. It has to be extraordinary. New Zealand creates new ideas and innovates them to market in a great many fields: mobility via aviation, boats, amphibians; agri- food products and technology; several forms of software from accounting to gaming; high quality tourism; wine; specialized manufacturing; academic research and industry expertise; content from film to publishing; apparel; talent.

It's all about product. Steve Jobs would say this. Ideas yes, but execution is paramount. This is the basis of not just a good story, but a great story. The starting point is your own media: your website, videos, images, social media, presentations.

Get your own house humming first.

Where have you seen exporting done well among NZ's small businesses backed up with good profile building?

The first point is that exporting requires resilience. You need to target your geography or sector and visit again and again, be in-market, live there perhaps, be immersed in the markets you intend to build. Have a strong New Zealand back-end, but be prepared to be continuously out there. A current favourite example is AJ Hackett and his Russia project, a world changing product with great fronting from his website.

What sort of marketing and PR should you use to help raise your profile overseas?

Engage professional assistance - you can't DIY in large markets. Engage with PR and marketing service professionals who have established networks to pitch your story. Be clear about who you want to communicate to. It might be a local geography or a national vertical industry audience.

Have high quality visual material - video and stills; pre-prepared articles and blogs that can be pitched and find tangential ways to introduce the product otherwise the copy will be considered to be straight promotion. Be media trained so you can hone your key messages and presentation techniques. Have the 'New Zealandness' element of your story worked out, whether at the forefront or in the background of your messages.

How should NZ exporters respond to critical questions about the Fonterra crisis from overseas customers?

There is an absolute commitment to the highest standards of food quality among New Zealand exporters. There are questions about the timing of communications and I am sure these are being addressed. National reputation is involved - there has been significant negative global media coverage with perception issues that will linger - and there needs to be a redoubling of efforts to see that communication going forward is optimal in terms of timing and messages.

Every company experiences issues from time to time but the news moves quickly from the actual issue to the communication of it. Consumers are smart, the news cycle is instantaneous, so continuous preparation is required. In moments of crisis, companies "spend" their reputational capital, so investing in advance is the best way to recover from setbacks.

As a country we under-invest in the conversations and actions around our reputation. As we have an export-or-die economic imperative, it is important that we have a strong unified New Zealand story based around core ideas and key messages that can be useful in moments like the one we have just experienced.

- NZ Herald

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