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Letter from New Zealand

by Karen Gray

Karen Gray has worked in PR for over a decade in the UK, specialising in public sector and not-for-profit communications for organisations including the British Heart Foundation and the Central Office of Information. Now based in the Southern Hemisphere, Karen currently manages the external profile of UNICEF New Zealand, communicating the charity's children's rights work in NZ and around the world.

New Zealand is a country filled with distractions – dramatic scenery, impressive Pinot Noir, and wildlife right on our doorsteps. Maybe that's why a study by Regus, a flexible workplace provider, in 2012, found that we have the best work/life balance in the world!

That doesn't mean to say that Kiwis don't work hard though - another survey by the BBC in 2012 found that in NZ we work more hours than most OECD countries, including our friends in the UK, US and Australia.

Working hard is definitely part of the national psyche and that includes us Communications and PR professionals. New Zealand is a small country (four million people and 31 million sheep!) and that means that everything is generally on a smaller scale as compared to the UK where I worked for eight years – the size of communications teams, the media market and the tools you have to get your story out there.

Tips for practitioners

Specialists will always be in demand (change management comms in particular here at the moment), but in my experience it's always going to be beneficial if you're flexible about working across the broad marketing communications mix and being prepared to 'muck in' where needed.

A small country also brings a high level of connectedness. This matters a lot here, especially in Wellington, where I work. If you're new to the market then you'll come up against not having any 'NZ market experience' so networking is key.

We have a big 'coffee culture here' so it's important to entice a few people to meet you for a chat over a latte. If you're looking for roles then this is often the way you'll hear about them too.

Also consider joining PRINZ (Public Relations Institute of NZ), the IABC (International Association of Business Communicators), Wellington Internal Communicators' Network or the Network of Public Sector Communicators - all of which run regular events. Some of these groups also have strong LinkedIn Groups which share job opportunities.

Media relations the Kiwi way

Once you're in working in PR, getting face-to-face time with journalists is also key. Getting to know the media isn't difficult and journalists tend to be pretty friendly, but they are under just as much pressure as anywhere else. Budgets are being cut especially in print media.

But the universal PR basics still apply when it comes to creating and selling a story. The most important criteria of all here, though, is that your story needs some sort of Kiwi link.

If it doesn't, then you may find this tricky. New Zealand isn't just small, but it is just about as far away from anywhere as it's possible to be, so it just isn't viable for media outlet stations to have correspondents all around the world. This means that international stories are often taken from global news media, like the BBC, CNN and the many international newspapers.

For someone like me, who works for an international organisation, this can be difficult because it means that, unless I am in the very fortunate situation of having a Kiwi spokesperson somewhere, I won't find it easy to secure coverage on global stories. However, being creative, doing the research and thinking holistically about the channels open to you all help.

Social media is one such avenue, and, with the smart phone market still growing in New Zealand due to high costs, social media still has more momentum to gain... the Internet is also still expensive too compared to other markets.

On the whole, I would say that NZ is a land of opportunity for Communications and PR professionals. It is a smaller market (and there are pros and cons to that) but your expertise will be valued. And when the weekend swings round, then you get to go and explore all the amazing sights and experiences this unique little country has to offer.

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