Cas Carter: NZ's post-earthquake reputation management

Massive slips cover SH1 and the rail line north of Kaikoura after the 7.8 earthquake.
Ross Giblin

Massive slips cover SH1 and the rail line north of Kaikoura after the 7.8 earthquake.

They say it takes years to build a reputation and one bad headline to destroy it.

What if that headline is telling the world that New Zealand has experienced another severe earthquake?

An old tourism colleague this week told me he's still angry about his experiences struggling for help to restore Canterbury's reputation after the Christchurch earthquakes.

Cas Carter has some tips for post-quake marketing messages.
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Cas Carter has some tips for post-quake marketing messages.

While the rest of the country was revelling in exponential growth in tourism, Canterbury struggled to get its message out that they were still open for business.

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International tourism dropped 70 per cent there in the year after the quakes. Mind you when much of your accommodation is red stickered or gone, that's hardly surprising.

Education NZ also found there was a downturn in international students and twenty percent of agents were no longer promoting study opportunities here at the same level.

Now, with another earthquake in the south, local and central government agencies will be focusing on managing our reputation.

When I worked in the tourism industry there was always a flurry of media questions about our reputation after any negative incident: crime against tourists, the death of a visitor or a natural disaster.

The truth was, most of New Zealand's markets would keep coming apart from the hyper sensitive Japanese who would take months to get their confidence back.

Mostly those incidents were one offs. But the earthquakes are not.

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What effect does a natural disaster have on the business reputation of a country – whether as a visitor destination, a place to invest in, study in or immigrate to?

Unlike the tangible damage, it's difficult to get a measure on the effects on reputation but it is important to manage it.

One of the first things is to make sure the facts are straight.

I was on a business trip in Europe during the Auckland power crisis in the 90s. The power was off in Auckland's CBD but we were constantly asked when our country would get power again. Like any good story, they're likely to get exaggerated.

It's tougher when the story is coming from our own residents. There are anecdotal stories some of our immigrants are warning friends back home not to come here following the quakes.

Like in all public relations, it's important to be truthful and careful with messaging.

Wellington mayor Justin Lester was slammed for declaring the CBD open for business too early. There is no doubt the brand-new mayor had the best intentions to manage the reputation of his city.

What do we say in our messaging when it comes to natural phenomenon?

We can't say it's not going to happen again.

The best we can do is assure the world that we are a modern, resourceful nation that is as prepared as we possibly can be.

That we have the best technology to predict and monitor quakes and that our buildings are strong.

After the recent earthquake in Italy most travel advisories simply let people know but didn't warn them against visiting.

That country has one of the strongest brands in the world and despite the quakes, the romance and allure of Italia will win out.

Our quakes have certainly upped our international profile and, if we manage the message carefully, putting New Zealand front of mind is not all bad.

But support for Kaikoura is tantamount.

In acts of God, nature or whoever, the best you can do is communicate like you've never communicated before, check your facts, tell the truth, don't under or overstate what's happened.

That'll go a long way to looking after your international reputation and is probably the best anyone can ask for.

 - Stuff

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