Aiming small: why Dunedin is blowing its own business trumpet

Town branding is a difficult nut to crack, with many attempts coming off as desperate and nigh-on dishonest. But for the past few years since launching its new gothic identity via Projector Media, Dunedin has been doing a pretty good job of it. And, as part of its new push to become ‘one of the world’s great small cities’ within ten years, the next phase of its campaign consists of showcasing some of the city’s under-the-radar business success stories. 
For decades, Dunedin has had Otago University at its core. That has created a vibrant student culture (and regular reports of students embracing the lifestyle a little too enthusiastically and occasionally setting couches alight on Castle St), a culture of innovation and an enticing mix of old and new. But, as  the brand spiel goes, while “Dunedin is the most intriguing city in New Zealand, its reticence to boast means not enough people know about it”. 
“Thousands of potential visitors, travellers, tourists, investors and immigrants who would love Dunedin don’t know how cool it is. The Dunedin brand is about authenticity, intelligence, intrigue and creativity and is free of irony and advertising tricks.” 
Glow Consulting’s Paula Hellyer has worked alongside Projector to launch of the Dunedin Economic Development Strategy, a ten year plan that has been signed by seven different civic organisations (in a fractious, frugal and heritage-focused town like Dunedin, where the Forsyth Barr Stadium and the prospect of a large waterfront hotel divided the city, this level of agreement is an achievement in itself). And a big part of that plan, she says, involves raising the profile of the city from a business point of view, so it developed the idea of the Little Black Book of Dunedin Business, which details “some of the amazing things happening in the city on an international scale”. 
“Dunedin people are quite reluctant to tell you what they’re doing. But we got them into the studio and photographed them and they were just looking for the opportunity to do it. So the Black Book was designed to make them more comfortable about putting their hands up.”
Working as an advisor to the Dunedin City Council, she says she went out and talked to about 80-90 businesses in 12 months and, as she discovered who was doing what, she then suggested appropriate businesses for Projector (which is based in Auckland, but also has Dunedin-based Luke Johnson as a partner) to focus on in the advertising. Glow was also involved in PR around the launch and the ongoing social media activity.

Print ad for ADInstruments

​The plan is for Dunedin to match cities like Cambridge (UK), Salisbury (North Adelaide), Kingston (Ontario) and Dundee (Scotland)—all of which have under 150,000 people, a strong knowledge base and a high per capita income—in terms quality of life, education, knowledge intensity, export growth and enterprise. And there are measureable targets to meet in order to tick those boxes, like the creation of 10,000 extra jobs, two percent growth in employment per annum (currently 1.1 percent), $10,000 increase in per capita income and increase in GDP growth of 2.5 percent per annum (currently 1.8 percent).

These numbers aren’t much different from the national average but Dunedin is behind on all of them. Success tends to breed success, however—and, using Kingston as an example, creative businesses tend to help breed creative cultures that make cities more appealing to live in—so this long-term campaign aims to catalyse that.

Hellyer says it’s still early days so it’s difficult to quantify the effect of the campaign thus far, but, anecdotally, she says those featured in the book have had great feedback and their profile has most definitely been raised in the business community and among the wider population (the Little Black Book was also sent out with an issue of Idealog). 

She says “the future for business in Dunedin is looking good”. And there’s some added optimism afoot. The much-discussed Post Office is, once again, set for refurbishment; the warehouse precinct is being developed; companies like Avos (which was bought by the founders of YouTube), ADInstruments and Van Brandenburg architects are based in the city; and there are lots of little tech companies and entrepreneurs adding to the larger, high-profile businesses like Fisher & Paykel, Cadbury, Speight’s and The University.

Of course, luring new residents and businesses is easier said than done. But through a combination of good luck (the dairy boom, increasing house prices in other urban centres) and good planning, Dunedin does appear to be becoming increasingly attractive, as evidenced by a recent ASB study that ranked Dunedin the best place in the country to live. And the southern powers that be will be hoping people start noticing. 

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