Brian Sweeney is a man on a mission to rebrand New Zealand as something other than the land of hobbits and sheep.
Sweeney, the New York-based chairman of global PR company SweeneyVesty, says the idea came to him when he was driving around to Karekare with Wired magazine’s founding editor, Kevin Kelly.
“On that road to Karekare he was pumping me full of questions about New Zealand,” says Sweeney on the stage at Tedx Auckland.
“And I made a statement along the lines of, that it seemed to me that a disproportionate number of New Zealanders had changed the world in some way, though I did not know why.”
Kelly likened New Zealand’s position in the world to a theory of evolutionary biology called punctuated equilibrium, which states that change happens first on the edge of the species, were the population is at its most sparse.
New Zealand’s small size and location placed it on the ‘world’s edge’.
“My mind went wild with imagination,” says Sweeney.
Sweeney looked at media coverage about New Zealand and discovered that only 20 percent of international stories were positive, 60 percent were neutral and 20 percent were negative.
“And in the practice of reputation management, this sets off alarm bells. This is a sub-optimal performance. How do we stretch? How do we convert our neutrals and negatives to positives?”
So Sweeney set about rebranding New Zealand using this ‘world’s edge’ metaphor, through his public relations work and a website, NZEdge.com, which focuses on positive local stories, from the latest rugby result to New Zealand actors making it big in Hollywood.
NZEdge was launched in July 1999. It is owned by Sweeney’s company and ad-supported.
Sweeney believes he’s been successful in embedding the metaphor into international coverage of New Zealand, including Time magazine, which once ran a travel story about New Zealand entitled Going to the Edge.
An upcoming documentary on Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Mount Everest is also called ‘Beyond the Edge’, he says. The film will premiere at the 2013 International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, in September.
“We sought to reframe the perception of New Zealand as small, remote, and irrelevant, to ‘edge’. The world’s edge. In marketing terms, edge is our one-word equity.”