Regional Rundown: Why Nelson is a small city making an impact

More than two million New Zealanders live outside Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, and more are packing up for the regions each day.

A relaxing lifestyle, lower cost of living and strong sense of community are luring professionals from all fields, and strengthening the creative, collaborative and connected communities that cover our islands.

The Nelson Marlborough region is a playground for people of all ages and interests.

But not only does the landscape, mouth-watering food and drinks, and outdoor scene make it an attractive destination, the region is abuzz with industry. It houses the biggest fishing port in Australasia, and supports the country’s aviation, engineering, forestry, and horticulture businesses, along with creative fields, providing a vibrant regional economy.

Tony Downing says most weeks he gets an email from a creative or media type wanting to move to Nelson.

“They’re looking for something fresh,” he says.

“Nelson is one of the most aspirational places to live, work and play in New Zealand.”

Downing is the creative director of Downing Creative in Nelson, a design and marketing business he started 24 years ago. He says the stunning landscapes, artisans and loads of clever businesses offer the opportunity to do great work during the day and make for a great playground when the day is over.

With Nelson being the fourth busiest airport in the country with over a million visitors last year, the region is not an unknown gem. It’s increasingly being recognized as a great place to do business, with people leaving the big smoke in search of a better lifestyle.

“Some regions rely on one or two major business drivers but the Nelson/Tasman region has more,” Downing says.

He says there’s loyalty with locals to locally-owned businesses, and Downing Creative has a strong connection with the products they promote as many are produced in the region. Although that’s the case, there can be a perception the best work is done in the big cities, but Downing says the regional businesses are proving that’s a myth.

“It’s all about perspective, Auckland might be New Zealand’s biggest city but in comparison to the rest of the world it’s a small city, but it still manages to make an impact.

“Cities and their size are less important than your ability to connect and do great work.”

Working with businesses such as New Zealand King Salmon, New Zealand Hops, NPD Fuel, and Nelson Airport, Downing says his team has a lot of creative freedom and high levels of trust from clients. The smaller town environment creates more horizontal working relationships forging clarity and unity, and there is also a relational level where you might bump into one another at kids’ football on the weekend, he says.

“There is a strong sense of community here.”

Downing says people in the region trust their locally-owned media options, as they tend to be run by highly motivated people and they know their local networks are vital to their success. That leads to a high level of authenticity, and the local media’s agility and connection puts them in place to succeed.

Downing says there are a number of advertising channels unique to the top of the South for clients that only focus on that region.

“For many of our clients, traditional mass media campaigns are not an option.

“That has meant we need to be very niche when choosing and buying media. We have had to do lots of research and dig deeper to find advertising platforms that are appropriate for our client’s strategies.”

For example, he says a locally-owned community newspaper might only reach a small number of people, but if you string enough of them together you start getting reach that makes sense for a bigger campaign. 

“The rise of digital advertising that allows geo-targeting has been perfect for these clients too.”

Depending on the businesses and campaign, Downing says his team still makes use of local newspapers and radio, but with many of their clients promoting products nationally and overseas, digital media is often an effective means of communication.

Stuff Nelson regional editor Victoria Guild says with the huge audience power of Stuff, her team has the advantage of getting regional news out to a far greater audience than they did with just a newspaper, but they also recognise people in the community love local news and tailor stories for different audiences.

“I think our regional audience is more interested in the bigger picture nationwide than those in the big cities.

“They like to know what is happening in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, but also like to be kept well informed on what is going on in the region. They also expect more hyper-local coverage.”

Although all content appears online, Guild says traditionally the region’s print readers are older and expect more in-depth and local articles than digital readers and her team curates the newspaper content to appeal to them.

The Nelson team also provides hyper-local content in the community publications the Nelson and Tasman Leaders, and they use Stuff’s social media platform Neighbourly.

Guild says Neighbourly, which is a local and address verified site connecting people within a community, has experienced big growth, and Stuff is using it rather than relying on Facebook’s ever-changing algorithms.

She says the local audience is not just important but absolutely critical, and one of the reasons Stuff has the biggest monthly audience of any news provider in the country is the truly national coverage.

“The biggest stories of the day do not always come from the big cities, many come from regional New Zealand and we are there for those stories.

“We also know we need to be in council and in court to be the eyes and ears of our local residents and it is those stories that build the loyalty.”

She says many in the community still refer to the newspaper as “our paper”. Staff live and work in the region, have kids at school, are members of clubs, and are the face of the local Stuff platforms, she says.

“They bear the brunt of decisions made nationally, but also celebrate the wins when they have been able to help someone through the power of their story.

“It can be a fractious relationship at times, but we are still seen as an essential watchdog within the community.”

The Regional Rundown series will explore the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa, Nelson/Marlborough, and Otago regions. To read the profiles, click here.

This story is part of a content partnership with News Works.

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