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Our latest interview was with Robert Cunningham, Head of Government Solutions in the Washington, DC office for New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE).

“New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) is the New Zealand government’s international business development agency working to drive growth of a productive, sustainable, and inclusive economy. NZTE is funded by the New Zealand government with the mission of helping New Zealand- based companies connect with opportunities, enter the market in a strategic way, and expand globally.

NZTE focuses on multiple sector areas, and I am in the government solutions group. We help New Zealand companies connect to the US government and, in some cases, help them build a US presence through subsidiaries. This includes working with companies on branding, market entry, new partnerships and channels, identifying contract opportunities, and helping to raise capital. We also have a list of third-party service providers to support needs such as communications. Pugh & Tiller PR have done an excellent job in providing support to NZTE supported companies around media management, both print and also digital, and creating a presence through social media.

Coaching Growing Businesses

We coach businesses on market expansion strategies, and help them determine long term goals. Sometimes this involves serving as the eyes and ears for these companies and translating what’s happening in the market in a way that helps their business.

NZTE provides resources and insights to more than 6,000 export companies, and through our own digital transformation are expanding that to all of New Zealand’s 12,000 exporters. We’re driven by metrics to help companies increase revenue, translating jobs back to New Zealand, and proving the value of New Zealand tech worldwide. Personally, I closely support 25 companies. We agree on plans for a structured approach to help them grow.

Marketing Impacts of COVID–19

The pandemic has accelerated something that’s been happening for a while, and that’s the move to communicate and market more digitally, in particular, through social media. There had been some success with traditional approaches like tradeshows and press releases. But with restricted travel, and the lack of in-person face connections, there’s been a massive shift towards developing a digital presence. While it was there, before, it’s now a higher priority, for good reason.

Accelerating Digital Strategies & Persona Development

We’ve been running exercises, some through third party service providers, on topics such as digital strategy. It’s important for companies to take a step back and go through customer persona development, starting with a deep dive to assess:

  • Who are our customers?
  • Who are the influencers in the market?
  • How can we communicate with them?
  • What are the different strategies around that?
  • How do they like to get info?
  • How do I use digital presence to reach them?

While persona development isn’t new, many companies haven’t given it the attention it needed. The pandemic has made them increase attention on the complexity of personas and the need to segment messaging.

Additionally, companies have realized they need to focus more on thought leadership, top-of-funnel messaging as well as being more brand-oriented. Previously, conferences had a sales focus, but with digital communications, that approach must shift.

Leveling the Playing Field

While there’s a lot of skepticism about the value of virtual conferences, many are trying to get more use out of virtual communications and training, probably out of necessity. Oddly enough, this puts New Zealand companies on a level playing field. US companies are also coping with restricted travel, so everyone’s communicating at the same level. The challenge will be in the further opening of the US economy with in-person meetings. If New Zealanders are unable to travel, they’ll lack that personal connection to the market. However, NZTE is able to benefit New Zealand organizations since we’re on the ground in the US and can serve as de facto representatives. It’s another chance for us to add value.

Additionally, in the US, there has been a big push for efficiency of logistics and operations for manufacturing companies. They need to de-risk the supply chain, which can be a requirement in some cases. The pandemic has shocked companies and they’re considering changes such as increasing inventory in warehouses.

Markets Open with Unique Opportunities

Currently, now that the markets are open, it’s just a different environment. With all this craziness, there’s been some opportunity. One great story is Tourism Holdings Limited. The company runs a fleet of 2,000 camper vans and all their bookings were cancelled. They repurposed the fleet for emergency operations, medical testing, and even support for the homeless.

Governments are still spending money and needing things. It’s not as though the market is closed, it just needs a different approach, more targeted and virtual. And New Zealand is a tech savvy country that has been able to pivot quickly. They also have a good reputation for handling COVID.

What will help companies survive are having people in the market, presence, and brand recognition, along with the ability to continue those relationships with distributors, retailers, and customers.

About Robert Cunningham

As the head of Government Solutions in the Washington, DC office for New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE), I support kiwi tech companies with market entry and expansion strategies through targeted engagements in the US public sector. I previously founded a boutique trade advisory firm, Foggy Bottom Associates and NZTE was a key client.

Prior to that, I served as a political appointee to the US Census Monitoring Board – Presidential Members; and in business development roles at UTC, the law firm of Paul Weiss Rifkind and the strategic advisory firm, the Brock Group headed by former USTR Bill Brock.

Previous roles include serving as a trade advisor at the Korea Trade Promotion Corporation (KOTRA) in both Washington, DC and Seoul, and as a legislative/trade policy analyst in the Washington office of Davis Polk and Wardwell.

I am a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and the International School of Geneva.

Pugh & Tiller

Through an integrated approach, Pugh & Tiller helps B2B companies reach, engage, and influence the right audiences in order to achieve their business goals. By offering public relations, branding and identity development, digital integrated marketing, website and app development, and graphic design and audio / video production, Pugh & Tiller provides each and every service with an eye on the bigger picture.