Who is Who

David Downs

David Downs BSc, CMInstD is a seasoned consultant, board director, and advocate for technology-driven public good, healthcare, and education. Currently serving as the CEO of the New Zealand Story, David leads ambitious efforts to promote New Zealand on the global stage.

Previously, David held the role of General Manager at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), where he spearheaded initiatives to facilitate the international growth of fast-growing companies. He also played a pivotal role in leading cross-government projects in the Agritech sector, demonstrating his commitment to fostering innovation and sustainable development.

Aside from his professional accomplishments, David is a captivating public speaker, drawing from his experiences as an ex-comedian and actor. He is also known for his resilience and positivity, having documented his battle with cancer in the book A Mild Touch of the Cancer. David's commitment to community welfare is evident through initiatives like sosbusiness.nz, a not-for-profit venture he co-founded to support small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Q & A

We initially published the following interview with David in May 2022 and have slightly updated it to maintain its relevance.

David, you have gained a wealth of experience over the last 30 years in various fields. What motivated you to work for the New Zealand Story Group as the CEO?

The mission! I’ve always been a passionate supporter for, and advocate of, Aotearoa New Zealand. I spent the last ten years working with New Zealand’s trade agency, helping companies grow and the New Zealand Story Group is a natural extension of that work.

The founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, once commented that ‘New Zealand is not only a good country IN the world, it’s a good country FOR the world’. I agree – and hope that by sharing our values, culture and way of life, others might also benefit.

When did you first hear about country branding and country reputation? What were your first thoughts?

I was involved on the fringes of the New Zealand Story from the beginning, in 2011. In New Zealand, the idea of branding a country was not well known – we don’t have many other countries marketing to us, apart from Australia and some of the Pacific Islands – so it seemed very innovative. Intuitively though, it made sense to me.

I have studied brand development, and applying that thinking to a country makes perfect sense. I’m still learning in my role, but I can see the principles and approaches of brand management work well for us.

What does Brand New Zealand stand for? And how has it changed during the last years?

Recently, we’ve refined and focused on New Zealand’s core values – what makes us unique, what value we have to offer others – so we can be clear on how best to add value to New Zealand but also others.

We’ve increased our team size so that we can be more hands-on to help amplify our approach through others, especially other government agencies. We want to project to the world that our country cares for people and place, and this comes through our actions, not just our words. Yes, New Zealand is a beautiful country to visit, but the depth of our culture and values should show that we care for the environment, for people, that we are honest and dependable – and that we have an adventurous spirit.

New Zealand’s focus in recent times has been climate change and the green economy. How has the response been from businesses to innovate and expand in New Zealand?

Interestingly, it’s businesses themselves who are now driving the innovation around the environment, climate, and green economy. You could look at this in two ways:

  • In one way, businesses are seeing that consumer sentiment has shifted quickly, and they are reacting to that change as a priority.
  • From another perspective, it’s that the values of the country are shining through – as mentioned.

We see New Zealand as a country that cares for people and place, and so in many respects what we are seeing in terms of changing consumer priority and sentiment plays directly into this value system and our strengths. By focusing on core values, we set up a key alignment with consumer sentiment.

Some years ago we asked our panel of place brand specialists what could Brand New Zealand do differently, and many suggested highlighting the urban and creative side of NZ alongside the 100% pure and green image. What are your thoughts?

Completely agree. In many ways, that is exactly what the New Zealand Story was set up to do. We know through numerous research reports that New Zealand has a very strong positive perception but often that rests on a small number of attributes.

While it’s true we have a beautiful environment and welcoming people, we also are a country of innovation, science, culture and the easiest place in the world to do business. We strive to highlight these extra dimensions of the country wherever we can, to expand people’s understanding and connection to New Zealand. Stories and images of our rich urban and business environment help make sure people realize we are more than beauty.

Which aspects of promoting New Zealand as a preferred destination for businesses and skilled talent from leading economies do you find the most challenging?

We are lucky that New Zealand is a very desirable place to live and work – we have to make sure people know how they could do that, and make it easy for them. A very talented leader in New Zealand once said that to give our economy a super-charge, we need to be the place where ‘talent wants to live’.

I would say that we have the lifestyle that would appeal to many, we just have to get the word out there. That can be hard – it’s a crowded market and getting messages across takes time and money. We don’t have the marketing budgets of other countries, so we need to let our actions do most of the talking.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

We are on a learning journey about how best to brand a country. I think we do some things well and have more to learn, and we are always open to talking to others and learning from them too. Please reach out if you would like to know more or to learn together. As we say in our local language – ‘He Waka Eke Noa’, we are all in this together.

Speaker Profile

"You can’t always choose your room, but you can choose your attitude."

David is a seasoned business leader, public servant, consultant, and board director, known for his dynamic speaking engagements and insightful perspectives. As the CEO of The New Zealand Story, David spearheads efforts to showcase New Zealand's unique offerings to the global audience.

With a background as a General Manager at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) and over 13 years at Microsoft, including a stint as regional director for South East Asia, David brings a wealth of expertise in technology, entrepreneurship, and international business to his speaking engagements.

David is also a published author and a powerful advocate for personal resilience. His inspiring journey of overcoming terminal cancer and his dedication to community welfare, demonstrated through initiatives like sosbusiness.nz, exemplify his unwavering positivity and commitment to making a meaningful impact.

Talking Points:

  • Personal resilience - surviving terminal cancer
  • New Zealand innovation
  • Silver Linings - The positive stories and lessons from Covid-19 in NZ
  • International business - how to really screw it up
  • Bad board meetings and how to avoid them
  • NZ’s place in the world of Agritech

David's diverse expertise and engaging speaking style make him a sought-after speaker for conferences, workshops, and events worldwide.

About New Zealand Story Group

The New Zealand Story Group is committed to safeguarding, enriching, and promoting Brand New Zealand, with the aim of strengthening its global reputation and value. Its mission is to maintain and expand New Zealand's positive image, enhancing awareness, favorability, and preference for New Zealand products and services internationally.

New Zealand Story empowers businesses and government agencies to effectively communicate compelling stories about New Zealand overseas, helping to shift perceptions and create new opportunities for the country.

"Our story is grounded in our values - we are a progressive nation of creative innovators, committed to delivering innovative solutions while always caring for our people and our environment. Together, let's showcase the best of New Zealand to the world and build a brighter future for our nation."

Contact David