Some aspects of New Zealand's Covid response haven't been in line with New Zealand's progressive reputation. Photo / Getty Images
You need a rock-solid reason to ask your children to leave their puppy behind.
Convincing my wife Alice and my three kids Juliette, Flix and Gaspard to move to New Zealand as I embarked on a new role, was not initially a difficult sell. New Zealand's gloriously preserved nature, its relaxed, chilled people united behind the mighty All Blacks, brilliant education facilities, sporting prowess, and opportunities for all kinds of adventure were among the many features that contributed to my family feeling excited and (almost) comfortable leaving behind their well-established Belgian home, family and friends and of course their beloved Luchon, our 6-year-old Pyrenean Shepard.*
For me personally, additional motivators were the chance to step into a role with people and clients I have admired for many years, for a company I truly respect in a country that is a "Team of Five Million", and the chance to create a positive impact for New Zealand through the work we create.
New Zealand as a country has always enjoyed the reputation of being super progressive, inclusive and united. The first country to give women the vote, the first country to elect an openly transgender Member of Parliament a country boasting many per capita stats that I dream of for my beloved Belgium.
And then, Delta.
We landed in Auckland a week after the first community case was detected. They say life is all about timing: in this case, I'm not sure we got it right.
Arriving at the end of August, into a country that had just started what has turned out to be a long confinement, has of course been an extremely big challenge for my family and me, having had our fair share of lockdowns back in Europe. The inability to get the kids to school, generally the easiest way for them to make new friends and settle into their new home, has added to that challenge.
For me, however, the most challenging part of the last three months has been witnessing what I can only assume is a temporary blight on New Zealand's well-deserved reputation.
Let me explain.
There are many global indexes that rank New Zealand highly, from ease of doing business to political freedom, to the Global Peace Index. While this "timeless" brand positioning is clearly representative of New Zealand's values, the last few months have brought with them some "timely" decisions, made in the face of an impossible situation, which have contributed to polarising debate on sensitive topics. The debate raging around vaccinations has seen us slowly begin to move away from the celebration of diversity, a value so integral to this country. This narrative has not been helped as it has been difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and occasionally frameworks have been unclear. Eighteen months ago, who would have imagined headlines referring to a two-tier society in New Zealand, or family unable to reunite over the passing of their father given MIQ restrictions?
These "timely" decisions, contrary to some of the country's brand values, have been the drivers for the slippage of NZ's timeless strong perception and ranking over recent months. In the world of brands, it would be hard to imagine Patagonia undertaking initiatives that are not protecting nature, or Nike not championing diversity. In doing so, they would expose themselves to short-term reputation damage that could adversely affect sales performance.
Just as brands need to live by their values, New Zealand - a brand which champions inclusiveness, progression and diversity including diversity of opinions - has recently been put under pressure. We need to stay true to our values, regardless of the difficulty of the situation or the size of the ambition.
With 90 per cent vaccination rates achieved, at the end of this month, New Zealand will be the country with the fastest and highest vaccination rate among 12+ population worldwide, which is an incredible public health outcome. But could it have been done by respecting people's individuality and points of view, with less fear and more perspective?
As a new leader of an organisation like FCB NZ, I am aware of the importance of perspective and calm, and I give it all to live by the strong values of the company I now have responsibility for - integrity, championing diversity by all means, inclusivity and progressiveness are all part of this ethos. Surrounded with good people in my colleagues and our clients, I trust them to help me remain mindful of these values.
Just as we, experts in moving brands and businesses forward, sometimes make mistakes and learn from them, I am confident that as we draw closer to relative freedom, our leaders have learned that nothing is taken for granted and that we need to remobilise this team of six million (including the 1 million living overseas). We will be reminded of this amazing country's brand purpose, and most importantly, live by its values. I am excited about the future and my family and I cannot wait to start creating our true Kiwi experience.
This is testament to a special place, and the love we have for 100% Pure New Zealand. And we look forward to the day when we can visit our beloved Luchon in Belgium, able to return to our Aotearoa - easily.
*Luchon is living in the beautiful Belgian countryside at a neighbour's farm, happily chasing tennis balls.
- Sbastien Descle is the chief executive of advertising agency FCB New Zealand.
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