Newcastle Now executive manager Richard Christian on challenges for businesses during light rail construction

City focus: "I encourage and embrace constructive criticism because I believe it helps us to be better at what we do," says Richard Christian.
City focus: "I encourage and embrace constructive criticism because I believe it helps us to be better at what we do," says Richard Christian.

 Where were you raised and who influenced your career?

I was born and raised on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific, 1000 kms east of Byron Bay. I have always been entrepreneurial, ever since my first paper run when I was 11, and I would target office buildings and finish on the steps of the RSL. I’ve met Richard Branson and members of his family on a few occasions and he’s still the most inspirational entrepreneur I’ve ever met.

 Why did you study tourism and business?

I love business and I liked the range of career opportunities in the tourism sector. At one stage I had aspirations of getting involved in the hotel and resort side of the industry and did a short stint in a managerial role of a big 5 star hotel in Sydney.

First job out of uni?

I dropped out of my honours year to start one of Australia’s first online travel businesses. I learnt a lot about business and the value of building good working relationships with people and being honourable in the way you do business.

You co-founded byronbay.com and have had many digital marketing roles. What piques your interest in the digital space?

Digital touches every part of business today. I get excited by the opportunities technology presents and how it enables us to share knowledge and experiences. I’m looking forward to the day when technology truly becomes our servant.

Some of the stories I have heard firsthand of the challenges businesses are facing are absolutely heartbreaking.

Richard Christian

In 2017 you worked as a destination marketing officer at Newcastle City Council, involved in refreshing the city’s brand. How?

I helped facilitate the integration of NEW into the brand which was designed to capitalise on all that was NEW in Newcastle. The appeal of NEW is hardwired into our brains. The refresh was aimed at reinforcing and encapsulating the NEW story of Newcastle. We wanted to demonstrate the diversity and position the city as a world class destination.

 Why did you apply for your new role as  Newcastle Now’s executive manager?

In my career I have really enjoyed serving on boards and working for not-for-profit organisations. After having worked in the private sector for much of my life, working for the business community at Newcastle Now is the perfect blend of my interests and experience.

 Mayor Nuatali Nelmes has been critical of Newcastle Now recently, saying it is “reactive” rather than proactive. Is that fair?

No, I don’t think that’s a fair assessment at all. Newcastle Now has a long history of being proactive in supporting businesses in Newcastle through several very successful ongoing programs and this proactive approach to supporting business activity in the city continues today. Having said that, I encourage and embrace constructive criticism because I believe it helps us to be better at what we do.

Newcastle Now is funded via a rate levy on commercial properties. Some businesses are disappointed more is not being done to entice people into town amid the light rail work. What is NN doing to help?

We have created two TV commercials encouraging people to come into the city and invested heavily in their distribution. We have advocated strongly on behalf of businesses to address parking and accessibility issues. We have developed programs to keep businesses and shoppers up to date about changes to access in the city. We are running social media campaigns to promote individual stores and events to draw people in, including being the primary funding partner for the Winter Live Unplugged Festival in Darby Street.

 Your message to stores in this tough period?

Some of the stories I have heard firsthand of the challenges businesses are facing are absolutely heartbreaking and I am committed to doing everything I can to help them through these extremely difficult times. The door at Newcastle Now is always open to businesses to drop in and let us know how we can do more to help.

 And to Novocastrians?

I love this city, its authenticity and the range of people who call it home. I am proud and genuinely humbled to be given the opportunity to serve the community. My other message is please come in and support our city’s stores.

Your first impression of what NN now faces?

Our immediate focus is to do all we can to help businesses through this period of disruption. We’re also doing a lot of work to prepare them for Supercars and working with  stakeholders to develop a program for activation of business precincts before, during and after the event. We’re working hard to develop events to support businesses and activate city areas. We’ve been driving discussions with key stakeholders to develop a city wide campaign to run next year celebrating everything about Newcastle and promoting unique events. We’re also doing a lot of work to create an engaging community space within the Nobbys Lighthouse precinct.

 Will light rail benefit the city?

Time will be the judge, but if we look at other cities where these sorts of major infrastructure projects have been rolled out, they have been positive. Overall, the city has some very exciting times ahead but my current focus is to support businesses through this challenging period of transition.