Ultra-attentive client communications is the key to project success

Or, how to pull off marketing communications in times like these

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

“Breaking borders. Connecting dots.” That’s what two young men in Shibuya, Tokyo aim to do. Many encounter barriers when they enter the Japanese market, when they rebrand, or even just launch a new product because it means the marketing, public relations and advertising functions need to closely collaborate.

This is when you need integrated communication and thoughtful design, say Kotaro Asano, communication expert, and Mio Sasaki, art director. They’re set out to provide exactly that.

Catching up for the first time since working alongside Kotaro at international PR agency MSL Japan, I asked the co-founders why they launched during a pandemic, about their advice for those considering going independent, and their “octopus model” of service.

In other words, we “talked shop.” Check it out below. 

(For the Japanese, click here)

In the two years since the outbreak of the pandemic, what kind of changes have you seen in communications activities in Japan?

Kotaro: There has been some change. For example, press conferences and media roundtables have gone online, large-scale events have been canceled and channels you’d normally use to reach consumers have been cut off. So we’ve had to rework some of your tactics and approaches.
On the other hand, the basics haven’t changed. You still need to think about how to create and maintain relationships with customers and consumers. So in that sense, much of my work has stayed the same.

Have you felt the need to learn new skills?

Kotaro: Yes, but not because of the pandemic. Communications professionals need to be able to look at the whole picture: sales, marketing, business development, etc.; not just PR.

Since working in an agency, I’ve realized that the marketing, advertising, PR, branding, inside sales and other functions are very “siloed.” As a result, in Japan, there aren’t many agencies that can holistically discuss and create the best strategy from the wide range of choices, at the right time, to provide the best service.

Advertising, PR, digital marketing and other functions tend to make decisions independently and pitch their own ideas. Many times I’ve personally witnessed this leading to underachieving or missing the mark.

That’s why Mio and I decided to tackle marketing communication from a bird’s eye view so that we can create lean and effective strategies and ensure they are properly implemented. To support that, we update our knowledge and skills flexibly and often.

Roselle: Definitely.

Sometimes one agency will take the lead that doesn’t have the general expertise, or the client will try to coordinate each agency themselves internally despite lack of experience.

This can lead to problems and make it very easy to miss business goals.

I borrowed this graphic from your website. Honestly, it looks kind of like an octopus. Do you mind if I call it the “octopus model”?

Mio: “Octopus model,” what an interesting way to put it. That’s fair.

Lately, I hear a lot about how hiring experienced talent is difficult due to the labor shortage. Some might rush through the hiring process when they do find someone, but we offer a solution to this: instead, they can rely on us to work with them, as their team member.

With a pro on the team, it’s much easier to take advantage of the strengths of each agency in order to reach business goals cost-effectively.

What are the 3 most important points to forming a good relationship with a client?

Mio: This is a really basic skill, but I think the most important thing is to communicate at the right points with your client. The next most important is to listen closely to your client’s views and goals and present your expert opinion based on those. Lastly, is that you need to produce results.

Roselle: Before communicating for your client, you need to be effectively communicating with your client.

I think we’re all nodding at this.

Please share a highlight of your work this past year. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

We developed the rebranding plan for a flower shop that has been in business for over 30 years. This included redeveloping their logo, communication tools, the shop, website and more to broaden their appeal to consumers in their 20s and 30s who lived in the area.

They requested that we maintain their brand image and vision while also updating other aspects of their brand ― and at the same time appealing to new customers while maintaining a sense of familiarity among their established customers. It was quite a challenge.

First off, we made sure to understand all of our client’s desires but also assessed them through our own experience. By spending most of our time listening to our client we learned a lot about their vision, their priorities, what was going well and not so well with their business. 

Thus, we were able to identify what to prioritize and move from there.

This led us to “top technique that always amazes” for the brand image, which we then wove through each element. Thanks to this, we were able to preserve their relationship with existing customers.

With this new brand image, we completely recreated their website, logo, etc., and were able to maintain the trust of existing customers while also helping acquire new customers. In fact, the launch was so successful that 80% of their new customers became repeat customers.

Roselle: It’s common sense that you need to retain existing customers because of their “customer lifetime value” (CLV), to borrow a bit of marketing speak.

It sounds like that need, and the need for new business informed your strategy.

Do you have any advice for companies or brands looking to enter the Japanese market or improve their communications there?

Kotaro: It’s critical to partner with someone who knows the local market because it is not easy to overcome the fallout from mismanaged communication arising from failed positioning, branding or messaging. A launch is the best time to use your resources effectively by leveraging a local expert, who can then help you continue to communicate well in the market.

You should avoid partnering with people who may seem like they know the market but turn out to be complete beginners. It’s a common case. Even if their background is impressive, they may not have had any major responsibilities in the projects they listed ― they were just on the team.

To avoid this pitfall, make sure to do reference checks with their former clients and services (whose projects they led), and ask the specifics of their achievements.

Photo by Maranda Vandergriff on Unsplash

Mio: This might not be what you’re looking for, but honestly I’m just on the look out all the time. For example, I’ll check the newspaper, online news, magazines, social media, investment information, and long-tail content such as Pinterest in addition to gathering information from those around me. This includes those in Japan and abroad.

Please offer some advice to those who are thinking of starting their own communications business.

Kotaro: Not to emphasize the obvious, but it’s crucial to partner with good companies, products and clients. At each opportunity, you should get down in the trenches with your clients and teammates to ensure the success of each project. This will really guide your career.

Mio: You can only do so much by yourself. That’s why to achieve something big you need to find a partner(s), set a goal together, and move towards it step by step. To make this possible, of course, you need to be able to form business relationships and communicate well with your partners. Then, the rest will fall into place.

Roselle: Thank you very much for sharing your insights. I’m excited to see what’s coming for you and your company.

■ https://wonderhoods.com/pr-marketing/en

Contact: https://wonderhoods.com/contact/en


Wonderhoods Cofounder / Producer Kotaro Asano

Serving on the teams of many global companies at a foreign-affiliated public relations agency, Kotaro has a wealth of experience in communications: from media relations to Japan-entry press conferences to strategic planning of PR activities aimed at increasing sales and awareness.

Several years ago, he went independent to support clients in both PR and marketing. After supporting multiple B2B clients (IT, manufacturing, materials) and producing TV ads and digital video ads, he co-founded Wonderhoods K.K. in 2021, where he holistically supports the marketing communications of global companies in Japan.

Wonderhoods Co-founder / Art Director Mio Sasaki

Mio studied design in the United States then worked as a designer / art director at a design company in Japan handling everything from product design to branding. He values “building work relationships where you can be open about your strengths and weaknesses.” By contributing his years of experience solving a range of business problems via branding and art direction, Mio hopes to help people all over the world.



Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash



これに解決策を打ち出そうとしているのがコミュニケーション専門家の浅野 光太郎やアートディレクターの佐々木 澪。

MSL Japanで広報代理店の現場を一緒してから転職を経て初めて話した浅野さんやその共同創業者佐々木さんは、コロナ禍で起業困難な時期になにゆえに創業したのか、企業の担当者や独立を考えている広報担当者へおくるアドバイス、私が勝手に「タコ型」と呼んでいる案件の管理方法などについて色々聞きいわゆる「shop talk」をさせてもらった。










[ロゼル] そうですよね。または「広告代理店主導型」だったり、それぞれの代理店の取り組みを企業内で整合しようとし、うまくいかなくなったりする場合もありますね。






[ロゼル] クライアントとのためにコミュニケーションをする前に、クライアントとのコミュニケーションができていることが大前提、ということですね。






[ロゼル] マーケティング用語になりますが、いわゆる「顧客生涯価値」を考えるとやはり既存顧客に疎外感を与えてはなりませんね。既存維持と新規獲得を両立できたことが、きっと成功につながりましたね。





Photo by Maranda Vandergriff on Unsplash






[ロゼル] いろいろシェアしていただき、ありがとうございます。今後のご活躍に注目したいと思います。


■ お問い合わせ https://wonderhoods.com/contact


Wonderhoods 共同創業者 浅野 光太郎

外資系広報代理店で多数のグローバル企業を担当してきた浅野さん。日本参入時のメディアリレーションズや記者会見から、売上と認知拡大を目的としたPR活動の戦略立案まで、濃厚な経験を積んできた。数年前にPRとマーケティングの両軸でクライアントを支援したいと考えて独立。複数のB2Bクライアント(IT、製造、素材)を支援、同時にTVCM[b]やWebCMなどをプロデュースした後、2021年にアートディレクターの友人と共同でWONDERHOODS K.K.を創業した。WONDERHOODSでは、グローバル企業の日本におけるマーケティング・コミュニケーションを包括的にサポートするという。

Wonderhoods 共同創業者 佐々木 澪

米国でデザインを学び、帰国後は商品デザインからブランディングまでを行うデザイン会社でデザイナー/アートディレクターとして活躍してきた佐々木さん。仕事をする上で一番大切にしていることは『強みも弱みも話せる関係づくり』。ブランディングやアートディレクションによってあらゆる企業の問題の解決に奔走し培ってきた経験を通し、もっと世界中の人の役に立ちたいと考えWONDERHOODS K.K.を友人の浅野さんと創業。

On the frontlines of the fake news war: Trojan horse tweets

The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Domenico Tiepolo (1773)

A prominent senator, Matt Gaetz, and two other politicians retweet a photo of the famed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, with praise.

An outspoken vaccine naysayer, Naomi Wolf, tweets a photo of a well-known adult film actor presenting him as a doctor advising on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ironically these errant retweeters have a history of accusing media of fake news.

So what’s behind these gaffes?

It’s a new tactic emerging on Twitter, a platform where any information, including fake news, can spread like wildfire. And the man behind both incidents isn’t a figure shrouded in mystery as you might think. He’s an investigative journalist for The Intercept, Ken Klippenstein, with a side hobby of pranking prominent accounts. Using a verified account, no less.

So how does it work? First, find a target with a clear agenda. Then provide them with user-generated content that supports that agenda and wait for them to bite. But the content is a trojan horse ― inside the enemy is waiting in silence.

A self-proclaimed patriot retweets an enemy of the state on Memorial Day. A vaccine naysayer that regularly casts doubt on scientific information presents an adult film actor as a reliable source of medical information.

Neither has vetted the source nor the veracity of the information. Their itchy trigger fingers, fueled by a desire to pursue their narrative, betray them, ultimately revealing them as the propagaters of “fake news” and, ultimately, hypocrites.

These incidents crystallize the current American zeitgeist: “gotcha” tactics, strong antagonism between political camps, and the itchy trigger fingers behind Twitter accounts ― a platform that moves at the speed of light.

Public relations was born out of the American democratic political process, which relies on swaying public opinion through ever evolving strategies and tactics. Trojan horse tweeting is just the latest development born in the skirmish of the social media wars.

Social media managers and PR professionals alike would be wise not to fall victim to the same tactics. That’s easily done. Just hold social media to the same standards of the PR profession: only relay information that you can verify and know who’s behind it.

Sounds simple, right? Make sure to remember it during your next tweet.

Being trilingual doesn’t mean you’ll get across. Regina tells us why.

Cup of coffee with notes from studying Spanish

Being “lost in translation” is a common experience for anyone learning a new language, or even trying to communicate in a familiar one to someone of a different background.

Regina Schmidt Rio-Valle
Regina Schmidt Rio-Valle

Trilingual in Spanish, English and German, Regina Schmidt Rio-Valle specializes in multilingual communication in Sports Law and the sports industry, having earned a Master’s Degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at Georgetown University, among other accomplishments.

I asked Regina about being trilingual, how it helps her in planning communication, and working with a diverse set of clients.

How did you become fluent in Spanish, English, and German and stay fluent?

Growing up in Spain, I have always been fascinated by languages, probably because my dad was German and most of my siblings are bilingual. I started learning English at a young age and soon after followed French, Portuguese and Italian. 

Spanish, English and German are the languages I actively use every day, so they are the ones in which I feel most comfortable.

Maintaining proficiency in any language, even your own mother tongue, is hard work! You need to read, write and speak it on a regular basis. Particularly professionals in our industry must continuously hone their written and verbal communication skills.

Do you feel being trilingual gives you an advantage?

Working with several languages definitely has many advantages. First of all, it allows me to read and learn in different languages, opening up endless possibilities. Secondly, it gives me access to insights in many different cultural backgrounds, which is priceless if you want to reach target audiences in a way that truly moves them.

What’s the best way to create good business relations with someone of a different background?

My main advice is to not take anything for granted and to work with experts who know both cultures well and who can guide you through potential pitfalls. It is a wise investment.

If you are interested in operating in an international setting, you should definitely try to learn more about working with different cultures. 

7 Tips for working with different cultures

  1. become aware of your own culture first, 
  2. observe without judgement, 
  3. learn the language and always work with professional translators and interpreters,
  4. if you have questions, ask colleagues or business partners who have more experience or are from the region you are interested in,
  5. build relationships with people from different cultures,
  6. read as much as you can, fiction and nonfiction. You could start with “Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures” by Brooks Peterson, or “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer. 
  7. watch TV and listen to the radio. But be careful! Do not fall into the trap of believing that a Netflix series depicts the reality of a country or region. Nobody likes to be seen as a cliché.

It is a life-long process that requires curiosity, open-mindedness and strong commitment. But it is also a wonderful opportunity to grow your business and to develop personally and professionally.

What kind of communications issues do you encounter in the sports industry?

How do you guide your clients?

Sports offer a universal language, but once athletes leave the arena, this industry is as dependent on effective communication as any other business. 

I help clients in this industry reach their international, multilingual audiences by speaking the audience’s language, by crafting messages adapted to their cultural backgrounds based on an effective strategy and a standardised set of procedures. 

I particularly enjoy making sure that their brand voice and messaging remain clear and consistent across cultures, so that we tell their story in their own voice but geared towards a particular audience.

What structure do you use in strategic communications planning?

I use many tools and skills that I acquired at the Public Relations and Corporate Communications program. I particularly like the Georgetown Strategic Framework (note: see this post for more on the Framework) to develop communications plans. I firmly believe that successful communication is based on the right combination of facts and creativity, and the Strategic Framework helps me access the facts.

Even if I know an industry quite well, going through the different stages of the Strategic Framework helps me organise my thoughts, collect essential data and get insights that I might have missed otherwise. 

For example, as I was developing a communications strategy for a translation agency, I discovered that their main competitors could become strong allies in the face of technological shifts that are disrupting the market. I also identified employees and partners as a relevant public who needed to be engaged, something they had been ignoring for years. Taking those people for granted meant that their freelance translators, their most important asset, did not feel any commitment to the agency, were willing to work for other language service providers and in some cases, even preferred to do so.

The work we have been doing to engage freelance translators has helped the agency to improve its standing, regaining their trust and loyalty.

What are some specific problems you have solved with strategic communications?

I have had the privilege of working with amazing people and organisations. But every single project and client is exciting in some way. I love showing clients what a good communications strategy can do for them. And I definitely enjoy seeing my clients reaping the benefits of our work together. 

One of my clients, a law firm specialising in sports law, was not sure about joining social media. They were concerned about appearing frivolous or too casual. After putting together a well thought out communications plan, I could show them that social media can also be used for serious businesses. You simply need to find the right tone for your business and make sure that you are communicating with the right publics. 

In their case, it was particularly important to adapt their contents and language for each individual public, as they needed to connect with other sports law specialists but also with non experts. One of our great achievements has been ensuring that lay people understand what the law firm actually does. The firm has also been able to demonstrate the success of their work and to engage effectively with peers and current and potential clients.

Where do you see yourself going forward in your career?

Although I enjoy working on my own, in the future I would like to come together with other communications professionals, be part of a team and work toward a common vision. We are better professionals when we are part of a group of people who challenge and inspire us. 

Regina is a public relations and communications consultant based in Switzerland, the heart of Europe and home to numerous International Sports Federations. After spending over 15 years in high level multilingual communications, she firmly believes that nuance provides added value to communication. She helps clients build trust and credibility with multilingual audiences. Regina is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Master’s of Public Relations and Corporate Communications program. rsrv.ch

Why it’s not good enough to apologize and move on

“He just put his foot in his mouth ― don’t get upset.” “Don’t judge the forest for the trees.”

Twitter user

Anyone can have a slip of the tongue or fail to predict how someone could misinterpret your words. You might try to assure the offended person that you didn’t mean it that way. But deep down, you know that they’ve been hurt.

In a close relationship, our friends and family are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt because we have a long-term relationship that can assure them of our sincere desire not to hurt them.

But when it comes to public figures, we have no such relationship, and as such, no “benefit of the doubt.” Indeed, a public figure with a long record of ethical and conscientious behavior may ride out the storm more quickly. This type of social capital that is built up carefully over years and has managed to reach the public to leave enough of an impression.

How are we to be forgiven for our bad comments?

The degree to which the public can and will forgive public figures for their reprehensible comments or deeds seems to depend on a combination of their record up to then, their immediate reaction, and their commitment to addressing the cause of the uproar.

Rarely does a misstep or slip of the tongue garner sustained domestic or international attention, but when it does, one can be sure that proper and thorough crisis communications countermeasures should be taken.

Here are six principles, shortened for practical purposes, for an effective apology as outlined by Kešetović, Toth, and Korajlić (2014):

  1. You have to recognize what has been done.
  2. Others should also be given the opportunity to criticize the made mistakes, avoiding the preventive apologies.
  3. An apology is not enough but the responsibility has to be accepted as well, avoiding the childish excuses.
  4. The public has the right to know what actually happened.
  5. An apology should be supported by the efforts to improve things.
  6. Finally, the subservience and shame need to be shown as secondary equivalent to repentance.
Kešetović, Želimir & Toth, Ivan & Korajlić, Nedžad. (2014). Apology as crisis communication strategy-importance of cultural context. 38. 171-178. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292068291_Apology_as_crisis_communication_strategy-importance_of_cultural_context 

These principles are presented as universal, but certainly the format and custom of an apology is highly dependent on the local culture.

You may have heard that Japan is a country that highly values apologies. Yet, it would be wrong to think that a Japanese-style apology would satisfy a Western audience.

Much of Japanese culture contains predetermined formats for social exchange. The words we use when we start a business relationship, meet people for the first time, have inconvenienced someone, express an opposing opinion, or even just email someone are, to a large extent, usually limited to formats. And this is satisfactory in the Japanese context.

At times, individuality of expression might even be derided. I remember when one non-Japanese coworker used an inventive metaphor to describe her new job at her resignation speech some Japanese coworkers snickered. I thought it was creative and memorable ― I still remember it to this day.

But I digress. Apologies, which are expected in Japan for a range of things that Western cultures wouldn’t consider necessary (ex: arriving on time when your friend has arrived early, forcing them to wait for you), have become another formality (形骸化).

Kovacs asked the Japanese public what elements they expected at an “apology press conference.” The results show that the top three items required, ranked in terms of importance, there were:

  1. Explain what happened in detail
  2. Talk about next steps
  3. Use polite language (closely followed by “Talk about next steps”)

“Bowing,” “resignation of the person responsible,” “tears” and “saying ‘I’m terribly sorry'” all ranked lower.

Kovacs, Emese. (2016). Apologies to the media as a social function. Musashino University. https://repository.musashi.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/11149/1800/10/03_Kovacs_text.pdf  (Japanese only)

These press conferences, for the most part, are clucked over, processed, and eventually forgotten in Japan.

It’s when a Japanese style of apology hits the international stage that it can really cause problems.

The case of Japan Olympic Committee Chairman Yoshiro Mori

As you may have heard, Japan Olympic Committee Chairman Yoshiro Mori met with domestic and international disdain earlier this week after comments about women in meetings exploded in social media and traditional media.

And bad news spreads fast. It earned him coverage from the BBC, The New York Times, Financial Times, Reuters, NPR, CNBC, AP News and a number of international media.

While I won’t take the time to translate his comments in full, which were recorded word-for-word on video camera, the gist and nub of his statements were that he thought women made meetings longer because they were unnecessarily competitive and spoke too long. He added that he was receiving pressure to increase women in meetings from MEXT, the Japanese ministry of education.

Reactions to his comments, both in Japan and internationally, ranged from vitriol and outrage to “I don’t understand what the problem is. Isn’t he right?” It’s a herculean task to explain to anyone who didn’t immediately see the sexism behind the remarks, so I’ll leave that to more energetic people.

Let’s address how he added fuel to the fire with a botched live apology “press conference.”

Just 20 minutes long (length is thought to indicate the apologizer’s willingness to be questioned and rebuked, AKA their level of sincerity),  Mori’s statement lasted 3 minutes while Q&A time was 17 minutes.

This conference unfortunately reinforced the impression that Mori was unrepentant and failed to satisfy the six principles of apology:

  1. You have to recognize what has been done.  

⇒ He read a prepared statement that he regrets and rescinds his statements, and apologizes for causing trouble. The meat of his apology focuses on causing trouble for people aiming to hold the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

2. Others should also be given the opportunity to criticize the made mistakes, avoiding the preventive apologies. 👎

⇒ Interrupts journalists. Is uncooperative in answering questions. When a journalist prefaces by saying he will ask “several questions,” Mori shoots back, “make it one.”

3. An apology is not enough but the responsibility has to be accepted as well, avoiding the childish excuses. 👎

⇒ Rejects the idea that he should resign and explains that he didn’t make statements at the Organizing Committee, but at JOC, and said that he made the offensive comments upon consideration. Says that foreign media are misrepresenting the fact that the comments were made at JOC, not the IOC, and that he made the comments as a closing greeting at the JOC (implying that this is an important distinction).

Mentions many irrelevant details, even explaining that people shouldn’t “worry too much about the figures (ratio of women on committee as recommended).” Explains that he was just repeating what was said to him about women in meetings in the other committees, though he didn’t have support for this assertion.

4. The public has the right to know what actually happened.   

⇒ Explained why and under what circumstances he made the statement very well, but doesn’t support that his rescinding of the statements was based on a genuine understanding of wrongdoing. Explains that he feels his statement was inappropriate and that it is wrong to distinguish between women and men, but also says that he heard many subcommittees complaining they are being inconvenienced by women who speak for too long. Avoids clarifying if he believes this.

In response to Mainichi Shimbun’s question if he believed women spoke for too long (blabbed), Mori responded, “I don’t listen to women lately, so I don’t know.”

5. An apology should be supported by the efforts to improve things. 👎

⇒ No mention of an acknowledgement of his own attitude or an effort to meet MEXT goals for female representation on the committee or reassure current female members that he doesn’t consider their behavior to be problematic.

6. Finally, the subservience and shame need to be shown as secondary equivalent to repentance.

⇒ Throughout the press conference, he showed a confidence that he was appropriate for his role, that his comments weren’t actually problematic, and that he had no need to report directly to the IOC or speak directly to foreign media about the incident. (even forces journalists to take their masks off when questioning him)

Note that the Japan Olympic Committee had already issued a carefully worded written statement, which had it had a chance to stand alone, may have more effectively quelled the flames.

It bears noting that this conference failed to satisfy all top three priorities discovered by Kovacs (2016), by failing to “describe next steps.” It also rings as insincere, earning it the title of 逆切れ会見 in Japan, or conference where he “snapped back angrily.” This response shows that the 6 principles above can ring true in an international stage, including Japan.

More importantly, the communications takeaway is that when authenticity and genuine repent cannot be guaranteed, a spokesperson should stay out of the limelight.

Ultimately, Mori contributed to a long-standing perception of Japan as a country that won’t make progress on gender equality, to add further to the PR problems of a troubled Tokyo 2020 games.

Navigating the Online Tower of Babel

Ever wondered why your family seems to have different information than you about important national news? It’s not just that the media they read are different — the way they access media may also be completely different to you.

First, please indulge me by answering a one-question survey: 


Before you take me to task for my stereotyping, according to the Pew Research Institute, these are the typical media consumption patterns by generation.

It should come as no surprise that you and your parents have different information or even attitudes toward the same news in light of how differently we consume news.

Such a stark generational difference begs the following questions:

  • Do people who get their news on social media get more biased information?
  • How many people actually follow news organizations on Twitter/ other social media? Do they read the articles linked, or just the headlines and reactions? How many source most of their news on social media from non-news users who might further spin the information?
  • How do impressions of the same news differ depending on where it is consumed? Is social media news more effective at causing action? Does news on traditional media lead to more contemplation, with print readers being most contemplative?

The Conversation, a not-for-profit media written by scholars and academics, identified three types of bias on social media:

  1. Bias in the brain
  • Preference for simpler information to avoid overload
  1. Social bias
  • Influence from peers on how we react to information
  1. Machine bias
  • Tendency of social platforms to promote high-engagement information

While social platforms pledge to crack down on “fake news” and critically misleading content, these three biases only show signs of growing.

Recent research by NewsGuard indicates that the amount and ratio of engagement on posts sourced from unreliable “red” sites is increasing in relation to that of reliable “green” sites. The 9 rating criteria, centered on transparency and credibility, are available here.

This may be caused by the election. Only time will tell.

But while many conclusions about bias of information on social media have been made generally, we have few public sources of thorough and specific examples of how information is bent. This area needs more rigorous investigation.


While engagement with untrustworthy content on social media is growing, It’s difficult to understand how each and every individual reacts to and, perhaps, spreads information. This comes down to what sources people trust. While many admit to sourcing their information from the internet and social media, what attitude do they have towards the different types? 

The Edelman Trust barometer regularly gauges public trust in government, business, various kinds of media, etc., across the world. This year, as many might have predicted, trust in information sources is at an all-time low.

It should come as no surprise that trust in each actor varies across party lines in the United States, as “division” has become the word of the day, mentioned both by Donald Trump in his election night victory speech in 2016 and by Joseph Biden in his recent inaugural speech.

Trust in journalists shows the largest trust gap of a staggering 42, almost half of the scale. As a PR professional whose work is based on the premise that the media is a preferred and trusted source of information, this stark contrast should make you think twice about how to craft a communications plan that can successfully reach both red and blue voters.

Yet, there is a glimmer of hope amidst the rancour. “My employer” is more trusted across the world than businesses, government, the media, NGOs and anybody else. Perhaps this is thanks to the close relationship between employers and employees, which has grown more important during the pandemic.

To download the full Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 report (pdf), click here. The article can be viewed on the Edelman website at https://www.edelman.com/trust/2021-trust-barometer.

What it means for comms practitioners

Communications practitioners stand in the middle of the public and information sources, including but not limited to businesses, NGOs, politicians, governmental bodies, and more. We all have an anecdote or two about encountering a different reception than expected. 

Mine is from a digital ad campaign for a Japanese electronics maker. We ran ads for a contest to win a cutting-edge product, whose details, including product name, were not yet made public. The campaign earned a lot of engagement on Facebook ― but not the right kind. Comments like “this is a Chinese product that’s going to steal your data” and “this is a scam” stood out.

The client was a start up connected to a respected and long-established Japanese firm, yet because the company name was so unfamiliar and the product name was omitted, Facebook users filled in information blanks with anti-China rhetoric they had been hearing in the news to draw erroneous conclusions.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

No matter how we responded in the comments, similar comments popped up throughout the campaign. ( Like Huawei, I can only imagine the drone manufacturer DJI has met with much worse after being included on the Department of Commerce’s Entity List late last year.) The lesson here is that contests are best held after you’ve established a little bit of awareness.

While my example is merely an instance of a digital campaign being tinged by popular paranoia, it is also a clear indicator of how a void of information and touchpoints will lead consumers to fill information gaps with what they “know” to be true. Even larger companies are affected by this.

This is just another reason supporting proactive and strategic communication ― they are crucial to even getting off on the right foot with most consumers.

Some think that misinterpretation of messaging is inevitable. But any proper communications strategy is based on research about audiences from primary and secondary sources that enable you to anticipate their biases and psychosocial tendencies to craft an effective message with minimal confusion. One example of this is Georgetown University’s “RACE model” for strategic communication:

Some have given up hope on proactive control of their image, namely Elon Musk, who famously disbanded his entire PR team last year, preferring to close the door to traditional media and instead tweet to the public directly. Well, that same man is now attempting to hire an “Energy Customer Support Specialist,” a metaphorical fire engine, i.e. someone who would tackle the problems that pop up around his social media presence on a regular basis. 

From the perspective of a comms professional, this is a rather ineffectual tactic as it attempts to sweep up messes in post that a properly functioning communications team could have prevented. But Elon is a serial entrepreneur at heart, so we wait on the sidelines and see if this new venture will end in success or confirm that the core of communications strategy is ultimately based on innate human traits, and as such not swayed largely by technological advancement.

I’d love to hear how you’ve been met with surprising reactions in your comms activities, how you source and vet information, your opinion on Musk’s decision, or anything else in the comments below.

It’s the cool kid at school, the ‘woke’ liberal arts professor: How really knowing social media will make it work for you.

Matthew Stover and I first met in 2018 on Zoom. From my Tokyo home, I worked with him, located in Florida, via the usual remote collaboration tools to whip up a communications plan for Amazon’s new campus, which was big in the news at the time. The chance to learn with other PR professionals across the ocean was one of my favorite things about learning online in the Master’s of Public Relations and Corporate Communications program at Georgetown University.

Matthew started Stover Creative Agency immediately after our May 2019 graduation, where we met in person for the first time. His agency currently provides strategic social media and public relations content for clients throughout the US and Europe. In the meantime, the United States has gone through a whirlwind of change in the social media industry.

So naturally, I had to pick his brain for his best tips and the latest trends in social media.

Tell us about what kind of projects you are working on and how your career has developed up to now.

Stover Creative Agency primarily works with nonprofits, institutions, and universities to amplify their work in a digital space.  We’ve been fortunate to do social media work with London Business School by communicating the launch of their programs centered around Women leadership and LGBTQ+ leadership.  My team is also doing PR and social media work for the exciting launch of a revolutionary drone startup that aims to keep first responders safe.    Outside of smaller clients, we are also doing PR for Imagine Symphony Live, a project that hopes to build the next generation of orchestral music lovers. 

Even though my public relations career started in Miami over 15 years ago, I quickly felt a deeper connection to social media while studying at Georgetown.  I feel that social media is still the best avenue to have great engaging relationships with your target audiences. 

The ‘Creative’ part of my company refers to the ability to create content primarily in a digital space. As you know, I’m a passionate photographer so starting this company was a way for me to capitalize on those skills and leverage my public relations experience in one entity. 

As a social media strategist, how have you seen communication strategy changing as the pandemic develops?

I’ve seen a significant uptick in business.  More people are indoors and spending time on their phones and computers.  They’re spending more time on social media and therefore, want to make sure they are communicating to their audience.  Clients want more content so we’ve had to be creative in what we post.

What are your areas of strength in social media planning? Tell us about some of your particularly successful campaigns or projects. 

My social media planning relies heavily on my public relations background. At the end of the day, I ask myself the following questions: 

  • What is the client trying to communicate?
  • Who are their key publics?
  • What platforms are they on?
  • What does the key public need to hear to ENGAGE with my client?

Once these questions are answered, I have a much better understanding of a way forward.  Unless the client wants something quick and easy, I usually have time to do research on the client, their industry, their competitors, past promotions.  The research leads me to establish a social media goal, objectives, and strategies to make the most impact on the client’s needs. 

With London Business School, they really wanted to get participants into their Women In Leadership program.  We decided the best way to do that would be to communicate on behalf of some of the professors rather than communicate heavily from the institution itself.  I learned at Georgetown that current research indicates key publics react favorably to experts rather than the leaders to the organizations.  As a result of this strategy, the program had 39 participants when they expected just 20. 

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the holy trinity of social media. If you had to advise a client on how to best use each social media in less than 6 words, what would you tell them?

I like to personify those platforms: 

  • Twitter – A ‘woke’ liberal arts professor
  • Facebook – The fun aunt of the family
  • Instagram – The cool kid at school

What are some social media accounts you think are killing it?

I’m absolutely fascinated with the Twitter accounts of Wendy’s, Chick Fil-A and Popeye’s.  These are major brands but they tweet like they’re your rowdy neighbor from down the street. 

As a result, their engagement is sky high.

This tells you a few things:
1.  They have an incredible understanding of their key publics.
2.  They’re using social media for its ideal purpose: spur conversation and engagement.

All too often, I see so many organizations stifle their voice on social media because they feel they communicate with the same tone as a fundraising letter to a million-dollar donor. If they are a professor, they tweet like they’re writing the abstract for peer-reviewed research.

It’s ok to be slightly informal.  Social media responds to authenticity.  

Describe some problems you encounter often with your clients. How are they failing to achieve best engagement?

When I work with professors, they’re absolutely terrified of saying the wrong thing.  Sometimes, it really gets in the way of being authentic.  They are extremely risk-averse in what they say on social media.

Another common problem is the strategy of creating content.  Organizations think they have to create content every day rather than creating a week or a month’s worth of content all at once and using a social media scheduling tool like Hootsuite to automatically post that content. 

What do you see happening in the next year in social media or content marketing strategy? How can we be best prepared to leverage it?

I still see a path forward for influencers: especially micro- and nano influencers. I feel it’s an underutilized strategy for startups, nonprofits, and small businesses. 

Similar to establishing a relationship with journalists, it helps to establish a relationship with influencers. 

Any words of encouragement for budding communications professionals? What should they do to set themselves up for success?

That’s a difficult one.

I’ve noticed the biggest barrier to my success has been me.  I often get in my own way by: 

  • Doubting myself 
  • Overthinking problems and solutions 
  • Getting distracted 
  • Obsessing over the wrong things

Having self-awareness of your thought processes can really put you on a different footing. 

Matthew Stover

Matthew Stover is a public relations and social media professional based in the sunny beach town of Ft. Pierce, Florida. He started Stover Creative Agency in 2019 to help amplify the work of nonprofit organizations, institutions, universities, and thought leaders. Matthew is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Master’s of Public Relations and Corporate Communications program. stovercreative.agency

There’s more to brand rivalries than meets the eye

Jab, jab, block, right hook — duck. Is it a boxing match?

No, it’s a communications campaign and you’ve got a front-row seat. For Americans, hearing companies snipe and jab at each other is a daily occurrence.

Verizon vs. AT&T, Apple vs. Microsoft (and vice versa), Wendy’s versus McDonald’s — the list is endless. As consumers, we may enjoy in some light schadenfreude as the highly produced and jam-packed advertisements flit by, but are they actually working?

The millennials have spoken

A quick survey of millennial friends (sorry- most of my friends are millennials) revealed that the answer is not so simple.

With such a wide array of views on brand rivalry, it’s surprising that companies are still choosing this technique. In recent years, Coca Cola vs. Pepsi, Nike vs. Adidas and McDonald’s vs. Burger King stand out in consumers’ memory.

What’s surprising is consumers recognize rivalries even among brands, such as Nike and Adidas who mostly have it out on the pitch, that avoid direct confrontation, in addition to the overt rivalries between social media provokers like Burger King and Chick-fil-A.

Burger King’s tweets have been gloves off, even offering to honor a discount promotion offered by McDonalds and lead the consumer to the closest Burger King instead.

If that’s not a good application of mapping software for brand rivalry, I don’t know what is.

But respondents’ opinions on what makes a convincing message are highly subjective. While some respondents preferred “data driven statements,” others liked “playful brand communication,” the cleverness of the campaign and “humbling acknowledgment of their rival.” Many agreed that the messages should be honest and give accurate insight about how competing products differ.

Survey: https://surveymonkey.com/results/SM-6LCK5ZPG7 (Respondents=15)

The takeaway from all of this is that any brand considering brand rivalry style of communication should make it appropriate for the TPO, their brand image and industry. Is it just me, or have we seen a drop in overt brand rivalry since the start of the pandemic?

It seems that there are bigger fish to fry in the advertising world.

Standard practice in the U.S. is tentatively adopted in Japan

Momotaro (Peach Boy) Goes to Devil Island by Yoshitoshi (1839 - 1892)
Original Yoshitoshi (1839 – 1892) Japanese Woodblock Print
Momotaro (Peach Boy) Goes to Devil Island

In Japan, comparative advertising has been historically avoided due to business practices. Overt comparison is distasteful and advertising agencies haven’t necessarily limited themselves to representing only only client in each industry, as is popular in the U.S. (Hence the creation of “conflict shops,” the creation of separate agency brands to give competing clients different representation)

In 1987, the Japan Fair Trade Commission loosened regulations and established three rules for comparative advertisements, thereby effectively acknowledging and allowing them in Japan.

While outright comparison is still largely taboo in Japanese culture, indirect comparison can be found if observing closely. One good example is the 2017 ad campaign for Pepsi (whom you might remember as launching the “Pepsi Challenge” during the Cola Wars period of 1970s -1980s) themed on the traditional fairy tale “Momotarou (Peach boy).”

It is often said that comparative advertisements are the weapon of the underdog — and in this case Pepsi embraced that image.

Momotarou is a boy born from a peach who has adventures with various animals until finally visiting demon island and slaying the powerful demon. While tapping into the image of Pepsi as a scruffy underdog (Momotarou) the 5-TV-commercial series drums up the viewer’s sense of righteousness and excitement with movie-like production values and the actor Shun Oguri.

Though Coca Cola never enters the picture directly, anyone with prior knowledge of the Momotarou legend and the red demon defeated in the end will have no difficulty connecting this ad campaign to the battle in the real-world soda industry.

Pepsi took it a step further by making the commercial itself “user generated content” by casting Pepsi drinkers in the final episode.

The success of this commercial can be attributed to its incorporation of the three elements of successful brand rivalry (attack ad) content and adaption to Japanese communication culture: high context, low (direct) confrontation.

Source: Slideshare by Dirk Herbert, Chief Strategy Officer for Dentsu Aegis Network U.S.

Does brand rivalry really exist in Japan?

During a short presentation on U.S. brand rivalry, Japanese PR experts in my professional circle agreed that indeed the brand rivalries of the U.S. were a form of communication in and of themselves, effective at leaving strong impressions. But when it came to Japanese brands, brand rivalry is an unpopular style, they emphasized

Even comparative advertisement, as noted above, wasn’t clearly allowed until 1987, after so-called “external pressure” 外圧 from foreign brands looking to apply the technique to the Japanese market.

But is it really true that Japanese brands don’t leverage antagonism to make their own brands shine? I posed the question to my Japanese colleagues.

Example 1: In-group rivalry

Best exemplified by idol groups like AKB48, Nogizaka 46 and Kanjani 8, idol groups are the perfect place for building engagement between fans via the rivalry of members. AKB48 and Nogizaka 46 perfect this by holding annual “elections” where “centers” (leaderes) are elected, resulting in tearful and grateful acceptance speeches.

Example 2: Corporate monologue

Unlike dialogues in Western culture, Japanese debates are traditionally a long monologue in which the speaker expresses a series of opinions, explains Professor Yasushi Ogasawara of Meiji University.

Certain types of advertisements by Japanese companies can be categorized as this monologue-type of debate. An example from the Nihon Keizai Shimbun:

Advertisement by Iwatani Corporation published in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun calling on readers to move the world with hydrogen.

In this example, advertiser Iwatani asks the reader to question if the human race has the energy to power the next 100 years, then espouses the benefits of hydrogen: it doesn’t dry up, it can be used to power cars and send people to the moon, etc. It is a monologue against society’s current energy choices.

Example 3: Domestically producedappeal

The Japanese consumer considers “made in Japan” to be a guarantee of quality, and for no small reason. Standards for quality are high in Japan, and Japanese manufacturers work hard to meet them. As more imported goods, especially food, enters the Japanese market, Japanese manufacturers have to fight off foreign brands sold at cheaper prices.

One standard approach is the “made in Japan” appeal. Take for example, this advertisement created by Japan Agriculture (JA), the huge cooperative that buys and helps distribute the products of small-scale farmers and other food producers. (For more about how JA works, see this great blog post on Hackerfarm)

It superimposes a white monologue of text over a sukiyaki pot filled with presumably domestic ingredients. A summary translation of the text follows.

Japanese people tend to purchase domestic only when they are worried for their safety

Food problems are prominent in the news now. Yet while you might check production area from time to time, most of the time you are probably purchasing the cheapest choice, imported from abroad. Actually, more than half of our food is imported from abroad. The more we choose imported food, the more our food self-sufficiency rate drops. To prevent this problem, we all need to purchase more domestic ingredients — after all, Japan is blessed with the environment to grow many different delicious ingredients. JA Group will continue to strive to support local farming and communities so that it can bring safe domestic ingredients to consumers.”

My Japanese colleagues were put aback by this example. “It’s just encouraging consumers to support their own country’s products — it’s not necessarily nationalistic or rivalry,” one man commented.

But look closely, and you can see how the advertisement lays out the pros and cons of the products on both sides of the dichotomy of domestic v. foreign, while also calling on the three key elements for a good attack ad: rational, emotional, and cultural. Sure, the ad doesn’t include an overt comparison of any product in particular, but it does acknowledge the antagonism of domestic and foreign-produced products, while encouraging the false impression that all foreign-produced products are less safe than those that are domestic-produced.

Ad campaigns and messaging plans are merely an extension of the varied rhetorical devices developed over centuries of human interaction, taking advantage of the cultural, emotional and rational triggers inherent to us humans. Take a closer look at the messaging around you and you’ll find there is more than meets the eye.

Feel free to comment or message me with your realizations and thoughts about ads, messaging, and rhetorical tactics in the public sphere!

So you’ve mastered Instagram? Gaga, Selena, and John have some tips for you

Say what you like, Instagram has reached unforeseen heights in terms of users and user engagement. Its users make up nearly 13% of the world’s population. You might scrunch your nose at the exorbitant amounts earned by influencers such as Kim Kardashian and others, but Instagram’s influence over a certain demographic is undeniable.

But even as the platform matures, its influencers aren’t necessarily resting on their laurels. Take Selena Gomez, queen of the millennial pop ballad. Her most recent music video release “Past Life” is a cute nod to the “new normal.” Posted on Instagram, and filmed on Instagram Live, the video simultaneously shows us even celebrities are “working from home” while also giving fans a prominent part in the production.

Who do you keep looking at off screen, Selena? What’s that just out your window, Trevor?

You’d be right to think the audio is overlayed from a professional recording session. Neither Instagram Live, Zoom or other live streaming services can completely eliminate lag.

Jacob Collier, hailed as a multi-instrumentalist wunderkind, has gained some attention lately for seemingly having devised a work-around for lag when live streaming. Apparently this is a sort of holy grail for the music industry as it struggles to find ways to reproduce the live experience digitally.

You know how awkward it is when you talk over someone due to lag? Well imagine that on a mega-celebrity diva scale. Yeah, some innovation is needed. Especially as Jacob Collier is conducting weekly Instagram Live sessions. That would get awkward very quickly.

But that’s not all. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez recently opened up their Instagram accounts for takeovers by anti-racist leaders and organizations.

While some might doubt the sincerity of their motivations, these celebrities have given control of a very powerful part of their personal brand over to a cause they believe in. That, in and of itself, means something.

At the end of the day, social media is a necessary evil, becoming more and more necessary as we are are forced to stay distant from each other. Any smart communicator would be wise to keep an eye on social media innovators, and hey, maybe even make some bold moves of your own.

*Note: I’m sure I’ve missed some great examples of innovative social media use. Feel free to tip me off via my contact page. I’m always looking for more inspiration.