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

Guests:

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.

「かゆいところに手が届く」クライアントコミュニケーションこそがプロジェクトの成功を決める

パンデミックな今に通用するマーケティングコミュニケーション広報のコツとは?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

「垣根のない世界。その架け橋」それが東京・渋谷でグローバルに働く二人の目指すビジョン。日本参入、リブランディングや新プロダクトローンチなども隔たりが深い広報・広告・マーケティングなどの垣根に遭遇するタイミングだろう。

統合型コミュニケーションやデザインでこそ、うまく超えたいもの。パンデミックの最中、コミュニケーションの企画を成功裏に収めるのは難しくなってきたことはどの分野の企業も実感しているところでしょう。

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。

ご一読ください。


パンデミック発生からもう2年が経ち、日本国内でB2Bのコミュニケーション活動をしている浅野さんは肌で感じた変化はありましたか?

[浅野]コロナで一定の変化はありました。具体的には、記者会見やラウンドテーブルがオフラインからオンラインへ移行したことや、大規模なイベントが中止になり、予定していた消費者とのコミュニケーションチャネルが活用できなくなった、といった変化がありました。そのため、従来の活動手法や考え方を一部改める必要がありました。

その一方でマーケティングコミュニケーションの「顧客や消費者との関係性をいかにして構築し、持続させるか」という根本的な目的はこれまでと変わらないため、仕事の内容に大きな変化はなかったように感じています。

自分のスキルを新しい分野で伸ばしたりする必要性を感じていますか?

[浅野]コロナとは関係のない話なのですが、PR(広報)という限られた視点からだけでなく、営業やマーケター、ビジネスディベロッパーといった多角的な視点からコミュニケーション全体を俯瞰できる存在にならなければと感じています。

これは代理店に在籍していた頃から感じていたことなのですが、日本のコミュニケーション業界では、マーケティングや広告、PR、インサイドセールス、ブランディングが業務ごとにサイロ化しています。

そのせいで、本来であれば商品やサービスを訴求するために何をするかを横断的に議論し、幅広い選択肢の中から最善策を決定すべきタイミングで、それを実施できる人や会社、代理店が非常に少ない。広告は広告、PRはPR、デジタルマーケティングはデジタルマーケティングと、それぞれの立場からのみ意見やアイディアを主張しており、結果としてクライアントが望むコミュニケーションを実現できない、といったケースを多く見てきました。

そういった意味で、佐々木と創業したWONDERHOODSでは、マーケテイングコミュニケーションを俯瞰的に捉え、状況にあった無駄のない戦略の立案、遂行に寄与できるよう、自分たちのスキルや知見を柔軟に、そして幅広く伸ばしていきたいと考えています。

[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。

とにかく、ビジネスゴールの達成が難しくなるような状況に陥りやすいです。

貴社のウエブサイトから拝借した図ですが、ちょっと目を凝らしてみるといい意味でタコに見えますね。「タコ型」と呼んでしまってよいですか?

[佐々木]「タコ型」、面白く素敵な表現ですね!仰る通りです。最近では人材不足の影響もあり、思うようにプロフェッショナルを採用できないという声をよく聞きます。そんな時は採用を急ぎがちですが、そういうときにこそ、弊社のようにクライアントのチームメンバーとして動けるプロフェッショナルを頼っていただければと思います。内部にプロがいれば代理店それぞれの長所を活かしながらビジネスゴールの達成を目指せるので結果的に費用対効果の向上にも繋がると考えています。

クライアントと関係構築するうえでもっとも重要と感じる3つのポイントを挙げるとしたら、なんでしょう?

[佐々木]基本的な事ですが、クライアントと適所で連絡を取ることが最も重要だと考えます。次いで、クライアントからの意見や要望のヒアリングとそれに基づいた弊社なりの見解を見出すこと。最後に結果を出すことだと思います。

[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。

この一年間でもっとも挑戦した事例をご紹介ください。どのような課題に直面し、どう工夫し乗り越えたのでしょうか。

[佐々木]創業30年以上になるフラワーショップのブランディングです。ブランディングに伴い、店舗、ロゴ、ツール類、ホームページ等を一からリブランディングし、従来のお客様に加え、新たな年齢層(20代〜30代)やエリアからのお客様の獲得を目指しました。

直面した課題で最も大きかったのは、創業30年以上のなかで培ってきた企業理念やブランドイメージは崩さず、既存のお客様にも親しみを持ってもらいながら、新たなお客様へは新鮮で魅力的に見え、且つ既存のイメージとは変わった印象を持たせたい、という難易度の高いご要望をクライアントからいただいた事です。

ここで気をつけたのは、クライアントのご要望をお聞きしつつ、全てのご要望を安易に受け入れないということでした。お客様との相談に一番時間をかけ、企業理念、大切にしていること、現状の良い点、問題点をしっかりヒアリングすることで、まずは何から手をつけるべきなのか根本の問題点を洗い出し、本当に全体的にリブランディングする必要があるのか?という点すらも常に話し合い、進むべき方向性をクライアントと共に見定めました。

結果、『お客様に安心される高い技術力』を新たなブランディングイメージの随所に活かすことが決定しました。これは既存のお客様との関係性を築くのに大きく役立ったと自負しています。
またそのうえで、ロゴからホームページに至るまで、全てを1から作り直すリブラディングを実施しました。よって既存のお客様への信頼感は残しつつ、新たなお客様獲得へ繋がり、新たなお客様の中のリピーター率は80%以上という良い結果へつなげることができました

[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。

日本に進出したい、またコミュニケーション活動を強化したいと思っている日系または外資系企業やブランドに対するアドバイスは何かありますか?

[浅野]ローカルマーケット(日本)を理解する人や会社と組むことが最も重要だと私は考えています。メッセージングやブランディング、ポジショニングの失敗といった新規参入時のミスコミュニケーションは、そう簡単に払拭できるものではありません。

やる気がある時だからこそ、そういった人や会社の力を借り、また時間をかけて日本の市場に合ったコミュニケーションを実行すべきだと考えています。

なおここで注意が必要なのは、市場の事をよく分かっていると思って組んだ人が、実は何も分かっていなかった(素人同然だった)というケースが意外に多いことです。中には経歴は素晴らしいのに、蓋を開けてみるとどのプロジェクトも責任を負わず、携わっていただけ、という人も珍しくありません。そういった事態を避けるために、頼るべき人物を決める前にリファレンスチェックや過去の担当企業、担当サービス、(自分がリードした)実績を詳しくヒアリングするといった防止策を講じることをお勧めします。

Photo by Maranda Vandergriff on Unsplash

コミュニケーション(PRやマーケティング)のトレンドで特に気にしているものはありますか?なぜかも併せて説明してください。

[佐々木]回答になっていないかもしれませんが、一つのトレンドに絞らず、幅広く情報を取得するようにしています。例えば、新聞、ニュース、雑誌、SNSにあわせ、投資情報や身近な方々とのコミュニケーション、Pinterestのようなストック型のWEBサービスも気にしています。同じく、日本国内だけではなく、海外の媒体全般にも目を向けるよう心がけています。
新聞や雑誌、SNSのようなよく目にするメディア(テレビやインターネットのニュースや記事など)で得た情報とあわせて、身近な方々から直接聞ける『実際に身近で起こっていること』の両方の情報を集約し、今とこれから何をすべきか、に役立てています。

今後、独立を考えているコミュニケーションプロフェッショナルがいるでしょう。アドバイスを一つ二つお願いします。

[浅野]ありきたりな答えかもしれませんが、いい企業や製品、クライアントに出会うことに尽きると思います。そしてその場面場面で、お客様や同僚、チームの仲間と汗水を流し、共に成功体験を積み上げていけば、次に進むべき道が見つかるのではないでしょうか。


[佐々木]一番言えるのは、1人でできることは本当に限られているということ。何かを成し遂げていくためには誰かと協力し、同じ目標を見据えて、一緒に一歩ずつ前進していくことが最も重要だと考えています。そのために、適切なビジネス関係に繋がる距離感を保ちながら、しっかりとコミュニケーションを取ってチームメンバーとの良い関係性を築いていくことで、自ずと良い道筋が見えてくると思います。

[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。

気になった方はぜひ下記ウェブサイトご参照ください。

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

今回の語り手

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。

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.