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。

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