Buzz: The latest talk.

Back to Contents of Issue: June 2004


Making News Work for You in Japan.

by Joseph Schmidt

The key to success in PR in Japan is to have a good story. If you do not have one, you need to create one. Either way, you need something to give to the media. Relationships with reporters -- whether you are in Tokyo, New York, or Mumbai -- will get you nowhere unless there is something in it for them.

I advise clients not to make too much of local culture or protocol. While culture matters, it is peripheral to knowing one's industry, target audience and media landscape.

All communications must be in Japanese, of course.

A top editor at a leading technology publication once said to me: "I'm not interested in your products. They're boring. They're like everyone else's. Tell me something interesting, like how your CEO would sell Internet software to the Japanese government." Now there's a story, if not a book.

PR in Japan
What's different about doing PR in Japan? Again, the Japanese media is not that different from the Western media. Reporters want news, not relationships.

If the Japanese media -- especially the business press -- is different, it is in its structure, which is monolithic and regimented. The numbers are incredible. The top five news dailies in Japan are read by close to 30 million people, out of a population of 127 million. This is a per capita readership of almost 25 percent, which is by far the largest in the world. Per capita readership of the top five dailies in the UK is less than one percent, and in the US, it is even smaller.

Among the business press, the Nikkei Shimbun, a business daily with 3 million readers, has the largest circulation of any business newspaper in the world. (By contrast, The Wall Street Journal has a readership of 2 million.) The Nikkei holds a virtually unassailable position as a purveyor of business news in Japan. Getting coverage in the Nikkei requires good information, creativity and sound tactics.

Selecting an agency
There's no point paying for agencies with fancy glossies when all you need is a few write-ups. Make sure the agency has experience in your industry, less for media contacts than for industry knowledge. The agency should know the competitive dynamics of your industry -- what's hot and where it's going. They should know your business. This is essential if they are going to tell stories about you.

Going global
Should global companies choose a global agency? I don't think an agency has to be "global" per se, though it certainly helps to have native Japanese speakers with global experience and strong English skills, especially if they need to access content that is in English, or if they need to work with visiting executives. Also, if you need to report the results of your PR back to a corporate office in English, then you should definitely go with an agency that has native English writers -- and good ones at that. You do not want to have to personally edit reports you are paying a lot of money for.

If there is a chance you may expand your PR activities into other markets in Asia or elsewhere, then you probably should look into global agencies. You want your message to be consistent all over the world.@

Joseph Schmidt is managing director of Text 100 Japan, a global technology public relations consultancy. He has over 15 years of technology PR and marketing experience in the US and Japan, having worked with many leading multinational technology companies.

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