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Insights from Our Partner in Japan

Posted on: September 30th, 2011 by: Tom Groff

It’s a small world after all – but that doesn’t mean it’s a simple one.

For many companies, increasing globalization has brought with it increasing complexities of language and culture. Having people on the ground who are part of the culture in foreign markets is essential.

That’s why we’re pleased to bring you today’s post from TrainTracks Inc., our strategic marketing communications partner in Japan. As a fellow member of IPREX, a global network of independent public relations agencies, TrainTracks helps us understand and connect with audiences in a key Asian market.

Here are some recent insights from Ron Huber, a TrainTracks director.

Japan’s Media Landscape

It’s been more than six months since the Great East Japan Earthquake. For the many victims of the disaster and the regions directly affected, the effects will continue to be felt for years. For the rest of the country, many struggles still remain, but for many businesses in Japan, the economic outlook appears more positive than initially expected. The general social atmosphere here has largely returned to its peculiar version of normalcy, and for international and global businesses exporting goods and services to Japan the high yen has created an ideal opportunity to grow their market share.

Due in part perhaps to this high yen, but more so because of our growing number of global PR partners, we at TrainTracks have seen a measurable increase in multinational client work. For new clients one of the most important tasks for us is always highlighting the unique characteristics of Japanese media. Every domestic market around the world will of course have key differences when dealing with the media, but Japan is the second-largest advertising and communications market in the world. Therefore it is especially important to recognize and adapt to these idiosyncrasies when planning your communications strategy for Japan.

There are two main aspects to the media landscape in Japan, the first being the way that journalists operate and the second being the ways each specific medium (newspapers, television, magazines, etc.) influence society. For part one of this two-part series let us have a look at the way journalists operate.

Just as with any country, journalists in Japan have their own particular way of doing business. The first aspect of this that our global clients are often exposed to when trying to attract media coverage is that there is tremendous pressure on the journalists to focus on domestic companies. To get past this as a foreign business, you need to localize the news and make the domestic relevance obvious to the target audience. This may involve something as simple as explaining how Japanese investors can utilize the information, but more often you need to explicitly explain how the news will impact Japanese businesses or the economy, even if it seems obvious.

Japanese journalists prefer in-person interviews, whether with the corporate spokesperson or with the agency representative. This means additional time, effort and costs that could be mitigated by phone interviews in markets where that is acceptable or the norm. On top of that most journalists will only do interviews in Japanese – even if they do know some English. In addition the media still prefers Japanese spokespeople even if a professional interpreter is used, so having a local spokesperson is crucial. Top tier executives like CEOs and CTOs from overseas are still welcomed and relatively easy to set up media interviews with, but unless they are willing to spend one week in Japan every month you are going to be missing out on many PR opportunities.

Finally, reporters here do not write articles solely based on press releases as often as they seem to do in other markets, and this is especially true when it comes to the most influential media. While this may also seem obvious to some, reporters like to find their own perspectives and almost always look for objective information based on their own research. This also means that if a press release relies on statistics or other figures, reporters here will often require them to be backed up by an independent third party before including them in an article. Another result of this tendency is that bylined articles (articles prepared by corporations but published as news) are quite uncommon in Japan.

Next month we will look at the media landscape from a publication and market perspective.


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