Phil Carpenter, Executive Vice President at PAN Communications, sits down with one of PAN’s global partners, Inoue Public Relations. Inoue has been a pioneer in Japan’s public relations industry and their clients range from Fortune 500 market leaders to ambitious startups in the IT, healthcare, automotive, aviation, consumer, financial and other sectors. Phil and Director Mike Litwin discuss some of the major differences in B2B technology communications between U.S. and Japan, including: tech PR, media relations, integrated marketing, and the challenges that American companies face trying to make their way over to the Japanese market.
1. What do you see as the biggest differences in B2B tech PR between the United States and Japan?
One big difference would be the reliance on contributed content. Editors in Japan are reticent to accept content that they didn’t write, and so it’s often difficult to place here. What sometimes works is to have content written specifically for the publication, in coordination with the editor. Japanese publications are also much more interested in facts and news, and less on storytelling.
2. Some of our readers may already be operating in Asian markets like China or Korea. How does tech PR differ in Japan versus other Asian countries?
We are a Japan focused agency, but my understanding is that Japan and Korea are a little more similar than Japan and China. I believe that ‘pay-to-play’ still exists in the China market for example, whereas here that approach is basically taboo. Also, China has been much faster to adopt online video and social media than Japan.
3. In the U.S., there is currently a strong emphasis on integrated marketing and PR programs. Is this similar in Japan?
Increasingly yes, but most independent agencies aren’t set up like that. In that sense, Japan is, as a market, more than a few years behind the U.S. and Europe. However, as more and more foreign companies enter the market wanting and expecting an integrated approach, it is inevitable that things will change. Increasingly, Japanese mid-sized companies are realizing they have to be more global, and this is playing a part in shifting attitudes and work styles.
4. How do you think the agency landscape differs in Japan from that of the United States?
Most U.S. agencies these days are multi-discipline, offering a range of services from PR through design, digital marketing and content creation. Japanese agencies tend to focus more on media relations and spend more time on localization rather than creation of content. While major players like Dentsu will have subsidiaries or groups who provide those services, independent agencies often focus on one thing.
5. What would you say would be your top two to three PR tips for American tech companies looking to enter the Japanese market?
Remember that Japanese journalists are interested in the Japan story. Be clear about how your products or services benefits Japanese companies, with emphasis on the local message. It’s not enough to say, ‘we are the best, or better than the competition’, you have to paint a picture that demonstrates not just why your product or service should be adopted, but also how.
Japanese companies are often very reluctant to give endorsements, or to talk about their service providers, making local customer stories and case studies very hard to secure. Nevertheless, the right story, or the right endorsement from the right brand, can help your PR message to truly cut through. Endorsements from Japanese companies are, of course, more valuable than foreign companies, all things being equal.
6. What would you say would be the biggest PR mistake that you see American companies making when they enter Japan?
The most common mistake is simply trying to apply the same methods, techniques, messages and content that work in the U.S. to the Japanese market. We often talk about culture shock in Japan, and there really is a steep learning curve for companies looking to engage with the media here. The most successful foreign companies in Japan are the ones who truly commit, localize and collaborate with, rather than dictate to, their local offices/agencies.
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