Edelman Japan KK (www.edelman.jp) does just that. One of the newest entrants in the Japanese market, Edelman Japan has gotten off to a solid start since it was established in May. By the end of its first full year next June, the company is confident of reaching $1.5 million in sales, according to Robert Pickard, representative director and president for North Asia.
Pickard attributes Edelman’s promising start to a number of factors: an experienced and committed team, the fact that Edelman – as a global PR firm that is not owned by an advertising conglomerate – has the freedom to build long-term relationships and strategies without having to make short-term profits to satisfy stockholders.
Edelman Japan has already built up an impressive clientele list that includes Nissan, Microsoft, Boston Scientific, Johnson & Johnson, Nomura Securities, Pfizer Japan Inc, and Tyco Electronics Raychem KK, among others.
Born in Toronto, Pickard graduated from Queen’s University with a degree in political science. In the 1980s, he served on the staff of senior Canadian cabinet ministers, including a stint as speechwriter for former Prime Minister Joe Clark. Pickard has been in the PR business since 1990, working for firms such as Environics Communications (which he co-founded in 1994), Hill and Knowlton Canada, before joining Edelman in 2002 as managing director for Korea. Under his direction, the office was named “Consultancy of the Year” at the 2004 Asia-Pacific Awards.
Japan Today catches up with Pickard at his office in Toranomon to hear more about the PR business.
How come Edelman didn’t set up a company in Japan before this year?
We’ve tried different approaches to the market before. We’ve had past relationships with affiliates, but with the economy finally emerging from a long torpor, we felt it was time to come in and build a company here not through acquisition but with our own hands.
How did you go?
Good. Because our name is well known in the industry, we were able to attract a lot of talent from the market. I hired people who have years of experience in PR and relationships with Japanese clients. Right now, we have 13 staff. I plan to have 18 by the end of March. We’re the fastest-growing international PR firm in Japan now.
How is your first year shaping up?
By the end of our first full year next June, we expect to have $1.5 million in revenues and 18 employees. The first six months have been tremendous. We have two foundation clients that have really helped us to get going quickly – Microsoft and Nissan. We are ideally placed for them: we can tell a world company’s story in Japan or tell a Japanese company’s story around the world.
How much autonomy do you get from the Chicago HQ?
It’s a family business, so I don’t have to go through a lot of corporate red tape. I know the management quite well. The founder, Daniel Edelman, is still very active at 85. His son Richard runs the business and they have both been over here to lend their personal support.
What are Edelman’s strengths?
Edelman is the only global firm not traded on the stock market, so it gives us real freedom to focus on building long-term client relationships instead of being bound by the short-term exigencies of dealing with impatient shareholders.
Second, we have a strong global network and many of our clients for a long time have wanted to have PR solutions in Japan from a company they can trust. That’s why they came to us; they want a more unified, integrated approach.
What is your approach to PR?
Some firms offer the more traditional approach which is based on press releases and simple publicity of events. Others offer the ability to come up with an English language communications plan but lack the ability to take the message to the Japanese media. Our clients want the best blend of these two approaches.
There is a massive demand in the marketplace for PR to be practiced in a more advanced form. That’s why we have had a lot of interest in our new business. Clients know we are trying to aim at services like corporate social responsibility consulting, reputation management, word-of-mouth communications. It should be a given that every PR firm knows how to organize a press conference. The question is what you can do beyond that.
Since most major companies have their own PR desk, why do they need a company like Edelman?
A lot of companies value the objective perspective that we can bring. In those big companies, the PR people become subjective. They need someone who can see their communications situation the way that it really is from a distance and then be able to come in with smart recommendations.
All of the big Japanese companies know their growth in the future is going to be export-driven because of Japan’s demographics. Given the rotational system of a big Japanese company, people do terms overseas and they see the centrality and value of PR in helping to conquer export markets. As they come back to their Tokyo HQ, a lot of that thinking comes back with them. So with younger CEOs, the PR office is not so much in the corner but closer to the seat of power.
What are some characteristics that are unique to the Japanese market?
In the U.S., Australia, Canada or Europe, PR people will pick up the phone and pitch something to a journalist. Here in Japan, the telephone is used as a scheduling device to arrange for the face-to-face meeting. Speed is different, too. It’s more one step at a time, whereas in America, it can be far more pushy. Some would call that a more direct approach.
News release formats and the distribution methodology are different. Not every journalist here has an email address and the fax is still widely used in Japan. I did PR in New York for many years and I had a database with a quarter of a million journalists on my desktop. I would forever deal with them by email and never meet many of them.
What about crisis management?
There is growing awareness of the need to have a crisis management plan in place. We’ve identified this clearly as one area where there is going to be tremendous revenue potential. There are still many Japanese companies that have not done much about it. They have no manual and there has been no simulation – we provide both services.
What do you think of the practice of top execs bowing and apologizing at press conferences?
That is the culturally appropriate thing to do because a company should not cover up the mistake. It’s far better to come out publicly, admit your mistake and do your bow rather than wait for media to bring it out. A lot of companies think it is counterproductive to come out and advertise what it is that you’ve done wrong by apologizing. In these days of blogs, the truth is going to come out anyway. We call this the “paradox of transparency.”
What should a potential client look for in choosing a PR company?
A prospective client should look at the ability of the PR company to provide them with consulting, to be an idea factory, to proactively suggest new ways of doing things, and to fearlessly give them advice even if it is not popular.
How did you market yourself?
The first thing I did when I came to Japan was give a speech at a conference to 300 senior Japanese executives on corporate social responsibility. We’ve spoken at the ACCJ, too. Getting our website up and running gave us a boost. One of the most visited parts of the website is our client page.
How fast can you grow with your limited number of staff?
We don’t want to grow so fast that we sacrifice quality. Actually, rejection of business is a way to build a reputation. I have told a lot of potential clients, “I’m sorry, we aren’t ready to handle your business at this time because we are committed to quality.” We want to be seen to be the quality leader. If they come back a year from now and we are still saying that, then they can correctly infer that we are not managing the company well. But if they come back in a few months, we will be ready with our team in place.
What sort of person makes a good PR specialist?
In job interviews, a lot of people will say: “I’m good at PR because I’m friendly and good at relating to people.” You need much more than that, though. You need the ability to look at the complexity of a client’s business and distill it to a simple set of messages that can be communicated through multiple channels over a sustained period of time.
What is your management style?
I have been hands-on in the early days of the business because that ensures quality standards. As that becomes habit-forming, I can delegate more. The idea is to have a horizontal matrix management style where people report according to clients’ needs and not the needs of the hierarchy.
What is a typical day for you?
I show up between 8:30 and 9 a.m. I have to deal with emails first, at least 100 from the U.S. every morning.
What was it like in the days before email?
I became an account executive in 1991 and I did not have a cell phone. We used to line up at the fax machine. Telexes were still being used.
What do you see as your main responsibility?
I am the chief money officer, chief recruitment officer and chief training officer.
Do you work on weekends?
Usually half a day on most Saturdays.
How’s your Japanese?
I am learning as quickly as I can. I’m grateful that my colleagues support me.
How do you like to relax?
My main hobbies are to travel and try new restaurants. I am building a digital archive of American radio episodes from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s and I also collect antique radios.
What frustrates you most in business?
Acceptance of mediocrity as something we should expect or get used to – that frustrates me. Our whole vision is to be the best we can be. We don’t want to settle for just average.