This week our series on international PR will visit Japan. Tadahisa Kimura, General Manager at GlobalCom’s partner agency Kyodo Public Relations in Tokyo, informs about current trends in media and PR in Japan. Online and social media are becoming increasingly popular here, but traditional media like newspapers and TV still have the highest priority.

*The series is based on phone or face-to-face interviews and written input, therefore please excuse language mistakes which might reflect foreign language influences.

1. What is the latest trend (change) in PR you have identified in your region?

Kimura: First of all, we should mention that Japan’s major traditional media such as “Newspaper” and “TV” still remain relatively powerful and influential to the public, and the total number of newspaper subscriptions is still very high (e.g. Yomiuri daily: 10 mio., Asahi daily: 8 mio. as of August 2010), though it is decreasing slowly. However, online PR is definitely gaining priority year by year. We believe that initiating social media programs will become more and more important for both PR and AD agencies. Mixi (9.6 mio.)  and Twitter (10 mio. users in Japan) are 2 major social media and especially consumer related companies of any kind are organizing campaigns targeting these social media to promote their products proactively.

2. How does your agency react / handle / embrace this?

Kimura: In addition to our in-depth and longstanding relations to the established press and broadcast media Kyodo PR has established a dedicated WEB team for online news and campaigns more than 10 years ago and has strong relationship with online journalists. Our WEB team supports our clients’ online campaigns as well as our PR account teams. The WEB team contacts online journalists, bloggers and influencers to promote campaigns for our clients. We also support our clients’ official twitter accounts to establish connections with consumers.

3. Can you give a recent example from a project?

Kimura: As one of our social media measures, we have supported the PR activities of Kingston Technology, an international independent flash memory maker, for several years. We have organized “product sampling campaigns”, utilizing Kingston’s official Twitter account to promote their products and to increase user reviews from followers, which turned out to have a very positive result. Informative tweets on a regular basis boosted the campaign supporting the traditional press release distribution during the campaign period. We also monitored client related tweets to support Kingston’s dialogue with the users who re-tweeted in regards to the campaign.

We also handled inquiries from twitter users regarding the campaign. As a result of this entire campaign, the media coverage we achieved included 30 product reviews, 11 offline and 114 online media reports.

4. Are there PR practices in which you think your region differs from PR in other part of the world?

Kimura: First of all, “face to face meeting with journalists” are the most important part of PR activities in Japan, which seems to differ from other countries. Each department of major publications or broadcast stations receives more than 200 press releases a day for just 3 or 4 pages devoted to business related articles (in the national daily’s morning editions). And it is nearly as difficult to obtain publicity on their online news sites due to the limited space. Therefore the only approach that leads to success is to ask for “face to face meetings” or “follow-up calls” to be arranged by a local PR agency.

Despite the fact that press releases are usually distributed by means of both digital channels and traditional mail, follow-up contacts like this should be done by direct communication from a PR division or PR agent with the appropriate local media know-how.

Secondly, any company who wants to promote information to the Japanese media has to know Japan’s unique “press club system”. Disclosure of company’s official information is strictly regulated by procedure, date and time at each press club from the governmental press club to the IT communication press club. Each press club usually consists of major national dailies and broadcasting units. Due to the complicated procedures system, companies might miss the opportunities to deliver their news and information within the appropriate slot.

5. Can you describe common mistakes foreign companies make?

Kimura: Generally speaking, Japanese consumers care about product usability very much and often publish their feedback on review sites or forums. This does not only concern product quality, but also customer service. Due to the fact that not many Japanese people speak English, mistakes with product specifications or language translations may be seen as inadequate service quality. Therefore the localization of all kinds of material in Japan should be considered a “must” for quality products and services for companies entering the Japanese market. In many areas of business, domestic Japanese companies have already claimed their market share so that foreign companies would have to compete with them to claim a share for themselves. We therefore advise foreign companies to localize their marketing material and programs and to focus on their strengths compared to the domestic companies.

From the PR point of view, Japanese media love catchy words such as “the world’s biggest”, “Japan’s first” or “exclusive in Japan“ and so on. One more important point is that business in Japan is completely different from the one in China or Korea. Also media are different and foreign companies need a localized strategy for each country by cooperating with PR agencies like Kyodo PR, who offer PR services in all of these countries with experienced local PR experts.

6. What do clients from other markets need to keep in mind when they plan to do PR in your region?

Kimura: We think this interview has provided some insight into the specifics of Japanese media and PR practices. Can you imagine what is the best way to keep good relation with Japanese journalists? Most clients assume the Japanese way to do this is to go to Karaoke bars with colleagues or business partners. But seriously: as mentioned before we think “face to face meetings” are the gateway to establishing a strong relationship with journalists. The meetings don’t even have to be arranged by the client company – a PR agency can also do meetings for client, e.g. to support an important news that goes out as a press release at the same time. Nevertheless clients should demonstrate their dedication to the local market by initiating press meetings in person at least once a year.

Another important thing to consider is the detailed research that can be expected from both Japanese journalists and PR agencies. While Japanese journalists write news article based on press releases, especially journalists from newspapers will usually ask additional questions or call and send E-mails to confirm details and facts with the PR contact. In order to increase media exposure in Japan, foreign companies need to establish a local “press desk” to handle media inquiries. This can be handled by a company’s local PR division or outsourced to a PR agency. The key requirement for these press desks is the ability to communicate in Japanese and to provide answers to media inquiries very quickly and in the appropriate format expected locally.



Next week our PR series will visit Sweden. Read about recent trends and changes in PR as well as local PR specifics in the Land of mid summer. Learn why it doesn’t make much sense to announce news in June and July and why even brand names shouldn’t be spelled in capitals in press releases – “even if it hurt’s just write Ikea instead of IKEA”.


Tadahisa Kimura is Member of the Board and General Manager of overseas operation (exc. China) at Kyodo Public Relations. He joined Kyodo PR in 1990. He has been responsible for the success of a large number of projects such as PR programs for foreign governments as well as PR programs for national and international companies from different industries. Kimura-san commands excellent and reliable relationships with the press, especially with business news departments of newspapers, news departments and business magazines in Japan. He is a renowned expert in media consultation for corporate branding including IR and M&A. His education includes university studies abroad – including Germany – and he speaks English and German.