'No comment' no longer an option for Japanese companies: Finsbury

WPP-owned PR agency sees opportunity to help Japanese brands operate in an increasingly complex world.

Finsbury CEO Michael Gross
Finsbury CEO Michael Gross

TOKYO: Finsbury, a strategic communications agency under WPP, opened for business in Japan this week with a view to helping Japanese companies grow internationally and foreign companies navigate the challenges of a unique Asian market.

The office has a staff of four and is led by Kyota Narimatsu, who was formerly head of corporate communications at Barclays Japan.

Finsbury’s anchor client in Japan is Toyota, which it has serviced internationally for more than 10 years. The agency helped guide Toyota through crises including its sticking accelerator pedal recalls between 2009 and 2011.

In an interview in Tokyo, Finsbury CEO Michael Gross said the agency will also work with Toyota domestically to support its sponsorship of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Other clients include SoftBank, which Finsbury assisted in its acquisition of Arm in the U.K., and the Japanese government, for which it runs a grassroots diplomacy program in the U.S.

Gross said he and Narimatsu met this week with a further prospective client looking to make acquisitions in the U.S. He noted that Donald Trump’s presidency means that a higher degree of economic nationalism is likely in the U.S. While Trump appears most combative towards China, Gross said it is important for Japanese companies doing business in the U.S. to follow the changing and uncertain landscape closely.

"We understand there’s a lot of uncertainty among Japanese companies and the government, and that’s justified, but a possible silver lining is that Trump is trying to encourage more private investment in infrastructure so there may be new opportunities for foreign investors," he said.

Gross said speed of response when communicating is still problematic for some Japanese companies, both internationally and abroad. As the news cycle continues to intensify, "Japanese companies tend to be consensus-driven in decision making," he said. "That’s very difficult to do in fast-moving crisis situations."

He also said the inclination towards a "no comment" approach does not work when dealing with markets like the U.S., where "adversaries are very sophisticated in using the media and do not hesitate to paint a bad story" about their competition.

Narimatsu said the same rule now also applies to the Japanese market, and pointed to the handling of the Takata exploding airbag crisis as a prime example of how failure to engage appropriately can amplify a scandal.

"They were reluctant to speak up, and people ended up criticizing that ‘no response’ [policy], not just the airbag incident itself," he said.

For foreign companies operating in Japan, Gross said it is not only important to be aware of cultural nuances, but to train and develop local spokespeople. While Finsbury will look to serve foreign clients in Japan, Gross said he sees more opportunities among outbound Japanese clients. Finsbury has offices in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East, as well as in Hong Kong and Singapore. Cross-border work accounts for 30% of the network’s business, Gross said.

This story first appeared on campaignasia.com.

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