When his second posting at the Japanese embassy in the UK was up, Daisuke Tsuchiya (pictured) was not ready to leave. A diplomat for around 15 years, he had spent around a third of that time in London and by now felt at home there. As a means of staying, he decided to step across to the world of public relations, or in Brunswick’s terminology, stakeholder engagement advisory.
Joining the company, where he is now partner, wasn’t such a big departure. The aspect he most enjoyed, cross-border communications, is still the essence of his work today, which involves helping Japanese organisations get their point across effectively in an international environment, and international ones to do so in Japan.
"I feel very fortunate to have found a job like that," he says. It has also been a case of good fortune for Brunswick. Tsuchiya’s presence has enabled the company to take on an increasing volume of business from Japan without having a physical office there. He claims Japan-related assignments have expanded six-fold over the last seven-odd years. Last year, Tsuchiya travelled to the country once every three weeks on average and Brunswick is now gradually building out a team there.
International clients have included the now troubled WeWork, which Brunswick supported in launching in the market; Bain Capital, which it advised around its acquisition of ADK; and Stanford University, which it helped launch an international scholarship programme. Japanese clients include Toyota, which it advises on reputation management in the US; Kirin, which it advised around a human rights incident in Myanmar; and ANA, which it advised on positioning and international reputation.
Within the bigger picture of facilitating communication between Japan and other countries, Tsuchiya takes the most enjoyment from building trust in Japanese organisations among audiences who are naturally sceptical. His interest in this area stems from a childhood spent in the US. In the 1980s, Japan featured heavily in the news, but few people really understood it, he says. He felt compelled to present the country as accurately as possible.
Despite fairly frequent corporate scandals in Japan, Tsuchiya thinks domestically, Japanese companies still command, and take for granted, high levels of trust. "Once they step outside, the majority distrusts them," he says. "They need to step up and articulate what they are doing. There is a gap there."
Too often, a company’s communications strategy fails to engage all the relevant stakeholders, or leave out important parts of the equation like the environment, which erodes trust, he says. The Japanese government also comes in for frequent criticism for being unsophisticated in its communications. But Tsuchiya counters that it’s probably "not a particularly Japanese thing or a government thing", rather that people in almost every area of public life are still struggling to deal with increased scrutiny.
The general tendency is still to hold off engaging under pressure for fear of misjudging the situation or saying the wrong thing. But while the individual concerned might simply be taking the time to assess things, to the public it appears "as if you’re hiding something", he says. Taking the initiative is the important thing. "You want to come out in a timely manner and be proactive in what you’re communicating," he urges. "Even if it’s a bad situation you want to be on the front foot and proactively addressing it. That is the mindset that is required in this day and age."
Providing this sort of counsel, obviously with more nuances, has made Tsuchiya successful in his second career. He understands the hesitation of Japanese people to trade the stability of a job at home for international experience, since the labour market in Japan is not typically as fluid should they want to return. But he thinks with Japanese companies becoming more outward looking, and more international companies showing an interest in Japan, working internationally definitely opens up new opportunities. He says it helps to have a non-career-related motivation for living abroad too. "My goal wasn’t to move jobs," he says. "I just enjoyed living here."
Does Brexit threaten to compromise that enjoyment? "In the short term, it’s still not clear what will happen," he says. "In the long term, I have a lot of faith in the UK. I think the way it’s overcome a lot of difficulties in the past is a sign of resilience… Long term this is still a very interesting place to be. The diversity we see in London is highly appealing and regardless of how Brexit goes, that will keep attracting a lot of people."
With the approach of Tokyo 2020, Japan also faces something of a watershed. Thinking back to London 2012, Tsuchiya says he liked that the event was not overhyped and left a meaningful legacy, namely, putting the Olympics and Paralympics on an equal footing. He hopes the Tokyo games will leave their own legacy beyond simply talking up Japan’s place in the world.
"Japanese companies have a tradition of thinking about how food and drink can make people more healthy," he reflects. "Something like that as a legacy I think is quite interesting. It’s not about, let’s project the country out there. I think Tokyo has gone beyond that so it would be good to see something that goes beyond national profile-raising."
A version of this article first appeared on our sister site, Campaign Asia-Pacific.
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