Japan Booms with Public Relations Ventures

By Josephs, Ray | Public Relations Journal, December 1990 | Go to article overview

Japan Booms with Public Relations Ventures


Josephs, Ray, Public Relations Journal


Japan Booms With Public Relations Ventures

Public relations in Japan on behalf of U.S. organizations has come of age. In a recent spate of mergers, joint ventures and affiliations, U.S. consulting firms have forged ties with Japanese practitioners. Especially in Tokyo, where business is centered, Japanese-American public relations efforts are making inroads in an atmosphere hidebound by tradition.

Conducting public relations activities in Japan already figures in the success of some of the largest U.S. corporations. Despite the fact that public relations is poorly understood and not highly valued by many Japanese businesspeople, a low-key approach to public relations activities can pay handsome dividends in the long run. Current public relations campaigns in Japan tend to center on government affairs, investor relations, publicity, special events and customer development.

In a global marketplace, attracting Japanese investment and interest is more important than ever to U.S. enterprises. And public relations is one means to this end. A world economic powerhouse and gateway to the Orient, Japan is by far the most advanced Pacific Rim market, with sophisticated customers and business giants poised to buy and sell now.

To gain attention for U.S. clients in Japan, American and Japanese public relations firms have forged many different kinds of alliances. While a few Japanese-American partnerships have existed for decades, many have been formed in the past few years, even months. The input and involvement of native Japanese is considered absolutely necessary because of language, cultural and political barriers and the eccentricities of Japanese press clubs. While companies like IBM have been in Japan for more than 50 years, a whole new group of American corporations has recently entered the market.

Japanese don't understand need

Some businesspeople in Japan consider public relations "self-promotion." This is not a desired cultural or business objective. As a result, public relations practice is much less sophisticated in Japan than in the United States, most observers agree.

"Many Japanese regard public relations as a kind of self-promotion or self-propaganda," explains Professor Toshio Matsuoka of Kanagawa University. "They regard it as the opposite of modesty, a traditionally admired virtue. Modesty requires good deeds be done in silence. To talk about good deeds and success would, therefore, be very rude; a form of self-propaganda."

On the other hand, U.S. companies consider public relations indispensable for showing what society expects from business and how corporations are meeting their social responsibilities, Prof. Matsuoka admitted. Japanese companies have expanded despite neglecting these Western tactics, he observed. How? "They take care of the two publics Japanese consider most important: employees and customers, including prospects. These companies fulfill their basic corporate obligations without even being aware of public relations as such," the academician stated.

Public relations is regarded by many Japanese corporations merely as a service industry they're accustomed to enjoying for free. It's often belittled as simply an adjunct to advertising, according to Joseph Grimes, president of Hill and Knowlton Japan.

"Companies in Japan generally allot only 10 percent of their advertising budget to public relations, despite the fact that, for issues closely affecting consumers' lives, such as product safety, public relations can be a far more effective tool than advertising," added Tomoko Asano, president of The Rowland Company.

Why firms fail

Despite this attitude, Japanese companies, to an increasing extent, are accepting the presence and activities of public relations firms in Japan. But U.S. companies and their public relations firms must tread carefully in this burgeoning market. Here's a list of common mistakes U. …

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