Perspective: Japan’s emperors of advertising get ready to go global

Not many western CEOs command a standing ovation when they walk into a room at corporate HQ. Not even Bill Gates or Steve Case, men who have made many of their own employees seriously rich, enjoy that accolade. The closest I have seen to such obsequiousness in the advertising industry was the respect accorded Young & Rubicam’s former CEO, Peter Georgescu. Given the fortunes certain lucky, relatively average Y&R executives made under him, Georgescu was lucky to escape being snogged.

Not many western CEOs command a standing ovation when they walk

into a room at corporate HQ. Not even Bill Gates or Steve Case, men who

have made many of their own employees seriously rich, enjoy that

accolade. The closest I have seen to such obsequiousness in the

advertising industry was the respect accorded Young & Rubicam’s former

CEO, Peter Georgescu. Given the fortunes certain lucky, relatively

average Y&R executives made under him, Georgescu was lucky to escape

being snogged.



A standing ovation is what Takashi Shoji receives when he walks into a

bog-standard office at Hakuhodo. As chairman, his arrival triggers a

Mexican wave of flunky applause. His opposite number at Dentsu, Yutaka

Narita, does not get such treatment. Narita does not walk into

bog-standard offices. If he did, his junior employees would probably

faint.



Together with Asatsu’s chairman and chief executive, Masao Inagaki,

Narita and Shoji are the ’Kings of Tokyo’ - Japan’s John Wren, Phil

Geier and Martin Sorrell. Campaign’s Jade Garrett was given

unprecedented access to these powerful men for a series of features

which starts this week (p30). Interviewed before Christmas, just after

Campaign broke the news of the BDM deal, all three address the need for

change that the twin impact of globalisation and Japan’s economic crisis

have forced upon them.



Narita has, like Inagaki, decided that partnership with western groups

is the solution. Dentsu has joined forces with three western agencies:

Y&R, via Dentsu Y&R in Asia, and then Leo Burnett and MacManus through

BDM. But unlike Asatsu’s relationship with WPP, there is no equity

cross-holding in BDM, which is curious. Narita’s response to Campaign’s

question on this issue is scarcely more convincing than the one Leo

Burnett’s CEO, Roger Haupt gave us soon after the deal. It doesn’t feel

like the end of the story.



These moves place additional pressure on Shoji. Having ended a previous

arrangement with McCann-Erickson, and despite a global partnership with

TBWA to handle Nissan, there is no sign of Hakuhodo forging a new formal

alliance. Shoji insists that a mega deal is unlikely for Hakuhodo.



He predicts that, within a decade, Hakuhodo will handle up to 20

Japanese clients globally. However, the history of Japanese client

expansion around the world suggests otherwise. When they do move, it is

invariably to another western network (look at Sony’s European switch

from DDB to Saatchi & Saatchi). Hakuhodo will, like Dentsu, float within

three years. It would seem unlikely that the proceeds will not fund

major acquisitions. It makes the Japanese giants worth watching. They

will be an increasingly significant part of the western advertising

scene, whatever their eventual strategy.



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