Traditionally, PR in Japan has been very much the junior partner to advertising, and has attracted a tiny fraction of the budgets. As a result, the industry has struggled to gain a foothold.
Despite this, the Japanese PR industry has many strengths. Sarah Hall, Director of the Public Relations Office at Toys"R"Us Japan, says: “PROs here tend to have strong relationships with the media, fact-driven reporting leads to a welcome emphasis on facts and figures, and the high level of public trust in the media means that successful PR campaigns have a major impact. Finally, corporates are good at closely controlling the dissemination of information.”
There is though little sign that budgets are increasing, and the industry is still feeling the after-effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Christine Wright, managing director, Japan at recruitment consultancy Hays reports that between April 2008 and April 2010 there was virtually no recruitment of in-house PR executives. She adds: “Since then we are seeing more companies bring their activities in-house to reduce external agency costs, and companies are still closely monitoring their PR spend.”
However, there are signs that the Japanese corporate world is beginning to look closely at how it disseminates information and manages crises. This follows communications disasters at four of Japan's top companies in recent months.
TEPCO was accused of hiding of information in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear meltdown. SONY was blamed for a failure to grasp the fundamentals of crisis communications around its Playstation data breach. TOYOTA was suspected of hiding information around its faulty brakes issue. Medical equipment maker Olympus sullied the image of Japan’s capital markets with a $1.7 billion accounting fraud.
This series of media disasters has so convulsed the boardrooms of Japan’s corporates that finally they are taking notice of the PR industry.