“Only Nissan amongst Japanese companies has this kind of clear structure” needed to fight the communications war ‘outside the ring’, in global markets, according to Shinichi Tanaka, formerly of Honda and Sega, now President of Fleishman Hillard Japan. The interview, which accompanies the Nikkei Business magazine’s annual survey of which Japanese President is getting the most coverage (see Big Mouth Strikes Again) is entitled “management which controls rumour”.
Tanaka cites his experience in the US car industry with Honda in the 1980s where he learnt the art of guerilla warfare (from Sun Tzu) in communications, and the need to get all stakeholders on side, not just fighting by the rules and on product quality and prices. With the rise of developing economies since then, law breaking has become even more prevalent, with legal fights and IP battles breaking out regularly, he notes.
He reckons there are probably 10,000 world class companies, of whom half are Japanese, then 20% or so US multinationals. To win the communications war they have to have the power to communicate with their supply chain, their foreign employees and their investors – this needs a central function that “reads the air” as to what the company’s current reputation is with those stakeholders and then has control of the messaging. “Reputation management is much more difficult than brand management. Brand is the message from the company that you can create yourself. Reputation is the tint put on you by others”.
He’s selling Fleishman Hillard’s services at this point of course – as they do a reputation “gap analysis” . But I have to say I 100% agree with him that this is where Japanese companies are absolutely lacking. In fact I even worry that if they try to “read the air” as to what their reputation is in Europe, they (apart from the obvious brands like Toyota and Sony) will find there is no air to read. Most Europeans I meet think Fujitsu makes camera film (if they think anything at all) and Hitachi mostly make TVs (this despite their advertisements in the business press about their infrastructure and construction businesses) – not to mention thinking NEC is a big exhibition centre in Birmingham. With over 90% of Japanese companies expecting their business in Europe to stay level or expand in the next year, they will find they have a much tougher battle on their hands than they realise.
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