David Blecken
Nov 16, 2015

ADK Global to combine best of Japanese and Western practices: leaders

TOKYO - Last week ADK announced the formation of ADK Global, a unit dedicated to furthering its aims of becoming a Japanese agency with a strong international presence. We spoke to two of its leaders, Rob Sherlock and Kenichi Omori, about what their new roles will involve.

Rob Sherlock: Change in mindset important for ADK to grow internationally
Rob Sherlock: Change in mindset important for ADK to grow internationally

Sherlock, formerly worldwide ECD, was appointed chief executive of the new unit; Omori will lead it in Asia-Pacific as chief operating officer, based in Shanghai. Hiroshi Nakazato will serve as ADK Global’s Tokyo-based chief operating officer.

Sherlock’s transition from a creative to a business-focused role might seem surprising, but as someone who initially set out to be a chartered accountant, he said business had long been part of his “daily remit” and that since joining ADK last year he had identified numerous opportunities to improve the agency and make it more global, not just within the context of the creative department.

He said that with the formation of ADK Global, “the idea is that ADK’s international business will not just be an outpost, but a powerful part of the organization”. That means ensuring a higher degree of consistency across the network.

“One thing we don’t want is to have completely different Japan and global organizations with no connection in between,” he said. ADK Global will be headquartered in Singapore but will also have a presence in Tokyo, led by Nakazato. “If we’d make the global headquarters in Japan, it would have been hard to bring about a change of mindset in the way we work,” Sherlock said. The Japan office will serve as an accelerator for “Japanese clients with overseas aspirations”, he explained.

Sherlock noted, as he did when he took on his creative role last year, that approaching things as an outsider—a non-Japanese person—potentially made it easier to “help a Japanese agency transform in a more relevant way for the international marketplace”.

He said Asia would be ADK’s main focus, although the network stretches to the US and Europe, and Middle East via an affiliate. Over the next few months, he said ADK would make some “significant” creative hires and work to strengthen leadership and planning abilities in individual markets.

For clients, both Japanese and international, he said “the main aim is to make sure that our offices have an acute sense of local knowledge and leadership”. “These are not breakthrough mandates,” he said. “Japan has a really different way of operating. Obviously we don't want to remove our Japanese-ness, but we want to find a balance between [that] way of working and that in some of our major markets. It can be done with people with the right mindsets and skillsets.”

Asian potential

Omori, who will relocate from Tokyo to Shanghai, said that while China still had the biggest growth potential of all markets, it is also “one of the most difficult markets in the region”.

Consumer digitalisation in China is outpacing the rest of Asia, he said, and the geographical diversity of the country made it challenging. He said success in China, along with Thailand and Indonesia, would be a benchmark for the future.

Omori, having spent more than 10 years working in Europe, agreed with Sherlock that Japanese business practice varied strongly from its Western counterpart, “both positively and negatively in many aspects of planning, creative, client relationships and agency management”.

“Our transformation should pursue the best of both worlds, which must be unique in the industry,” he said. “As a Japanese with experience of working in the Western environment, I must be a bridge to combine both worlds.”

He envisages ADK’s positioning as “a challenger agency for challenger brands”.

“A challenger is hungry and demanding,” he said. “Our industry is unbundling services and capabilities and [that] might be OK for established business, but we would like to offer solution-driven core ideas to change client business.”

He said ADK’s investment in content, such as in the animation business, should help give it an edge. “We are enthusiastic to contribute not just to Japanese brands, but also to ambitious Asian brands, to be successful internationally,” he said.

As ADK grows, business will ideally come from three equal channels, Omori said: one-third from Japanese clients; one-third from non-Japanese clients; and one-third from a non-traditional advertising business model such as “content-driven platform business”.

Earlier this year, ADK launched Sticki, a collaborative content creation unit. The agency is also a pioneer of crowdsourcing in Japan through a partnership with eYeka.


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