United Entertainment Group (UEG) launched in Tokyo earlier this month. The Edelman-owned sports, entertainment and content marketing company is optimistic about Japan in light of upcoming sporting events. Like all international players though, it has a stiff challenge on its hands in the form of Dentsu, which has a controlling interest in events such as Tokyo 2020. Campaign asked UEG managing director Toru Fumihara how he plans to gain a footing in the market. Responses have been edited and condensed.
What brands are you currently working with, and what are the biggest opportunities that you see in Japan and in Asia?
Next year we have the Rugby World Cup, then Tokyo 2020, then the World Masters in Kansai—so sponsorship-wise there must be a lot of opportunities to help companies spread their brands in Japan and globally as well. We are working with some big Olympic sponsors, but cannot disclose them.
This is our first branch in Asia so we need to build a foundation in this market first, but after building the basics we can then step forward to other Asian markets with some results to show from Japan—China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan.
How do you work with Edelman?
We work quite closely together. We also have the freedom to work with freelancers. We can compensate for each other. Edelman is the biggest PR agency, but in terms of sports and entertainment expertise, we have a better understanding, so we can [complement them].
What kind of people are you looking to hire?
People with a good sports PR background or someone very strong in the entertainment business. They also need to be bilingual, which means they’re not easy to find.
What do you think could improve in the field of sports sponsorships in Japan?
When it comes to sponsorships of big international events, the mega agencies hold a kind of monopoly, so agencies like Dentsu can sell Olympic sponsorship but sometimes the brands are not sure how to activate against them, or even of the rights they've bought. We think we might be able to help in terms of activation, or spreading awareness of a sponsorship around the world. There are many things that brands can improve upon in terms of leveraging those big rights.
How can a sponsor not understand what they’ve purchased?
Some Japanese companies feel that with the Olympics happening in Tokyo, as a Tokyo-based company they need to do something here. So sometimes buying sponsorship rights is more a matter of politics or pride. Often they don’t have Olympic specialists [internally] to help them think how they can leverage those rights.
How difficult does Dentsu’s presence in sports make things for you?
It can be hard to get [a foot in the door] because even if we talk about what we’ve done in the States, people want to know what we can do in Japan. We’ve got some RFPs coming in though so we should be able to start from there. As we proceed, we should be able to some generate good stories and establish trust.
We’ve established that there’s a near monopoly in the market. What niche do you fill?
It sounds kind of vague, but I believe we can make things cool in a way that’s completely different to what Dentsu creates. We think cultural relevance is important—trying to work with cool people, cool properties, cool platforms—that makes us different to those big agencies.
What do you see as important growth areas in your field?
Influencer marketing is something we’re strong at in the US but are working hard to adjust the method to the Japan market. Influencer marketing is advanced here but not at the same level as in the US. So searching for influencers, negotiating with them, trying to make activations happen, is something we want to have as a strength here. I’ve also been talking with some movie studios since we have a lot of relationships in the US where we do brand integration, product placement, movie campaigns, stuff like that, so I want to duplicate what they do in the States in Japan. If we can be a bridge between brands and movie studios, that is interesting work as an agency.