Shawn Lim
Nov 16, 2023

Kota Murakami joins VaynerMedia as Japan country manager

EXCLUSIVE: Murakami quit EssenceMediacom last week after a six-year stint to lead VaynerMedia's expansion in Japan.

Kota Murakami joins VaynerMedia as Japan country manager

Kota Murakami, formerly of EssenceMediacom, has taken on the role of country manager for Japan at VaynerMedia, Campaign can reveal.

Shortly after announcing his departure from EssenceMediacom in a LinkedIn post, Campaign learned that Murakami has joined VaynerMedia, where he is responsible for shaping the agency's footprint and business expansion in the Japanese market. Murakami will also focus on growing the agency's portfolio and ensuring the delivery of business solutions.

Murakami left EssenceMediacom after a six-year stint and joined VaynerMedia, a social media-focused advertising agency. He says he was impressed by the agency’s vision of building brands on social media platforms, which he believes is the future of advertising.

"We excel in social media, and embracing empathy as a corporate culture is also crucial for me. I have been very fortunate to have worked in places that value this, and my mentors have greatly influenced me," he says.

"When I met people at VaynerMedia, what they said about empathy on the corporate website resonated with me authentically. It was a tough decision to leave EssenceMediacom because I still love the people and the work and greatly respect the team. Japan is doing great things under the leadership of (WPP Japan chief executive) Kyoko Matsushita, and I'm confident they will continue to succeed."

He continues: "However, this was the right time for me to move, apply my most significant learnings, and continue learning new things in an industry constantly evolving."

Murakami notes Japan is famously, or infamously, a challenging market, especially for global agency players, as the advertising and marketing industry has evolved quite uniquely.

For example, WPP carved out a new CEO role in Japan for Matsushita, saying the move aims to "reflect a new commitment to identify growth opportunities, drive greater collaboration and cooperation across WPP agencies, and invest in people in a market with a rich history and strong cultural identity."

For agencies like VaynerMedia, Murakami says it is crucial to focus on execution, client expectations, and the local consumer brand nuances. These aspects exist elsewhere, but fully capturing and executing them in Japan requires a deep understanding of the culture, the people, and the industry.

"We need to ensure that we are delivering on these fronts. To delve deeper, the attention to detail in Japan is not just about execution tactics; it also involves understanding specific industry codes and standards," says Murakami.

"Grasping the implicit cultural norms, communicating effectively, and reading between the lines are critical skills when dealing with clients and consumers."

Murakami points out that a global perspective is valuable in Japan, particularly in thinking about marketing or any strategy in a data-driven manner and challenging the status quo as Japan's market, despite being a developed economy, moves relatively slowly.

"We are committed to ensuring we do not lose ground in ensuring that we remain relevant in this context," says Murakami.

Taking on the big boys

When running an advertising business in Japan, it is hard to ignore the established presence of Dentsu, Hakuhodo and ADK.

However, Murakami argues there are many ways to approach marketing in Japan, and VaynerMedia's method is one of many.

He acknowledges that traditional mass-style marketing by Japanese ad giants will continue to have its place. Still, he believes there is also a need for greater diversity in strategy, which VaynerMedia can contribute to.

"When I first joined the Japanese market, it was clear that it needed to digitise media, but it struggled with this transition for various reasons," says Murakami.

"Having spoken to many clients and industry people, it is evident that our industry is still grappling with these challenges. VaynerMedia's ability to decode attention and culture in real-time, creating brand relevance, is particularly pertinent in the ever-changing consumer mindset. Adapting to these changes is common sense but challenging to implement in practice."

Murakami believes Vayner has all the tools, processes, thinking, and people needed to realise these goals and claims to have already seen great work in his first few days at the agency,

He expresses his excitement about introducing these approaches to Japanese clients and clients in other markets, noting that Japan remains the world's third or fourth-largest economy, offering significant opportunities.

"Japanese companies are also looking for growth areas outside Japan, so there's a substantial opportunity for outbound marketing. As an agency that profoundly understands culture and platforms within and outside Japan, we are well-positioned to capitalise on these opportunities," says Murakami.

What he brings to VaynerMedia

During his tenure at EssenceMediacom, Murakami co-led the agency through significant transitions, including the merger of the agency.

He believes his leadership style focuses on empathy, open-mindedness, and being emotionally available to people.

Murakami says his leadership approach is critical during times of change, such as mergers, as mergers represent a significant shift, often happening to people rather than being a choice.

However, he notes mergers offer an opportunity to involve people in the organisation. Instilling a mindset of positivity, relevance, and effectiveness in the ever-evolving marketplace gives Murakami great pleasure and motivation.

"Change is constant, ranging from minor to major shifts, and a merger is undoubtedly a significant change. Recognising that change is a continuous factor is crucial for me and the team," explains Murakami.

"Being empathetic towards everyone is essential, as everyone has a different perspective on change. Some embrace it immediately, others take time, and some are resistant. As a leader, it is essential to understand and respect each perspective, helping everyone through the process."

Even if only some fully embrace the change, being transparent, open, and available is vital in assisting them to understand the reasons behind the change and its potential benefits and challenges, notes Murakami.

"Learning from people with diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking is critical. This diversity isn't limited to ethnicity, gender, or neurodiversity; it also applies to corporate culture," explains Murakami.

"The merger allowed me to work closely with clients and agency staff, both local and global, and even with companies like Hakuhodo and Dentsu. Despite some conflicts of interest in business pursuits, partnering with them was a valuable learning experience."

As a leader, Murakami also believes in the need for diversity, equity and inclusion. He admits the advertising industry, not just in Japan, is still predominantly male, which is why ongoing conversations about this imbalance are crucial. 

"The role of male leadership in promoting diversity is also critical, especially in Japan, where male leadership is more prevalent. Understanding the different needs that may arise from this situation is essential."

Murakami highlights one critical aspect, which is shaping corporate culture and policies to encourage the participation of women and other underrepresented groups.

Campaign Asia

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