David Blecken
Jul 31, 2018

Q&A: Selling disruption to a market that hates disruption

How TBWA Hakuhodo's new Disruption Consulting unit plans to help Japanese companies change.

Yuichiro Horie
Yuichiro Horie

In July, TBWA Hakuhodo became the latest advertising agency in Japan to launch a consulting arm, Disruption Consulting. The agency follows companies including Dentsu and joint-venture partner Hakuhodo in offering non-advertising related business services.

TBWA Hakuhodo’s unit currently works with clients in the real-estate and FMCG sectors, and deals with both marketers and top-level decision makers. According to Chris Iki, COO of the agency, the aim is to set a vision for change that everyone in an organization can understand and “rally around”. Campaign asked Yuichiro Horie, who leads the unit, to explain how it operates and how he plans to sell the concept of disruption to a famously conservative market.

How is Disruption Consulting different to what TBWA Hakuhodo already offers?

We haven’t really offered a consulting service before. The biggest difference is that it’s not about advertising output. A lot of Japanese companies are aware of a strong need to change themselves, so it’s really about how to help Japanese companies change without having to create a form of advertising.

If the solutions don’t involve advertising, why should they go to you and not a company like McKinsey or Accenture?

The biggest difference between us and a specialist consulting firm is that we focus on disruption as a point of consulting. We’re not about responding to all the different challenges a company faces. If a company has various issues but they don’t know how to tackle that issue and if there’s reality by which they want to change we will help in disrupting that reality.

How much has TBWA invested in this consulting unit?

I don’t have exact figures. The investment would really be the additional resources we’ve brought in from within and outside the agency. At the moment we have nine people and we would look at bringing on others in the future with the understanding that ‘disruption’ is the foundation.

What do you actually mean by ‘disruption’ in this context?

Most Japanese companies are good at creating different departments for different parts of their work. They’re good at a conventional way of working, but now they’re faced with the need to change, they can’t change fast enough—they don’t know where to start. What we do is about bringing big change in a speedy manner.

Do Japanese companies find the concept of disruption more difficult than companies in other markets?

They are less familiar with the term, but in discussions they have a good understanding of the notion. It’s becoming widespread in business terminology but they find it difficult to know how to realise it in their company. Japanese companies tend to find it difficult to make changes. They tend to be very cautious and it’s about us having them try it once we’ve introduced the way to do it.

What’s the biggest challenge to bringing about change?

Even if they have the intention to change it takes a long time to actually make the change. It takes a long time for everybody involved to take action, and a lot of organisations would find a reason why they can’t change. That’s why we have this methodology – getting everyone in the same room and really making it happen.

When Disruption Consulting launched, you spoke of the need for ‘continuous change’. Is this realistic given that change is not part of most Japanese companies’ DNA?

We think it’s insufficient if only the mindset of people who’ve been part of the workshop changes. It’s important that we set a vision for that organization, and build brand behaviour that affects all decision making. We define the dos and don'ts of a particular brand which help people know how to behave in a particular situation. Thinking about changing doesn’t lead to change, so we focus on the concrete behavioural changes that are necessary and make them clear so they can continue to make those changes.

Campaign Japan

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