As the first executive officer of Dentsu to be stationed outside Japan, Takaki Hibino is charged with building the Japanese giant’s footprint globally. The 34-year Dentsu veteran leads the corporation’s global media business, the regional Dentsu Aegis Network, and is executive director of the group. In his first ever interview with the media, Hibino shares his personal story, aspirations and international ambitions for the Dentsu brand. Our interview takes place in Singapore, as the group announces its expansion—dentsu X will be the first media agency with the Dentsu name on it to launch in Europe.
Atifa Silk: How did you get into Dentsu?
Takaki Hibino: I joined Dentsu 34 years ago, in 1983, so you could say that I’m a typical Japanese businessman. In fact, you might be surprised to know that my father also worked at Dentsu. He died young, at the age of 54. I was only 17, a high school student, and I didn’t particularly want to follow the life of a typical Japanese businessman at that time. But, as I got to understand what Dentsu did and what it is trying to do, I became interested in its work and decided to be part of it.
I was first attracted to Dentsu by its sports business. I joined the company one year before the Los Angeles Olympic Games. It was at a time when Dentsu was starting its sports business and there was a lot of excitement around the Games. I was impressed. I suppose, like my father, the Dentsu blood flowed within me. I worked with the strategy and creativity teams and I was in charge of media. For more than 30 years of my career at Dentsu, I worked as an account person. My key clients included Fujifilm and NTT, Japan’s biggest telecommunications company, and international brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Bridgestone.
If you ask me today about finding talent, I would have to say that I’m actually not used to hiring people. In Japan things are done in a different way and, like me, people join as college students and they tend to stay in the business. Dentsu is highly sought after by college students as a company to join and we easily get good talent.
Atifa Silk: You wear three hats at Dentsu. What are your different roles?
Takaki Hibino: I have three titles: executive officer of Dentsu Inc.; global brand president of Dentsu Media; and CEO, Dentsu Brand Agencies APAC. I wear each hat to the occasion. I became executive officer in 2014, three years ago, and was moved to Singapore in January 2016 when I was put in charge of global business. I had worked on global clients but they were the Japanese units of these brands, so Coca-Cola Japan and McDonald’s Japan. I had never worked outside Japan. When I was assigned this role two years ago, I was surprised and excited by the opportunity. In July 2016, I came into the global role of Dentsu Media.
Atifa Silk: Did you aspire to work outside Japan?
Takaki Hibino: It might surprise you to know that I am the first executive officer sent from Japan to overseas. I have never told this story, but when I first joined Dentsu, I really wanted to be in charge of global business. At that time, Dentsu’s global business was very small. You see, in my 20s, I was an exchange student and became very attracted by the world outside Japan. Yet I chose Dentsu and ended up working on the domestic business for almost 30 years. I never expected that at the age of 57 I would finally have the global role I wanted and dreamed of. So I’m very honoured to take this role, and be the first executive officer to be sent abroad. Five or six years ago, revenue from overseas was 15 percent. Last year it was more than half: 54 percent of revenue is from outside Japan. So now our global business is bigger than the Japanese business. It is under these circumstances that my role is to truly make Dentsu become global and a strong network in this world.
Atifa Silk: Has the regional and global role been an easy adjustment, personally and professionally?
Takaki Hibino: I live in Singapore by myself. My family is in Tokyo. My wife has to take care of my mother and her father—everyone, including my 11-year-old dog! I will be 58 in October and I’m excited about the experiences I am having at this stage in my life. The business travel to the US and Europe is physically demanding, but mentally and emotionally I am in the best condition I have ever been. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m away from my boss and my wife! Joking aside, I am in Tokyo once every month as I still have some clients in Japan and I attend the executive officers’ meeting so I have good opportunity to see my family.
Asia is different to Japan. You can say Japan is a homogenous country. You don’t need to think too much about variety or diversity. In Japan, it’s one language and one message. But in APAC, there are many countries and many cultures. Our clients have to use the right marketing style to fit with each country. The reality of fast growth in China’s digital economy is shocking and fascinating. Then there are markets like Myanmar that are leapfrogging to mobile and growing businesses that you would only expect to see in developed economies. There is vast potential energy and opportunities.
Atifa Silk: How has Dentsu shaped the industry?
Takaki Hibino: Dentsu was established in 1901 and has a 116-year history in industry-leading innovations. Dentsu played an important role in the set up of radio stations and TV broadcasting in Japan in the early 20th century, investing in these companies and we are still shareholders of some TV stations. We are the pioneers in sports marketing, heavily involved in the Olympics and FIFA World Cup. The content business, covering animation and filmmaking, was created in the ’80s. The entire business of course transformed through the acquisition of Aegis to form Dentsu Aegis Network in 2013. So, we have constantly innovated and led industry transformation, and believe we are best placed continuing to do so in this rapidly changing environment.
Atifa Silk: What’s changing in the way you service clients?
Takaki Hibino: We have a client-centric mindset. We place our clients at the heart of our business. This is not the usual relationship or journey; we have many client relationships that have lasted more than 50 years. There is a long history. We have a ‘whatever it takes’ mindset to solve client challenges, and we are committed to continuing to do so under these challenging marketing circumstances.
In Japan, it’s one language and one message. But in APAC, there are many countries and many cultures. Our clients have to use the right marketing style to fit with each country.
We have never unbundled our business in Japan. At one time in history, Dentsu was called a dinosaur, while the industry trend was unbundling, maybe 10 or 15 years ago. But we did not unbundle because we were and still are committed to the entirety of solutions we provide to the client, not to each single service function we provide to the client. So, even in this fast-paced and fragmented world, our integrated approach is now more relevant than before. I believe we can unlock Dentsu beyond Japan and Asia-Pacific. That is my role.
Atifa Silk: What does the rebranding of Dentsu Media to dentsu X mean for clients?
Takaki Hibino: X stands for experience over exposure. The world in this digital age is rapidly shifting from advertising to a customer demand-led economy, where attention is a premium and information is a commodity, and decisions to buy or not are made based on a series of conscious or sub-conscious triggers. This shift requires marketing to be redefined.
Marketing is now required to attract, acquire, convert, and, crucially, retain customers; it should be seamless and efficient. And it means that holistic experience of marketing is critical for any brand to succeed. Under these circumstances clients demand integrated and addressable marketing solutions. There is no line between online and offline, no line between creative and media. We need to build that capability to guide clients in the way they interface with customers and prospects, making the vision of the seamless relevant and experience a reality.
Atifa Silk: What role does data play in creating experiences?
Takaki Hibino: Data plays a very important role in this marketing theory and quickly becomes the new communications currency enabling us to bring together first-, second- and third-party data under one universal ID. Agencies need to understand people’s values and motivations behind data; we need to know people more behind data. Marketing has changed and it is required that we shift in our business to focus on data and people. To meet this challenge, we are reorganising ourselves as we build our network, while keeping our DNA built on innovation of the Dentsu Group. We believe in the power of experience over exposure and we design experiences to work with human nature by combining the understanding of people, data and creative distribution, and creating experiences that win. This is our manifesto.
Atifa Silk: Will you expand the dentsu X footprint through acquisition?
Takaki Hibino: Dentsu Media started 18 years ago in 1999 in Taiwan. We are expanding our footprint to Europe and moving out of APAC for the first time. We are rolling out in EMEA; we want to become a truly global network. The route we take depends on the countries. In some we will acquire. In others we will build with our smaller brands. It’s important to note that this will be the first time that an agency with the Dentsu name on it will launch in the EMEA.
Atifa Silk: How will dentsu X be structured?
Takaki Hibino: At the core of dentsu X will be a ‘producer’, a type of person we call ‘Eigyo’ in Japan. This is a sort of account person, or client lead in English, but much more—a person who leads the brand’s evolution as a team orchestrator.
Alongside them will be an experience designer to plan the best experience along the customer journey and to optimise the best solution to the client, and work closely with the team members within dentsu X.
These teams will also work closely with other brands, whether it’s Isobar, iProspect, MKTG. This will enable us to convey the best solution to the client and to the customer.
Atifa Silk: How will DAN and dentsu X collaborate?
Takaki Hibino: Dentsu Brand Agencies has a longer history than Dentsu Media in APAC. It opened its first office in Taiwan in the ’70s, so 40 years. It has been working closely with Japanese clients, like automobiles and fast moving goods. Following the Aegis acquisition, we have acquired good creative agencies and talent in the region so these small dots have became a strong thick line now, under Ted Lim. Their challenge is to deliver better digital creative solutions in a mobile and programmatic era. We know the differentiator is creativity; that’s what makes communication design stand out. Data, technology and creativity have to come together for the best solution for the client. This is why I am in charge of Dentsu Media, dentsu X, and also Dentsu Brand Agencies; there should not be silos. Clients want us to be an integrated seamless solution.
There are many other agency groups trying to reorganise the model, integrating multiple agency functions into one model, a single service unit. What we are focusing on is delivering one-stop integrated services where the excellence of Dentsu Media and Dentsu Brand Agencies collaborate.