Tetsuya Honda has resigned as managing director of Blue Current Japan to start his own business, called Honda Office.
Honda spent 20 years as part of Fleishman Hillard (the parent of Blue Current), around 13 of which were at Blue Current, which he launched in Japan. His new venture will offer strategic PR consulting, which he said he believes is lacking in Japan.
Honda stressed that the focus will be purely on PR strategy, without execution. At the same time, he said his company will prescribe ways of putting a plan into action and play a role in managing the execution of plans by other parties including agencies and individual PR professionals.
As part of the venture, he retains an agreement with Fleishman Hillard whereby he will act as a consultant senior strategist to Blue Current. Shin Tanaka, president of Fleishman Hillard Group in Japan, will step in to oversee Blue Current’s operations.
Honda’s company consists of himself and his wife, Tsugumi Uemura, who was head of communications for CyberAgent, which runs the online TV channel AbemaTV. He did not name any clients but said discussions are underway with around 10 prospects including a major manufacturer and apparel company.
Honda said he plans to work with a range of external people drawn from his and his wife's personal networks, and that he will curate teams best suited to a particular task on behalf of clients. He noted that effective PR depends on individuals rather than specific PR companies.
Although staff loyalty to companies is relatively strong in Japan, PR agencies experience high staff turnover, with junior staff often looking for ways to move in-house as a means of escaping unsustainable workloads or gaining greater control over their work.
“Two years ago, clients were still very conservative,” he said. “It was safer to assign all responsibilities to a single big agency. Some people still believe that of course, but its changing towards thinking, let’s create the best team for the job. Clients are tired of the cycle [of staff in an agency]. There has to be a new way to assign people.” But Honda maintains that he does not intent to compete directly with agencies, rather work with them.
Asked why he had decided to branch out at this stage in his career, Honda said the PR market in Japan had matured and that PR expertise was much more highly valued than it was a decade ago. PR is a relatively new discipline in Japan given the advertising-centric nature of the market.
At the same time, he said PR still tends towards short-term initiatives without an overarching strategic plan. “CEOs and CMOs often say, we need PR so let’s hire a PR agency and develop a PR strategy, but they don’t understand what PR strategy is,” he said. “So they hire a person who ends up churning out press releases that have nothing to do with strategy. This person is not useless or incapable, but there is a gap between the top guys and the execution level.”
Honda said he aimed to help companies develop “PR thinking” internally. That means having earned exposure at the core of communications, including advertising. “PR-driven strategy and PR execution are totally different,” he said. “A PR-driven idea comes to be the core idea of an integrated campaign… Clients want to bring that way of thinking into the discussion in the early stages.”
Ultimately, “the PR industry in Japan needs more architects,” Honda said, and that is how he sees Honda Office functioning. In construction, a plan is ideally imaginative but also “something that contractors can build in reality, otherwise it’s just a dream. It has to be realistic. So the architect does the design, and finally the directions too. That kind of collaboration will be needed in this industry.”