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Agency Life

He’s Got Your Back

He’s Got Your Back

Michael Carnevale

Michael Carnevale

April 23, 2018

That’s the best kind of boss

"Trust is the biggest factor to take into account."

Toshio Naka, Managing Director of Havas Media Japan, chats about the art of communication, why knowing Japanese values is essential in business, and how to balance what’s best for your team and what’s best for the client.

 

So tell us about your background

I am a “returnee,” as they’d call it here, referring to those who were born [in Japan] and after spending a significant part of their life abroad, come back to a culture that is literally foreign to them. The multicultural background can be positive for someone who works in a global company and has to interact with people from all over the world and understand their customs and values. It has worked for me, and now I have been in the communications business for more than 30 years.

How would you describe your job to a five-year-old?

I am the big boss; you can come to me when you have big problems and don’t know what to do.

To an adult?

I am the big boss, who, you love and hate—but who will never leave you in times of trouble.

What’s the most interesting thing about working in Japan?

The art of communications—subtle, vague and indirect. You must communicate what you want and understand what the other person is trying to tell you, and come out of the meeting with full lucidity.

How is the Japanese buyer different from and similar to buyers in other major markets?

Trust is the biggest factor to take into account—whether it comes from endorsers (you will see so many actors, singers and other celebrities in ads in Japan), or from well-established big local companies (often the company names still override in value over brands). In recent years, more product-oriented stories begin to take over in more Western style, especially where innovation and technologies in the intrinsic values are sought—something the newer generations are more apt to receive.

"I let them do their thing; I have their backs."

What advice do you have for excelling in the Japanese market?

Don’t try to force Western values and methods without understanding Japanese culture first.

What is the most interesting part about working at Havas Media Japan?

Albeit being a very small-scale local operation, the missions undertaken are of global-scale impact. Everyone can’t help but feel the weight of every individual action.

Tell us about an epiphany that you’ve had in your career.

Every so often—and it still happens after so many years in the business—you come to a situation where you must choose between your employer and your client. You are building something precious with your client and feel that this extra step will no doubt bring the client something good—but at your company’s expense and in breach (though not in a grave manner) of your loyalty to your company (e.g., financially) What do you do? My answers are, when you are young and passionate, please the client—that’s with whom you’re really building your career. And when you are much older, and in a position to worry about P/L, then think otherwise.

What’s something that’s made you proud while working at Havas Media Japan?

The operation was built from scratch and was turned into one of the most profitable operations in APAC, and I am still standing here after 11 years.

How do you inspire your team?

I let them do their thing; I have their backs.

What advice do you have for those who are at the beginning of their careers?

Don’t get sucked into the more recent games of advertising, with KPIs, CPAs, and so on. If you do, you’ll lose sight of the genuine fun and art of the communications business. That should be what you joined this business for in the first place.

"Trust is the biggest factor to take into account."

Toshio Naka, Managing Director of Havas Media Japan, chats about the art of communication, why knowing Japanese values is essential in business, and how to balance what’s best for your team and what’s best for the client.

 

So tell us about your background

I am a “returnee,” as they’d call it here, referring to those who were born [in Japan] and after spending a significant part of their life abroad, come back to a culture that is literally foreign to them. The multicultural background can be positive for someone who works in a global company and has to interact with people from all over the world and understand their customs and values. It has worked for me, and now I have been in the communications business for more than 30 years.

How would you describe your job to a five-year-old?

I am the big boss; you can come to me when you have big problems and don’t know what to do.

To an adult?

I am the big boss, who, you love and hate—but who will never leave you in times of trouble.

What’s the most interesting thing about working in Japan?

The art of communications—subtle, vague and indirect. You must communicate what you want and understand what the other person is trying to tell you, and come out of the meeting with full lucidity.

How is the Japanese buyer different from and similar to buyers in other major markets?

Trust is the biggest factor to take into account—whether it comes from endorsers (you will see so many actors, singers and other celebrities in ads in Japan), or from well-established big local companies (often the company names still override in value over brands). In recent years, more product-oriented stories begin to take over in more Western style, especially where innovation and technologies in the intrinsic values are sought—something the newer generations are more apt to receive.

"I let them do their thing; I have their backs."

What advice do you have for excelling in the Japanese market?

Don’t try to force Western values and methods without understanding Japanese culture first.

What is the most interesting part about working at Havas Media Japan?

Albeit being a very small-scale local operation, the missions undertaken are of global-scale impact. Everyone can’t help but feel the weight of every individual action.

Tell us about an epiphany that you’ve had in your career.

Every so often—and it still happens after so many years in the business—you come to a situation where you must choose between your employer and your client. You are building something precious with your client and feel that this extra step will no doubt bring the client something good—but at your company’s expense and in breach (though not in a grave manner) of your loyalty to your company (e.g., financially) What do you do? My answers are, when you are young and passionate, please the client—that’s with whom you’re really building your career. And when you are much older, and in a position to worry about P/L, then think otherwise.

What’s something that’s made you proud while working at Havas Media Japan?

The operation was built from scratch and was turned into one of the most profitable operations in APAC, and I am still standing here after 11 years.

How do you inspire your team?

I let them do their thing; I have their backs.

What advice do you have for those who are at the beginning of their careers?

Don’t get sucked into the more recent games of advertising, with KPIs, CPAs, and so on. If you do, you’ll lose sight of the genuine fun and art of the communications business. That should be what you joined this business for in the first place.

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