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We recently had an interesting discussion around Public Relations. We met with Vantage PR, an independent PR agency specializing in technology, headquartered in San Francisco. We’ve known the company and CEO since we first worked together more than 15 years ago, and in that time, their growth has been impressive. The great chemistry we have with their talented team makes it a truly enjoyable working relationship.

One of their approaches in PR that stands out is “Thought Leadership,” a term that is not very familiar in Japan. PR is basically thought of as publicizing the products and services of a company.

On our last project, Vantage proposed a thought leadership program for one of our Japanese clients, which focused on contributed articles that leveraged his expertise on relevant topics in the industry. Through their strong relationships with editors and media, several of these article placements resulted in recognition of our client, and elevated their presence in the industry.

After our meeting with Vantage, we met with our colleague, a PR expert who we partner with in Japan. One of the big differences between the US and Japan, is that in Japan, PR agencies are often a division of advertising agencies, and PR gets mixed into a confusion of advertising and promotions. Editorial coverage is often done in conjunction with paid advertising. Our colleague told us that recently, in order to ramp up their declining ad revenues, certain media have been approaching PR agencies and clients into paying for speaking slots at sponsored events or for publishing their content.

This pay-for-play model has been around for a long time, but upping the stakes on this trend is quite disconcerting. In contrast, the thought leadership approach is infinitely better and something that serves everyone – companies, media, and the audience. (Read Hisami’s blog on this topic in Japanese.)