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The Power of Foreign Correspondents for Effective PR

By Dr. Jochen Legewie, Japan, CNC Communications & Network Consulting

Smart communications comes in many different shapes and sizes. For really effective global PR, one major opportunity is often overlooked – foreign correspondents. This is true for all industries but especially regulated ones such as energy. Let’s take a closer look at two concrete examples of European firms active in Japan.

Amplifying a partnership announcement in Japan

In December 2014, a major European automation and power technology firm announced the formation of a power grid partnership with Hitachi for a high-voltage, direct current (HVDC) electric power transmission system in Japan. Hitachi organised a major press conference in Tokyo attended by the CEOs of both firms. The challenge lay in maximising the impact beyond the Japanese media – reaching the French and German language media in the client’s home market, and the top-tier international business press. Due to the special character of the announcement with both CEOs in Japan, activities in Europe – beyond a joint press release with Hitachi – were limited. This is where Tokyo-based foreign correspondents came into play.

CNC alerted the key energy journalists from Bloomberg, Reuters, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and others, a day in advance. We asked them to stand by for a major energy-related announcement the following afternoon, without disclosing any details. We then did the same for all business correspondents of German, French and Swiss media in Japan.

As expected, most of them attended the press conference. This despite the late notice – they were only invited to the event with the closing of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, i.e. 90 minutes ahead of the press conference, a standard practice in Japan. Journalists who could not attend were prepped to make time and space to report on the announcement.

The resulting international media coverage was extensive and thoroughly positive. It was mainly driven by the foreign correspondents based in Japan, who had a much higher interest in covering the topic and Japanese focus than their colleagues back home. The approach worked: it generated significantly wider coverage for a European client than targeting Europe-based national energy and business journalists directly.

Hitting the headlines in Japan

It also works in reverse: European firms can mobilise Japanese correspondents in Europe to achieve prominent coverage in Japan. The Japanese energy market remains a closed one; few companies have announcements as major as the one above. Hence this also posed a challenge for our client thyssenkrupp, the German multinational. The company is successful in Japan. But it still punches below its weight in the media, as do so many other foreign firms in the difficult Japanese market, due to a lack of Japan-specific announcements.

thyssenkrupp is currently transforming its global image from a steel manufacturer to an engineering powerhouse with substantial energy expertise. In Japan, such business fields include coke plant and biomass technologies. Communications activities targeting the energy trade press are so standard in Japan as to require no mention. What is of real interest is the role of the German correspondent of The Nikkei, Japan’s largest business newspaper.

By offering him an interview with thyssenkrupp’s business area CEO in Germany, the company managed to take awareness levels of its energy expertise among key Japanese audiences to the next level.

The interview at thyssenkrupp’s Essen headquarters and the subsequent article focused on the company overall, its global strategy and strengths. The result was a positive company profile, without focusing on its still small presence in Japan. It presented the firm as an interesting global player to watch in Japan, as a competitor or business partner. This degree of success is not unusual when working in a strategic and professional way with foreign correspondents of the Japanese press in Europe.

The article fulfilled two functions: the prominent coverage in Japan’s leading business daily reached and resonated with all important stakeholders in Japan. The article also had the indirect benefit for thyssenkrupp that Japanese trade media took note and subsequently showed a substantially higher interest in thyssenkrupp’s news.

Conclusion

The conclusion is simple. Foreign correspondents are there to be served as key ‘media clients’ for any international firm. They can offer the opportunity for effective coverage in a very controlled way. They therefore present an important component in any global PR strategy.

While energy companies around the world often operate in regulated markets, the topic of energy remains one of the most globally relevant. International comparisons between energy policies and innovations are of special interest in Japan, with European companies often perceived as global pioneers, particularly in the field of renewables. This only underlines the appeal of working with foreign correspondents, both in the home market and abroad.

The best thing is, this doesn’t apply just to Japan – it can be replicated around the world.

Conclusion

The conclusion is simple. Foreign correspondents are there to be served as key ‘media clients’ for any international firm. They can offer the opportunity for effective coverage in a very controlled way. They therefore present an important component in any global PR strategy.

While energy companies around the world often operate in regulated markets, the topic of energy remains one of the most globally relevant. International comparisons between energy policies and innovations are of special interest in Japan, with European companies often perceived as global pioneers, particularly in the field of renewables. This only underlines the appeal of working with foreign correspondents, both in the home market and abroad.

The best thing is, this doesn’t apply just to Japan – it can be replicated around the world.

This article is a part of the September 2016 edition of MSLGROUP’s ON Energy Report – Navigating a Changing Energy Landscape. If you want to find out more about the work we do, or enquire as to how we might be able to help, don’t hesitate to contact Nick Bastin

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Dr. Jochen Legewie is a 25 year communications veteran and business leader, counselling and implementing programs for a range of government and public sector organizations, as well as for leading global corporations on their Japan, APAC and global strategy. Fluent in German, English and Japanese, he is the author of numerous books on business and has been widely published in various German, English and Japanese newspapers and journals. With a PhD in economics, he is one of the few foreign members of Keizai Doyukai, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives. In addition, Dr. Legewie is the Asia Practice Leader for Reputation Management and Corporate Communications. Follow him on Twitter: @JochenLegewie

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