— What, in your view, are the differences in doing business in Russia from the Japanese perspective?
— I have noticed that with Russian business what matters is not the name of the company as how good the relations between the partners are. In Japan, interpersonal relations also carry huge weight, but the brand, the trademark, is valued higher. The name, the reputation of the company sets the tone in business, brings with it substantial assurances and benefits. I can make this judgement based on my own experience as I have worked in Japan, and in Europe, and in Russia. When I was still in London I set up collaboration with Russian business, cooperated with several clients from this country. There, I employed the European approach towards working with Russians. When I turned up in Russia, I realised that here European methods don’t work.
— In Russia, everything is based upon trust. Here, support from Russian partners, colleagues, plays a huge part. In London, I didn’t trust the Russians a hundred percent, and they didn’t trust me too much either. Living here, I have noticed that people’s regard for one another is very much stronger. In our local office, we have a lot of Russian employees, our partners in Russia trust them, and that means that they trust our company overall too.
— Would you say the trust factor is paramount in your work in Russia?
— Yes. Our clients are big multinational companies. For an advertising agency, the main thing is meeting creative objectives, coming up with good ideas, and an irreproachable service for the client. Our partners need to be able to trust us. All the Japanese companies operating in Russia know our agency.
— Were you sent to Russia or did you decide yourself to come to this country?
— I have been cooperating with representatives of Russian companies since 2004, ever since I worked in London. I used to come to Moscow every month on business. Knowing this, the directorship at Hakuhodo decided to send me here. And I already had the requisite experience and contacts here.
— Moscow and London – is there any comparison for you?
— Moscow is a big city. A very big city! Here, life is on the go twenty-four hours a day. It is a very frenetic city. At the same time, it gives off a lot of background noise. It is virtually impossible to find the time to take a break – especially in terms of work. In London, people clock-on and clock-off, and then their private time takes over. In Moscow, though, everything is fluid, business spills over into your private life, and it is very hard to find any peace.
— And is that to your liking or not?
— Moscow leaves you with a two-sided impression. The architecture, the city’s infrastructure tell you that it is a European city, but its frantic, highly-charged atmosphere is more reminiscent of the capitals of Asian countries like China or Thailand. Everything is very fast-paced like in the East although, I repeat, its outer shell is European. It suits me down to the ground!
— What might someone from Japan encounter coming here? What should he be ready for to adapt more quickly to the local conditions?
— Not very many Japanese know much about Russia at all. Information about this country is very limited. Most Japanese think that there is a lot about Russia that is awful. To them, Russians rarely smile, and are always preoccupied with some problem or other. But most of all, in my view, my compatriots are concerned with whether the Russians like the Japanese or not. They don’t know the answer to that.
I think that Russia is a wonderful country for the Japanese. Russians look at us in a very positive light. More than that: Russians and Japanese become close and find mutual understanding a lot quicker than the Japanese and Europeans. Russians are genuinely interested in the culture of Japan, their attention is caught by all the Japanese innovations, the new developments in the field of high-tech. The Japanese coming here ought to know that they can find real friends here very quickly. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to know this!
Yuzuru Iguchi - 42 years old. Born in Japan, in the city of Kobe. Graduated there in geology from Kobe University. Never started work in this field, his subsequent love and life’s work becoming the advertising business. Left for Tokyo after graduating where he landed a job at the head office of Hakuhodo Inc. Worked there five years before being sent to London where he worked for seven and a half years. Has experience of working in various European countries. Has been working in Russia now for four years as New Business Director at the communications group Hakuhodo Russia. Has great experience in running large international network-wide projects on various markets.
— And of the everyday side of things? How easy is it for a Japanese person to live in Russia?
— I, personally, have found it very easy. I straightway found myself some rooms in the area around Kitay-Gorod metro, right in the centre of Moscow. The property company showed me a lot of places where I could live – also in the centre, but they were in what you would call tourist spots. They were places where foreign expats live and I really wanted a genuine, authentic abode. And I took up residence amongst the Muscovites which made it easier for me to understand the culture of this country, and what everyday, normal life was like.
— And how did you resolve the issue around food? Japanese and Russian cuisines are radically different from one another.
— In Moscow, it is possible to find restaurants which serve good Japanese food. I just collected recommendations from Japanese people living in Moscow. For example, I can recommend you the restaurant Megu. It is located in the grounds of the Lotte Hotel, but is rather expensive. There are cheaper restaurants – Yume and Ichiban Boshi. These places have chefs from Japan working there.
The communications group Hakuhodo Inc. was founded in 1895. Today it is among the largest communications companies in the world. It has over 60 offices in 17 countries around the world, and 31 in Japan. Hakuhodo Inc. is the only agency from the Asian region to have twice won a prize at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Hakuhodo’s Russian office opened in 2008. Its strategic partnership with the advertising agency PRIOR, one of Russia’s leading stand-alone agencies, enables it to offer clients of both companies a comprehensive approach to the meeting of marketing objectives. Key clients in Russia are Bridgestone, Canon, Fujifilm, Yokohama, Sharp, Kanebo, Kao, Kyocera, Honda, Line, Japan Airlines, and Sony.
— Let’s switch to work. What is your area of responsibility at the advertising agency?
— I manage the key international clients and am responsible for developing our agency’s business in Russia. Russia has never been a stable market. Even our regular clients are in need of business support. The situation here is changeable, they need information on what is going on here and, depending on what changes, to alter their development strategy accordingly. I guide the client up until the point where his business has completely stabilized.
— What do you see as your mission, working in Russia?
— I really hope that relations between Russia and Japan will become much closer. Through my work, I am making a substantial contribution to this process and am very much involved in it. Japanese companies have always known how to make a very good final product. I hope that Russians are happy with the quality of our goods. If they begin to buy more of them, then it will be in its own way an immersion of Russians in the Japanese culture and its philosophy, which is what our agency is encouraging, really.
All our clients have different requirements, and we espouse an individual approach to each of them, giving ourselves to the project completely. We run it from scratch. If we see that the client doesn’t know what to do next, our mission is to give them everything they need in order to achieve the aims they have set themselves.
— What, in your opinion, are the most promising areas for starting a business in Russia?
— I can only talk here about my own particular preferences. I suspect that the Russian market has enough Japanese cars, phones, and cameras. They have already filled their niche. Russia is considered a country of raw materials, a country of natural monopolies. Which is why the leading Japanese technology firms are also here. But companies from the food market are poorly represented. They are already expanding their business in Asian countries, but they haven’t taken Russia on as seriously, and haven’t entered this country’s market on such a large scale.
— Of the Japanese goods, which have recently appeared here in Russia, I noticed the nappies and drinks in vending machines in the metro. Is it you, by any chance, who is promoting them in Russia?
— Merries and DyDo are our clients. I’ll say it again, virtually all Japanese companies entering international markets work with Hakuhodo in one way or another. Now our objective is to raise brand recognition in Russia so that more partners in this country know about our agency.
— The current state of the Russian market is not the best. Most companies are cutting their advertising and marketing budgets. How do things stand with you?
— It is not easy for anyone at the moment. Japanese brands are fighting for survival on the Russian market. But on the other hand, they can’t just stop and leave. They have to support and develop their business in Russia. We are constantly analysing trends and making recommendations as to what they need to do to stay afloat in such conditions. We believe that when the crisis comes to an end, our clients will be able to achieve even greater success. Their achievements will be our achievements. That is what partnership is all about. Doing business here is not straightforward, but it is impossible to describe the current situation as negative.
— Your life in Moscow isn’t limited to just work, is it?
— Up until recently, you could count me amongst the “happening” people. My favourite places in Moscow were the Artplay Design and Architecture Centre, the Design Factory “Flacon”, the clubs and restaurants there. I have a lot of Muscovite friends in the art world and media. Every weekend, we would go to some kind of event. I had no trouble getting in to any private party without an invitation. I was in with the in-crowd.
— So what happened?
— The birth of my daughter radically changed my life. She is two-and-a-half and attends the ballet school at the Hermitage Garden where they put on developmental classes for toddlers. I am always taking her there.
So, now, Moscow’s nightlife passes me by. But I try to stay in the know and attend fashionable events, but only those where you can take children. The popular summer music festival, the Afisha Picnic, would be a good example.