Managing for Creativity in Japan Talking with Foreign Executives in Japan

Risk Averse Clients

“Clients in Japan don’t generally ask for advice from their suppliers, they generally tell their suppliers what to do and tend to be very prescriptive. They tend to go into great detail about how they want something to be done. The client generally wants to have a very detailed input into everything. I think my strength is in coming up with creative solutions for a client’s marketing problems and working out a way to measure them – developing a framework for looking at the problem. But if you have a client that is very prescriptive then, to be brutally frank about it, they tend to ruin the process for themselves. Of course not all clients are like that but in general they tend to be so controlling that it destroys any creative aspect. Creativity involves taking a risk, right? If I do something in a new way, or use a new technique, then there is a risk that it may not work. But clients in this country do not want to take risks, and they have a need for control and detailed input. That can tend to kill the creativity. This is something that I have found frustrating at times.”

“The bottom line on everything with client-service businesses is that the client sets the standard. It’s the level of openness of the client towards new ideas that will determine how many new ideas are put forward. Clients will complain about there being no new ideas but when they are presented with a genuinely new idea they can’t cope with it. There sometimes tends to be a bit of bitching and moaning about the fact that their ad agency is not creative enough or that their research company doesn’t come up with interesting solutions but in 9 cases out of 10 it’s not that there is a lack of will on the agency side. The issue is that the companies themselves are not demanding it. If a company says something like “I want something highly creative” then the agency will go out and find someone who can do it, or if they can’t another agency will. You can’t provide a service in a vacuum. The buyer is the party that actually sets the scene for everything. So if there is not a demand for creative response then there will not be such a response. I think that the whole structure of the way decisions are made mitigates against creativity.”

This post is part of a series of excerpts from interviews with foreign executives in Japan, focusing on creativity. Excerpts have been edited for confidentiality.
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