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Ask the Doctor with Sandeep Goyal

30-January-2018
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Ask the Doctor with Sandeep Goyal

Dear Mr Goyal,
I believe you have worked for many years with Japanese ad agencies and clients. I currently work at a large multinational agency, with HQ in the US. In fact, this is my third job and all of them have been at large multinational agencies of Western origin. I have recently received an offer from a Japanese ad agency. The client that I will be handling is also Japanese. I find the offer and the package very good, but am a trifle hesitant about joining the Japanese agency and servicing a Japanese client. I have never handled a Japanese client before and all I hear about them is not very encouraging. With all your years in handling the Japanese and in working with them, do you think the job would be enjoyable? Or is it all too process-driven with very little creative leeway? Do enlighten and oblige.
Anu P

Dear Anu
I normally do not peddle my own wares but I would seriously suggest you buy a copy of ‘Konjo – The Fighting Spirit’ published by Harper Collins and authored by me in 2014.
‘Konjo’ is a detailed account of my Dentsu days. You will get all the insights you may want on working for a Japanese ad agency, and handling Japanese clients. Yes, the Japanese work culture is different, and Japanese clients are different. Having said that, I have also worked with Western ad agencies and many multinational clients from the US and Europe. In a compare and contrast situation, I much prefer the Japanese over the Westerners. My answer may surprise you, but that is the truth.
Before I tell you why I prefer the Japanese, let me tell you how they are different. For starters, working with the Japanese demands discipline. You cannot be late for a meeting. It is seen to be disrespectful. You cannot make a commitment to a deadline, and then not deliver. That is seen to be highly unprofessional. You cannot sacrifice quality. That is deemed to be cheating. So, the Japanese follow very simple and easy-to-understand work principles. If you adhere to them, you won’t really have a problem. In fact, the client will respect you and love you. If you do not adhere to work basics on time, commitment and quality, then the Japanese would rather not work with you. Life is fairly black and white, with no scope for greys in between. I started to work with the Japanese almost 25 years ago and toed the line on these basic work principles. Life was good. Work was rewarding. Colleagues and clients were appreciative.
Now to why I prefer the Japanese. 1. They are fair. If they ask for the impossible, they will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in trying to achieve that impossible objective. And, most times, the impossible will become possible because of Konjo, the fighting spirit. 2. They have more permanence and a longer-term view of the business. I think Wall Street killed the Western world because of living from quarter-to-quarter. Thankfully the Japanese take a much wider and broader and longer view of the business. They are willing to invest, they are willing to be patient. I have handled Toyota, Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Canon, Hitachi, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, ANA, Ajinomoto, Unicharm and a host of other Japanese brands. The DNA of all these brands is very similar. Methodical. Step-by-step. Unhurried. Yet, very focused and very open to ideas and consumer feedback. The accent is always in innovation, efficiency, customer service and customer satisfaction.
I also prefer the Japanese because they are good friends to make in the long run. It takes a bit to break the initial ice but once you become friends, you stay friends. The first senior Japanese I met and befriended in 1994, is still in active touch with me. In fact, he turned 80 last year and has been retired for over a decade now. But we were his guests in Tokyo last year and he is visiting us with his wife next month in India. So, relationships are deep and meaningful.
It is not that the Western agencies do not have robust value systems or that Western clients are purely transactional. But the Japanese relationships have one element which Western relationships do not have: honour. And that really is a big difference.
I would heartily recommend that you join the Japanese agency. I think you will enjoy your innings with the Japanese client. But I repeat you will need three essential qualities: discipline, discipline, discipline.

Dear Sir,
There is a lot of noise these days about AI and machine learning. I work at a leading digital agency but I see no visible signs of usage of these technologies at my workplace. There is a lot of talk, especially at seminars and conferences, little else. But I do believe that technology will impact our business, sooner rather than later. I have looked up various courses but most of them are theoretical and with no connect with my kind of business. I want to learn but do not know where to start.
Nishith D

Dear Nishith,
I really do not know what you do at the leading digital agency that you work for. But programmatic advertising is already a reality in India and involves both AI and machine learning and if you are involved with this new domain in your business, you will get to quickly understand both the technologies involved and the processes that help machines perfect the bidding system and profitable outcomes. Direct exposure to programmatic in itself would be rich learning. If you are not directly involved with these kinds of campaigns, ask to be moved to a desk where you will get first-hand exposure. The business is still nascent, but it is surely the future. Getting exposure and understanding at this early stage will do your career a lot of good.
Additionally, there are of course all the Coursera courses. They are immensely useful and extremely cost-effective, and time flexible. Not all of them may be directly relevant to media or to India but there is lot to imbibe and learn.

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