Team IBD Japan Takes on a Timely Issue: Media and the US Market

Tokyo, city of 20 million people

Written by Federico Alvarez Del Blanco, Diego Butrich, Kim Long, Angela Napit, and Kasey Koopmans

The US media is having a moment. According to Donald Trump’s twitter account, “the media is the enemy of the American people.” Counter to his bold-faced claim, a recent AEI report found that the majority of registered voters do *not* think the industry is their enemy. That being said, confidence in the news is eroding and has been for many years in the US.  While conducting our own interviews, we found again and again that people are worried about bias and hungry for news sources from outside the American echo chamber, especially after the most recent election.  

Media drama isn’t confined to the US. The industry at large is in the midst of an identity crisis. Today’s digital advancements mean that anyone can be a journalist and anyone can share information freely on the web. Free news sites and aggregators have made the new generation believe that news should be free and have made the future of paywalls and ad-based models far from certain.

Tokyo subway transit: In both cases, silence was king.

Tokyo subway transit: In both cases, silence was king.

Enter Nikkei Asian Review

Tokyo subway transit: In both cases, silence was king.

It is against this tumultuous backdrop that our team partnered with Nikkei Asian Review (NAR). NAR is a subsidiary of Nikkei, a company that has been around for nearly 150 years and circulates the most read widely business newspaper in Japan. In 2013, NAR was launched as Nikkei’s new English language product – a weekly magazine and online news source specializing in in-depth, Pan-Asian coverage of business and financial news. In order to bolster its international brand, Nikkei also made the bold move to purchase the Financial Times in 2015. All of these elements (Nikkei heritage, FT expertise moving in-house, increasing need trustworthy news) put NAR in a promising position. Our project was to help NAR tap into one of the most lucrative English-speaking markets and explore their potential in the US. How should NAR position itself in the US? Who is their target audience? And how will NAR connect with and market to that audience?

The team (with client lead, Asuka), the office, and the imperial palace (behind)

“Tell me about the last time you read the news”

Since our project was focused on strategy for the US market, the bulk of our field work was based out of our Berkeley home. The first mission was to capture as much information as we could about competitors and their marketing strategy in the US (screen shots on screenshots!). The second mission was to conduct in-depth interviews. Our 30+ completed interviews focused on 1) gathering expert opinions from journalism professors and professionals and 2) consumer news reading habits from target respondents.  Armed with a more refined understanding of the media industry, its challenges, as well as its readers and their evolving needs, we hopped on our 19-hour flight to Tokyo.

The team that dines together, thrives together: 1st lunch with NAR team in Tokyo

Konnichi wa, Tokyo!

A few days after our final exams, Team IBD landed in Japan. Our first observation: for a city of 20 million people, it is remarkably quiet, clean and orderly. Even the public transport smelt of perfume (BART isn’t hard to beat)!  In our Day of Arrival presentation, we shared our preliminary findings and laid out the work for the weeks ahead. What struck us most that first day, was how invested the entire company was in supporting us.

Team IBD Japan with a few visiting Haasies at the Shibuya “scramble”

Designing a strategy

Over the first week, NAR put their project commitment into action. Our calendars were filled with meetings, ranging from representatives from the editorial and marketing teams to the Financial Times. With each meeting, we zeroed in closer on where NAR stood and what they could leverage in approaching a new market.

Combining what we had learned in-country with our in market research, we presented a detailed overview of NAR’s competitors and how they stacked up against NAR along various dimensions at the end of the first week. During the second week, we focused our efforts on defining the target reader.  Based on our consumer interviews and the powers of post-it collaboration, our team refined 3 key personas we recommended NAR to target.  

Teammates Angel, Diego and Kim brainstorming tactics (note bag of Kitkats, a key ingredient to team success)

Grand finale

Coming into the final week, we finally brought all the pieces together and constructed our recommendations. Our final presentation took place on our final day in the office. It was widely attended by ~45 people, including the editor in chief and other senior leaders. We were thrilled to receive their earnest engagement in our final discussion. They promised that when we visit NAR in a year’s time, it will look like a whole new organization.

IBD Japan – Flash Mob (public stretching)

When we gathered for a team drink post-presentation, we all agreed: best IBD project ever (note: unadulterated bias). When not absorbed with the fascinating problem we were helping solve, Japan showed us a helluva good time. From wondrous meal after wondrous meal to kabuki theater to strikingly beautiful temples and shrines, Japan’s charms wouldn’t quit. We all spent the three weeks with anime-inspired stars in our eyes. Amidst all the adventures, the highlight for us all was the karaoke. We did it all for the karaoke.

Update from IBD Tokyo – What time is the next train?

Ever imagined fitting 3000 or so people on a street crossing? At Shibuya crossing (pictured below) this probably happens every 3 minutes with surprising ease making it the world’s busiest crossing.  We landed in Tokyo some 9 days ago with the idea that it is a city where people are always on the go, love to shop, eat sushi and drink sake before they go home.

Shibuya Crossing

But our work here has taught us that this city is much more than that and given us a glimpse of the true spirit of Japanese culture. In Tokyo, people at first may appear aloof – not willing to talk to each other on subways or even make eye contact on streets but a closer look reveals that Japanese people will go to any extent to “silently” help others. In one such experience, Japanese people showed us the Haas defining principle of “Beyond Yourself” when the same people who never talked to each other on the subways came forward to help a lady needing urgent help for her child. In the end, all was fine but the lady probably would never know who all silently helped her and later selflessly moved on to catch their next train.

Before we landed, we were told that Japan would be hot and humid during our visit but apparently all of us had forgotten what hot and humid can do to our bodies with their combined forces. Having acclimatized ourselves very quickly, we immediately got down to business and have interviewed numerous business leaders across different industries to test our hypotheses. These leaders represented a few Haas alums and business executives in companies such as Kyocera, NTT Docomo, DFJ-JAIC, Bank of America Japan, Salesforce, Hitachi Solutions Ltd, Evernote, BellSystems 24, and JGC Corporation. We felt that the Haas network was extremely helpful by getting us interviews at their own companies and graciously opening their own network to help us especially Prof. Toshiro Kita (visiting Haas from Doshisha Business School). Pictured below is one such alum (Morikuni Hasegawa MBA 2003, 2nd from left) who helped us get a very crucial interview at Hitachi Solutions Ltd.

Outside Hitachi Solutions Ltd.

Another highlight of our visit has been a weekend trip to Kyoto where in addition to conducting interviews at Doshisho University we attended one of the biggest festivals of Japan, Gion Matsuri. Originating some 1100 years ago people lit up Yamaboko floats across downtown. Kyoto also has some of the most beautiful temples in Japan and we would strongly recommend making a visit to at least the Ryoanji Temple (pictured below),  Fushimi Inari Shrine (with beautiful red pillars), Kinkakuji Temple, and Kiyomizu Temple on your next trip to Japan. Back in Tokyo, we have explored various areas of the city including Tsukiji fish market, Ginza, Roppongi, Shinjuku and Shibuya and now started advising other tourists on which subway train to catch. The city has impressed some of us so much that when in a good mood we end up claiming that we should have taken birth in Tokyo.

Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto

For the remaining part of our trip we plan to assimilate all the information we have gathered from our meetings and PFPS influence of using post-it notes is beginning to show up in our hotel room. Of course, there is always some amazing ramen place open at 2am for a late night food run.

Fushimi Inari Shrine                                                           Room 2502: The PFPS Wall