March 1, 2022


PR is for tackling social issues: Japanese PR Award casts light on Covid, STEM and DEI.

Latest Japanese PR Award well reflects societal agendas in the country. Yusuke Yamanaka, Director at Asoviva, IPREX partner agency in Tokyo, Japan, explains.

Imagine PRSA or CIPR. Many of communications professionals join an industry association. In Japan, it is Public Relations Society of Japan, and we are one of them, of course. Last year, the organisation celebrated the latest PR Award Grand Prix, and 15 projects are awarded among 73 applications.

Historically, the award has reflected social occasions such as Tohoku tsunami disaster in 2011, women empowerment movement and global warming, while it has also examined tactical solutions, for instance the digital transformation in PR, BtoB communication and podcasting and internal communication.

However, this time, it is remarkable that many awarded initiatives are designed for not just aligning social agenda, but also tackling to solve the problems. This is also meaningful, given the environment that Japan has been long facing various issues, such as decreasing and aging population, gender inequality and low productivity to name a few.

As follows, reviewing the award is the best way to know what is going on in the market and where the country will be headed.

Dealing with Covid

Since Spring 2020, dealing with Covid became a new norm for any business. Even Japan has recorded relatively low infection and deaths rates, the society had to face number of distractions including the state of emergency which shut down businesses and everyday life.

Amid this situation, Panasonic is one of the brands that took an action quickly, awarded Gold at the competition. Teaming up with Grab, a ride hailing giant in Southeast Asia, it provided an air purifier to 5,500 taxies in the region. Perhaps people got used to a remote and virtual life, but getting back off-line was another level of challenge.

“We provide a healthy lifestyle through our home appliances, automotive, and housing with the slogan of Quality Air for Life”, Panasonic stated on its press release.

Some of the leading universities took an approach, too. While Kyoto University offered online lectures, Tokyo University of the Arts helped their alumni showcase their artwork online. These initiatives were worthwhile since many of educational class and cultural events were limited, or cancelled, at that time.

Changing an educational landscape

Looking more at the education, regardless the emergence of Covid, there has been an issue particularly in STEM. For long, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are less favoured by students, not only at the elementary school but also university level, according to government reports.

To change this trend, National Institute for Material Science has been working on. In 2013 it has started content production and now its YouTube channel has some 170K subscribers. Contents are well managed to be relevant and useful to the public, such as wireless charge for smartphone and rare-earth element. All of these are shot and edited by its staffs who have a ‘sense of crisis and passion about the project’ written on their award application.

Their strategy is to make the science visible and to share a wow experience. This would be reasonable since experiments are normally behind the door and not accessible by media and public. Therefore, notably, they opted the contents open for the secondary use, meaning classrooms and press nationwide now can use the footage for free.

“Their open-source approach encouraged schools and universities to use the contents. Communicating with key stakeholders and providing the contents were a key success factor that drives a result”, commented Tadashi Inokuchi, Head Juror, awarding it the Grand Prix.

DEI emerging

Last thing to mention is DEI, which is one of the most argued, but least achieved agendas in Japan. At the award, P&G’s Pantene #PrideHair and Eli Lilly’s Invisible Diversity projects, both won Silver, have shed light on this.

P&G has outspoken on DEI for years. In Japan, there have been a lot of unwritten rules on hairstyle anywhere. For example, it is a norm that when job-hunt, college students blackened and tied her hair in an attempt to impress recruiters. Meanwhile, some elementary to high schools require a ‘hair certificate’ if he/she has other hair color than black. It went a national controversy from the human rights viewpoint too.

The brand is not silent, and this time featured LGBTQ+. Although one out of thirteen in the coutry are identified as LGBTQ+, in many cases recruiters ask their gender, and this makes them uncomfortable. Therefore, Pantene took a complete stance to encourage them to be themselves in style with mass advertisings and social media campaigning.

On the other hand, Eli Lilly took an action on diversified health issues at the workplace. Major disability and illness are visible, but minor ones are not. It is also true that physical and mental conditions vary person to person. Thus, they promote common understandings about unseeable illness among colleagues, such as minor but frequent headache, through developing and providing toolkits and workshop materials.

Health on workplace is one of the agendas for the government. Life expectancy in Japan is the world’s highest, and it has been ever growing last 60 years. People are most likely to work longer than earlier generations, but only if they are in good health. This is why the government is so keen to promote health and productivity management.

The initiatives listed above are not exhaustive, and other projects are indeed interesting too. E-commerce unicorn Mercari won two Bronze in a bid to become a nationwide, mainstream marketplace app.

I believe more to come this year, from brands, public sector and agencies, to make the society better place for all of us. Public relations is able to change the world.


About the Author

Yusuke Yamanaka, Director, Asoviva

Yusuke is Director at Asoviva in charge of marketing and business development in APAC. For the last decade, he has been consulting for clients in PR and branding at PRAP Japan, Ogilvy PR and Interbrand, and currently also writes on a sport business media Half Time. He holds MSc International Event Management from University of Brighton, UK.

Asoviva is an international, integrated communication agency in Tokyo, and first and only IPREX partner in Japan. Its offerings in PR, content, digital and marketing helps international brands succeed in Japan and Japanese companies expand to abroad. Its parent company La Creta is member of Public Relations Society of Japan and serves to start-ups to blue chip companies.