Corporate Japan’s Feudal Public Relations

The months of August began with a breaking story from the Nikkei: Hitachi Corporation and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) were in discussions to merge. The stories were not clear if the merger would be of some of their business (not that uncommon—see, for example, TMEIC), or their entire business. If it was a true merger of both companies, it would create Japan’s largest company after Toyota.

The reasons for such a merger are obvious, as they are one of many types of Japanese companies facing two problems: a shrinking domestic market, and competition overseas from companies from places that they previously did not have to fight against (namely companies from Korea and China). A merger such as between Hitach and MHI would be a great way for Japan’s top-tier construction/technology/heavy industries companies to collaborate and compete not just again GE and Seimens (their historic rivals) but also Samsung and the growing horde of Chinese companies, when it comes to bidding and seeking overseas projects.

Yet the reaction by both companies to the release was a sharp denial. Hitach put out a one line press release: “The article is not based on a fact.” (When I read this, I was struck by the peculiar English—they surely did not mean to deny the singular fact but not deny the plural “facts,” but that was my first impressiony.) Then we had the MHI press release that reflected an ever worse command of the English language:

Even after a denial of the report this morning related to possible integration of business operations of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (“MHI”) and Hitachi, Ltd., there have been a continuing flow of inaccurate information and reports pertaining to this matter. We feel uncomfortable that this inaccurate report continues. We hereby reiterate that the series of information is not based upon MHI’s own corporate decision or disclosure, and MHI has no plan to enter into any of the arrangement reported, while we resister strong objections to those inappropriate conducts.

My reaction reading that is to cringe. Why can’t these companies—which have hundreds of foreign employees—use native English speakers to check their English language public statements? You would think this is especially true for such statements that are picked up and read by the international press? This story is almost a month old, but I mention it because a person in Japan’s PR industry (which is basically dominated by two companies, Dentsu and Hakuhodo) just shared with me his insight that, while both these companies used Japan’s PR firms to handle their new product promotion and advertising, they take on this type of “crisis management” by themselves. For all the criticism that this blog has lobbed at Dentsu over the years, my feeling is—it shows! And hearing this, it reminded me of this section from a recent issue of “Terry’s Take”:

Traditional bedrock companies in Japan are proud and feudalistic. This used to be their strength—commonality of purpose, self-sacrificing employees, and no arguments about decisions from the top. However, with the advent of the information age, quality of response and reaction has become more important than unwavering commitment and persistence, and Hitachi in particular has suffered as a result. Perhaps ironic given that the company is so deeply involved in the IT industry.

Quick blog update

Apologies for the lack of posts, and even moreso for the various technical errors that have befallen the blog in recent weeks. Specifically, that comments are completely broken, with neither new comments able to be posted, nor old comments able to be viewed. I do not know exactly how, but the database tables seem to have become corrupted, and it remains unclear as to whether or not they will be fully recoverable. The prognosis for recovery is mixed, but not dire. The best case scenario, naturally, is that I can recover all of the lost data and we can get back to normal. The worst case, however, is still far better than it could be.

First of all, I do have a complete backup of the database from February, and second of all only the comments section of the database has been mangled. Therefore, even should repairs on the extant database files be impossible, all that will be lost are the comments from the past few months. This would still be a fairly bad thing, particularly for the discussions during the tsunami/Fukushima crisis in March, but at least the posts themselves would be intact.

As I am currently commuting from Jersey into Manhattan, and in the middle of moving to Brooklyn (at least for the next 6 months) I am still a bit too short on time to sit down and get everything fixed, but rest assured that I will get things back to normal within the next couple of weeks, and that we will hopefully see a return to more normal levels of activity, and finally, that the blog’s crufty, outdated theme will finally be replaced with one that will look fairly similar, but consist of code more befitting the browsers of 2011.

And let this be a lesson to all of you, as well as myself: backup your data early, often, and to a safe place.