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Nov 22, 2019

Covering PR events in Japan as a foreign journalist, writer, influencer

Covering PR events in Japan as a foreign journalist, writer, influencer photo


In a Japan that is ever-increasing its efforts to promote its charms, journeys and products to the foreign tourist and consumer opportunities and invitations for foreign journalists in Japan as well as Japan-based foreign bloggers, writers, YouTubers and other influencers are also increasing. The seasoned foreign journalist may well turn their nose up at many PR events in Japan courting media attention, but for those journalists just starting out or for those foreign bloggers who’ve managed to cultivate a sizable audience, attending press events / product launches / pre-openings in Japan can be an exciting experience. Although it may be a little daunting the first time around. Which is where this article comes in. 


Quirky snacks, awards ceremonies, store openings, tapioca drinks, exhibits, luxury trains, craft beer, theme parks, burgers, illuminations … are just some of the themes of PR events in Japan that the foreign journalist, writer, blogger, all-round creator may be invited to attend. 


In the case of foreign “influencers,” it’s more than likely that extra care will be taken on the part of PR companies in Japan to ensure that they are made comfortable with English-language press kits, interpretation, and guidance. This is not always the case though, and those writers for English-language media based in Japan should, in many cases, expect to be very much in the minority compared to their Japanese counterparts when attending smaller-scale media events in Japan. 


Access and invitations to PR events in Japan starts with having a relationship with Japanese PR companies. Media of any significant size in Japan will already have this. 

  

It starts with an email from the people responsible for the PR which tends to arrive in the journalist’s inbox around one month to two weeks prior to the event, launch or release. Although in the case of those announcements which do not have any corresponding PR event, sometimes these things can arrive on the day of, say, a product’s release. 


Emails regarding PR events in Japan often read something like this … 


報道関係者各位 - Houdou kankeisha kakui - “To members of the press … “


… before, and almost always, launching into the company or organization (name in full) that is responsible for the event, service or product to which the PR company wants to draw media attention to. 


And then the email typically contains the “headline” and first paragraph of the full press release which will have been attached as a PDF to the email itself.


In the case of a PR company requesting media coverage of an event, emails will conclude with words to this effect and an explanation of how to fill-out an attendance form.  


The extension of the request is typically presented in very formal and humble Japanese … 


報道関係者の皆様におかれましてはご多用中とは存じますが、

万障お繰り合わせの上、ご取材賜りますよう 何卒よろしくお願いいたします。


“We understand that you, members of the media, may be very busy, but we would like to kindly request your coverage of this event.”


Covering PR events in Japan as a foreign journalist, writer, influencer:  Jump to ...


Filling out the Japanese application for a press event


Preparation for PR events in Japan


Content of Japanese PR event press releases and press kits


The flow of the PR event


Writing up a PR eventSales, sales-support skills


Follow-up and the obligations of the journalist



Filling out the Japanese application for a press event


Large-scale events in Japan, (motor shows, anime conventions and other large-scale expos) typically have a press coverage application form on the event’s homepage. Journalists who have covered the same event in recent years will often be sent an email from the people handling the event’s PR reminding them in advance of when online press registration opens. 


In the case of smaller and / or one-off PR events in Japan press coverage applications are typically completed by fax or email. Yes, Japan still loves to do things by fax. 


Covering PR events in Japan as a foreign journalist, writer, influencer photo


A journalist might see a message that reads something along the lines of … 


なお、本件をご出席いただける場合は、添付のFAX返信用紙、または下記フォームをご記入の上、(insert date here) までに、メールまたはFAXにてご返信くださいますようお願い申し上げます。


“If you are able to attend, please fill out the attached fax reply form or the form below and email or fax it to us by (insert date here).”


The form itself might be referred to as ご出席返信フォーム - “Attendance form.”


Typically, the details that need to be filled out in the application are … 


貴社名:(kisha-mei) - company / organization name

貴媒体名:(baitai-mei) - media name (website / newspaper / magazine name)

貴部署名:(kibusho-mei) - department / team name

貴氏名:(kishi-mei) - your name

電話番号 / 連絡先:telephone number

メールアドレス:email address

撮影あり:(satsuei ari - coverage type): ムービー (movie - filming) スチール (still - photography)

備考:remarks (and special requests)


If sending an application by email members of the media might expect a reply from a PR representative. In the case of fax, don’t expect any reply or confirmation. Just turn up on the day and everything should be fine.


Preparation for PR events in Japan


Perhaps the greatest challenge facing foreign journalists based in Japan, in terms of attending PR events, is that press releases are almost always provided in Japanese only.  


Again, the largest-scale events that typically attract foreign journalists to Japan specifically to cover the event will tend to have press releases provided in English also. Otherwise though, the foreign journalist in Japan will have to get to grips with the Japanese version of press releases and details about the PR event.


If publication-time is of the essence, then some preparation work will be needed. It’s generally easy enough to get the required details from a press release courtesy of online translation tools. However, extra fact-checking may be required when it comes to names (of people, products, places, brands, companies et al) as translation engines tend not to be able to pick up on any nuance in the reading / pronunciation of Japanese names written in kanji characters. And also the katakana rendering of foreign names can take a little while to get to grips with. 


In the race to get copy ready foreign journalists and writers attending events in Japan are at a disadvantage to their Japanese counterparts, so having a draft article written (or at least a fair idea of story and angle) before the event is recommended for those in a hurry.


Pay attention to the term 囲み取材 - kakomi shuzai - which is referring to on-the-spot interviews at the event. In some cases journalists may need to request these in advance by contacting the PR company directly, rather than via and press release or application form.


Content of Japanese PR event press releases and press kits


Japanese press releases for PR events tend to use two or three paragraphs to introduce the event / product, it’s significance, theme, and a little historical background. If special guests are attending they may also be given a short paragraph of profile information. The same for relevant companies, organizations and brands. 


Press releases for PR events in Japan will provide details about the event location and time, as well as when the reception (受付) for welcoming journalists begins. The press release will also include a basic time schedule and flow of the event. However, especially in the case of more complex events such as awards ceremonies, a full breakdown of what is happening when and who is going to be standing where and on what side of the stage will not be provided until the reception of the event itself. 


Whether provided in advance or on the day, press event materials may detail some 注意事項 -- chui jikou -- precautions.


These tend to cover matters regarding what journalists cannot take pictures of -- usually members of the public, other guests attending the event. It will also detail something along the lines of, photographs / footage shot during the event can only be used in articles specific to the event. At some point it will mention that positioning for photographers / camera persons is arranged on a first-come-first-served basis. 


Japanese press releases usually include the URL to official images. In the case of a PR event, a time is detailed as to when they will be available for download. Look out for the phrase, オフィシャル画像 - official gazou - official images.


The flow of the PR event


It depends on the scale and significance of the event -- for something with a lot of clout then members of the media can be queueing up an hour or so ahead of reception. For those events commanding of less attention, well, press reception usually begins 30 minutes before the event starts and turning up at the last minute tends to be OK is most cases. Note that PR teams in Japan are pretty strict in terms of when they open to accept members of the press and tend not to do so even a minute early. 


Have business cards ready for the press reception of the PR event you are attending, at least one will be required, if not two. Japan is the land of business cards so it’s better to bring along a few more to any event incase interesting introductions need to be made. 


At the reception journalists are usually handed a clear file containing the press release that they were sent in advance by email, as well as any supplementary information (always assume that this will be Japanese only). They will also be given a “press” sticker. Pay attention to this as sometimes a number is written on it indicating the order in which members of the press are seated. 


After having registered there is either a brief period of milling around or waiting in line for PR staff to start directing people into their positions. 


Even a thin grasp of Japanese will be enough for foreign journalists attending a PR event to be able to follow the directions of staff, so there should be little to worry about here. Where there might be concern is the extended period of sitting, kneeling, and / or squatting on the floor. As tends to be the way with PR events in Japan involving a stage, members of the press, while afforded the best view, usually have to make do without any seating. Japanese journalists seem to fare better with getting comfortable on hard flooring than their overseas counterparts do.


Stage events, presentations, announced unveilings -- expect all of these to take place in Japanese with no interpretation provided. Where overseas company representatives are present, they tend to start out with a simple greeting in Japanese before proceeding in English (in which case an on stage interpreter provides follow-up interpretation). Sound checks and white balance checks are offered before the event gets into gear. 


Experience suggests that most PR events in Japan (for the media) are brief affairs. Rarely more than an hour or so, particular for those events that are based around stage presentations and unveilings.


Stage events are concluded with a photo session (フォトセッション). These tend to be a bit of a free-for-all with members of the press jostling for position.  


Formal PR event proceedings in Japan are followed with a time slot for the above mentioned on-the-spot interviews. At the smaller events in Japan foreign journalists should not expect interpretation to be provided (unless it has been organized in advance -- unlikely) so questions will have to be asked in Japanese (unless of course the interviewee is known to speak English).  


Covering PR events in Japan as a foreign journalist, writer, influencer photo


It’s usually detailed in the press kit, but questions should be limited to the event or promotion at hand, so there will be no chance to get into whatever personal scandal might be surrounding any celebrities present (and this being Japan, if a celebrity was at the center of any whiff of a scandal, their scheduled appearance at a PR event would be swiftly cancelled).


On-the-spot interviews tend to last only 10 - 20 minutes, so there’s a significant chance of some questions going unasked. 


And that’s a wrap. Don’t forget to pick up any goodie bags that might be available at reception.


Writing up a PR event


Perhaps the hardest part of a PR event article write up for foreign journalists in Japan is making sense of the sound recordings they (should) have taken during the event.  


Still, sound recordings are surely the best way to go. Experience suggests that trying to take notes of what people are saying leaves the foreign journalist playing an impossible game of catch-up, not to mention the risk of getting their quotations entirely wrong.  


Sifting through a sound recording though, can be a tiresome and frustrating task. And poor sound quality can make it a challenge even when the help of native Japanese speakers is called upon.  


If time is of the essence, it’s better for the foreign journalist to limit themselves to just a couple of choice quotes, or even just to those parts of speech that they are sure they can translate correctly. Still, this is article writing for a PR event, so few people will be expecting anything hard-hitting or particularly revealing. 


Should sifting through a sound recording prove to be too tedious, an option is to check any articles already published by Japanese media which will usually contain quotes that can help point the foreign writer in the right direction.  


Pay attention to details on Japanese press releases and press kits regarding when it is OK to publish any resulting articles. In most cases in Japan articles can be published as soon as the PR event has wrapped. It’s not always the case though. Look out for the phrase 情報解禁 - jouhou kaikin - lit. “information lift.” If there is any doubt, check with PR event staff.


Follow-up and the obligations of the journalist


PR companies and other organizations that are involved with the planning of promotional media events in Japan often face the challenge of trying as much as possible to ensure that media they bring to events will actually publish content about it, as well as conversely trying to persuade the event holders that actually they will not be able to guarantee any output from attending media. It’s rare that PR event organizers will get themselves bogged down in a contract which stipulates that they must guarantee output. Decisions regarding the publication of related content are entirely those of editors back in the office. Unless, of course, money has changed hands and what is actually being published is an official “PR” article -- in which case it will lose a certain amount of value as genuine content.  


So, to this end, no matter how fancy and lavish a PR event might have been, in most cases, the attending journalist is under no obligation to do the write up, at least not on the part of the PR company than extended the invitation.  


This being said, proving to be a reliable source of write-ups can help the journalist establish a healthy relationship with a PR company and get themselves invited to any number of interesting events or be on the mailing list for information about interesting products. 


In most cases it’s rare after PR events in Japan for company representatives to pester journalists for output unless its for an event that was particularly grand and expensive to put together, and only open to select members of the press. In some cases, they may request that journalists send them links / screenshots to published copy. Some of the larger expos and conventions in Japan actually request that this be done otherwise the journalist may not be welcome to return the following year.  


It’s extremely rare that PR companies will request to see copy before it goes to publication or print. However, when particularly picky celebrities are involved, this can happen. Whether or not there is actually any obligation on the part of journalists or editors in Japan to do this, is unclear.  




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