executive January 2019

Global and Local Creative

How Williams Lea Tag is making it happen in the market

Williams Lea Tag was founded in 1820 and has grown to be a leading independent provider of marketing and communications services with 10,000 staff in more than 180 countries.

Today, about 80% of its employees work outside the UK. Japan is a key market for this British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) member as it works to strengthen its Asia–Pacific operations. BCCJ ACUMEN spoke to the firm’s Global CEO David Kassler, who recently visited Tokyo.

For those of our readers who don’t know Williams Lea Tag, could you briefly sum up its activities?
We are a leading global provider of marketing and communications services, enabling brands worldwide to optimise their communications and activate their marketing strategies.

What does that involve, day-to-day?
In simple terms, for the marketing side, we are a creative production, sourcing and print manage­ment specialist that can help brands activate their marketing strategies across all channels and regions. We do digital marketing, social media, out-of-home advertising and TV. We take a big idea from a creative agency and we make it happen in the marketplace. Sometimes that is local, so just here in Japan; sometimes it’s regional, across Asia; some­times it’s global, all around the world. We make sure whenever [an idea] goes into a new country that it’s translated and it is culturally appropriate for that country. On the communications side, we are a business process outsourcing partner offering anything from back-office-support services to mail-room management.

Where in Asia have you got offices?
Our main office in Japan is in Tokyo, and we also have teams sitting in Kobe and Okinawa. Across Asia-Pacific we have offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney, Melbourne, Seoul and Chennai, India. 

How big is your Japan operation?
We employ approximately 350 people in Japan with a mixture of local and global clients.

What trends are you seeing in Japan and elsewhere in the world?
If you take the Japanese market in the next 20 years, there is obviously a big demographic change happening. We think it’s going to become more and more important that you have flexi­bility in the workforce. We think Williams Lea Tag is going to be greatly appreciated by clients here in Japan.

We are an outsourcing business. We provide flexibility to companies with their marketing teams and communications teams, and so we are finding the companies really appreciate the flexibility of having an external provider of resources. Especially here in Japan, because the unemployment rate is so low—I think it’s 2.5%—companies really need that flexibility from an outside provider of teams and people.

How important a market is Japan?
Japan is a very important market for us; it equates to 25% of our Asia business. We see Japan as a big growth driver in the future and there is enor­mous opportunity to improve awareness and under­standing of what we as a business do and how we can add value as a strategic partner to both local and international clients.

In this tough labour market, what can employers do to acquire, retain and motivate human resources?
Work–life balance is an incredibly important theme globally, but it is well documented that Japan has some of the longest working hours with little flexibility. I hope that over the coming years that work–life balance and career flexi­bility changes for the better for the Japanese workforce. Secondly, it would be good to see more employers embrace a diverse workforce and welcome those who traditionally stayed at home back to work. Whether that be new mothers or senior citizens, they all still have a lot to offer an employer.

I gather the male–female mix of your Japan employees is good?
In Japan, 51% of our staff are female, which is unusually high in Japanese society. As a business we are firm believers in diversity and support initiatives to promote equality across the globe.

How do you see work style reform and how it can affect the labour market?
I think any improvement in flexibility in work–life balance is very positive for us, both as an employer and as a service provider to clients. [We are] really positive about those moves in the market place.