aWe talked to Mr. Naotake Hibiya, who has been maintaining parallel careers and multiple job titles. In our last interview, he mentioned he had 11 different business cards. His activities range from his main business to a work-style reform promotion organization, venture company support, the Shibuya ward, and a rock bar. However, all of these are related to public relations and communication.
Besides these, he also works as the vice chairman of the Public Relations Committee of the Public Relations Society of Japan, which is involved in promoting awareness and dissemination of public relations in Japan and is in a position to overlook the PR industry. As he is involved in PR in a broad sense, beyond media exposure and transmission via the Internet, we asked him about the coronavirus crisis, which has led to chaos due to the variety of information available, and the transmission and reception of information that will change the crisis into a turning point. We also enquired about the ideal state of public relations.
Vice chairman of the Public Relations Committee of the Public Relations Society of Japan (public interest incorporated association), organizer of the BtoB/IT Public Relations Study Group, director of At Will Work (general corporate judicial person), director of Public Meets Innovation (general corporate judicial person), evangelist of Project30 (30 people connecting Shibuya), and sponsor of the shhGarage rock bar, among others.
Avoiding information confusion amid unprecedented circumstances
A variety of information has spread during the coronavirus crisis, often causing confusion. In such circumstances, what should the information sender think, and what should be paid attention to?
Hibiya: “This is not limited to times when information can be confusing. The premise of public relations and communication is to understand and take into consideration the environment of the people you are trying to communicate with and the external environment surrounding them. As we all know, until now—when we are returning to normal after the first wave—there has been an overflow of topics related to the coronavirus infection, where phases (period for dealing with specific issues) and themes have been mixed together.
Regarding phases, sometimes it is unclear whether information covers the topics from “Against Corona” to “With Corona” or “After Corona.” With regard to content, it covers a wide range of issues, such as the collapse of medical services and infection prevention at the personal level, responses in case of infection, livelihood protection support in the “Against” topic and other urgent issues, the establishment of new rules for the “After” period, education, and the ideal state of government agencies. Further, general remarks have been presented on these, and there are some instances of eliminating one of the topics; also, the elements of the phases and themes are mixed, and various types of information continue to be transmitted simultaneously.
From the standpoint of public relations and the information sender, in a situation where the external environment changes by the moment and the needs and issues of the recipient are diversified, it is very difficult to determine the concerns of information recipients and what they want. Under such circumstances, what senders should focus on is to clarify which theme in which phase they want to talk about, not only from the perspective of planning but also in terms of the content to be sent. If enough consideration is not given to this, recipients and senders will not be able to determine the topic they want to read and the intent of the message they want to send.”
The direction of public relations after the corona crisis
From the viewpoint of information recipients, it is difficult to know what kind of media or articles they should look out for to obtain necessary information on coronavirus. In order to survive in this time of stress, information should be prioritized more clearly than ever before, and we should derive expert opinions on information. The sender must change as the reader changes. How will information dissemination change in the future?
Hibiya: “The dissemination of superficial information will no longer work. Needless to say, with the coronavirus crisis, the sensitivity of recipients to ‘unnecessary urgencies’ has increased. Regardless of whether it is business-to-business or business-to-consumer, the future is unclear. As risks and uncertainties increase, everyone is cautious about the selection of information, so conventional instantaneous, sentimental, and large-volume communication will be less likely to function.
In addition, in a rapidly changing social situation, public relations [PR] in a broad sense is increasingly needed. In the concept of PR, which literally means ‘building relationships with society,’ it is important to work with all segments, such as customers, employees, partner companies, industry groups, and regulatory agencies. The inputs may be biased if an individual or a single organization owns the information-gathering antennas. It will be easier to grasp the situation and make predictions by gaining knowledge and trends through connections with various fields. One of way of achieving this is open innovation and hiring unique human resources as outside directors. In any case, when sticking to a specific industry or organization, it won’t be possible to keep up with the major trends in the world, and the era of being left behind when a rule change occurs will accelerate.”
Being fair and having a medium- to long-term vision are the premises for building good relationships with such stakeholders. Based on these premises, the idea of “doing for someone (in a wide sense)” will be born, which aims toward the public nature and utility that contribute to industries, business circles as a whole, the country, and the world beyond the pursuit of profits and frameworks of any one individual or company.
Hibiya: “For example, we have the medical consultation app LEBER of the AGREE company. Mr. Ito, medical doctor and CEO, has been steadily operating with the mission of ‘connecting people with a sense of trust,’ but with the coronavirus crisis, attention has been focused on remote medical care, and inquiries have suddenly increased. In addition, the Ebisu Journal launched the Takeout and Delivery MAP and Ebisu Children’s Meal Project to help the local food service industry during the corona crisis and reduce housework among local residents. These efforts were carried out at an early stage while exchanging opinions with the shopping district, local government, and local people, and feedback such as ‘It helped me’ have been received from various related parties.
I think this was possible because Mr. Takahashi, the representative of Ebisu Journal, has always taken a firm stand on having a community-based newspaper and working as a medium that connects people. Last year, he participated in a local activity, “30 People Connecting Shibuya,” and created a relationship with an NPO involved in child-rearing support for fathers and mothers. Because he has built relationships and has continued to carry out steady activities, he was able to immediately grasp the needs of the region and take support measures during this emergency.
There are many similar food-and-drink support campaigns, and that’s why it is difficult to determine what campaign can be used for each situation. Here, one criteria is whether or not there are traces of daily activities and people not only pursuing their own profits but also thinking about helping to improve the community, such as the case of Ebisu Journal. I believe that thinking about the future together with the people around us and the consumers will become a trend.”
What is required is not a vision but a sense of “solidarity”
Finally, Hibiya mentioned that, in addition to being able to depict a medium- to long-term vision, the cases given as specific examples have other things in common.
Hibiya: “I would like to emphasize here that a medium- to long-term vision is essential for having good relationships with stakeholders, but that alone isn’t enough. From now on, empathy and a sense of fellowship cultivated through actual experiences—a connection associated with bodily feelings, so to speak—will be required. I think that the strength of such connections is being seen in the reaction to the development of virtual worlds, such as social media. The snack boom and the popularity of communities and events centered on real places such as 6Curry are easy-to-understand examples.
Now that physical contact has been restricted and the habit of going out into the real world is changing, people will carefully select where they will want to go. At this time, I think that what is needed is not a place with a philosophy that has already been established but a place where people can think together about the goals they are aiming for.”
・ The premise of public relations and communication is to understand and consider the environment of the people you want to communicate with and the external environment surrounding those people.
・ In order to avoid information confusion under these unprecedented circumstances, senders should be conscious about clarifying which theme of which phase they want to talk about in the content to be transmitted
・ After the coronavirus crisis, the conventional instantaneous, sentimental, and large-volume communication will no longer function.
・ It will be easier to grasp the situation and make predictions by gaining knowledge and trends through connections with various fields.
・ Being fair and having a medium- to long-term vision are the premises for building good relationships with stakeholders.
・ In the future, empathy and a sense of fellowship cultivated through actual experiences—a connection associated with bodily feelings, so to speak—will be required.