（April 2017 – September 2018）
We worked together to make a foundation of public relations, a big step for getting out the word on what FSC Japan does.
FSC®️ Japan is the Japanese office of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council®️), an international NPO which manages FSC certifications, the strictest forest certification in the world. They first consulted us around March 2017. We recently looked back on their case with Ms. Emika Kono, FSC Japan’s head of public relations.
The 18 months – which started with no PR person, we thought about “what public relations is to FSC Japan” again.
Kaneko of Hitoshizuku (hereinafter, Kaneko):
What is the story behind your decision to consult us? Would you tell us about the challenges you had, for example, the necessity of a stronger PR team?
Ms. Kono of FSC Japan (hereinafter, Ms. Kono):
Before we consulted you, we didn’t have a PR person in FSC Japan. There was even no clear concept of what the public relations among us was in the first place.
Until then, we’d consult our communications advisor when we hosted an event or anything, about how to design or how to promote it. However, while we were developing our strategy with them, we noticed that we hadn’t developed our public relations’ field at all – such as reporting what we’ve done in the world, other than planning/holding events.
We had this idea that “PR = paying a lot of money to put up an advertisement”, but our conversation took a turn towards finding possible ways to advertise in the media with a limited budget, or to advertise or promote not by putting up ads, and then the advisor introduced Hitoshizuku to us.
Thank you for consulting us. When I look back now, your work had just started without a clear answer of “what is public relations in general” and “what is public relations to FSC Japan”. Honestly speaking, did you have any kind of confusion about that?
Yes, I personally was very confused. My initial request was pretty vague like “I don’t know much about public relations, but I need some help”, and it was difficult for me to clarify what I wanted you to do. I wasn’t quite sure about where I should draw the line as to what I can ask for or how much I can ask you to do.
For an organization without any PR professionals like us, it might be easier to get into if you provide some explanations on “what public relations are”. I think there was a gap between what I thought PR was and what other members did. I came to notice that, too, while I was working with you.
Is it clear what public relations is to you now?
Yes, it has become very clear after this year and a half! About a year after we asked you for PR support, we noticed we had different thoughts on the goal of our public relations and had an honest conversation about what we were thinking. I felt that I could sort things out around that time. Then I also tried other things like reading about a couple of books on PR, and I thought, I should’ve read those in the beginning!
There is a general idea of “public relations”, but we can say we deliberately haven’t clarified the scope of our work. The importance or stand point of PR differs depends on the size of the organization, and in case of FSC Japan, you have various stakeholders such as certified organizations, companies, and people related to forestry. Also for us, the focusing point of our communication became clear after working together for a year and a half.
Our support varies from making strategies to running a promotion. “Your advice was objective and from a PR perspective, which was very helpful.”
Specifically, we provided support such as setting regular PR strategy meetings, making and distributing press releases, making guidelines and articles for social media, and planning and running events and promotions. How do you feel about the process and results of them?
Overall, I learned that timing matters very much in the public relations world. In order to release information at the proper time, we need to take steps and time to collaborate with stakeholders and prepare beforehand. As our organization involves many people, we took a lot of time to prepare a single document.
Right, we completely left the coordination to you, so I think we needed to get into it more and support you.
By reflecting upon that, and now you’re directly communicating with them, which is actually really helpful. But I guess it’s difficult to draw a line as to how much you would do.
Also, it’s been very helpful that I can frankly ask you things like “what can I do in this case?” by phone or e-mail. It’s quite hard to find the answer by myself.
We also remade our pamphlet this year, and it’s become harder for me to know by myself whether people can understand the words I choose, so your objective advice was helpful. In addition, you told me, for branding, that our messages should be unified, and that was a wake-up call to me as I hadn’t thought about that. Besides the pamphlet, we could write a factbook about FSC Japan, which I think is one of our achievements. We separately have information even inside the organization, so we could sort out what kind of information we have.
With regular reviews and updates, the factbook can be a fortune for FSC Japan which you can permanently utilize on occasions such as interviews.
It was also helpful that you reviewed a presentation event and gave us your objective view. We usually get too exhausted after finishing the event to review it all by ourselves.
Also, we feel grateful that you built a foundation for co-sponsoring a project in order to get sponsorship from cooperative firms for a promotion which aimed at raising awareness of the FSC. It was the first time for us to ask for sponsors, so we didn’t have any information at all and didn’t know where to begin. I feel that we can run this promotion better next year with what we did this year as a basic format. It’s something that you’ll never be able to fully understand without some trial and error.
You really gave us a wide range of help. However, as I said in the beginning, I feel that we might have asked you for some work outside of public relations. For example, for those works, we could have asked other company specialized in organizing events from the beginning.
We think that the PR for FSC is “public relations” in a broader sense. It means keeping a good communication with all the stakeholders of FSC Japan, from people in forestry, builders, factories, manufacturers, processing plants, retailers of the products to consumers, and also it includes the members.
In that sense, I think this co-sponsored project can be included in PR as it leads to building good relationships with companies. However, over the course of the project, we were figuring out about where does FSC Japan put a significance on a public relations strategy. We intentionally avoid framing our business field, and our lack of explanation confused you, which we feel sorry about.
We’d like to help you when you found any difficulties in addressing issues around communication, and for the area we can’t handle, I think we can move towards the solution by providing possible help such as introducing or working together with other companies.
I agree. I think it’s absolutely better to clarify to what extent each of us can cover and collaborate each other’s strengths without trying too hard.
We could show the collaboration with companies as one big project.
Do you think that by working with us, you found the solution to the problem you had? I think it’s a question that is difficult to answer because social issues hardly reach their solution so soon…
For example, regarding promotions, we hadn’t been able to show what we’d done as one project. But I think this year we could show people on the outside what we are doing by integrating them onto one website, constantly posting on social media about it, and so on. It is difficult to measure the effect, but I have a feeling that, to some extent, we could at least tell people interested in our work that many companies are collaborating in hosting events or programs.
If at least some people got an impression about our efforts for FSC certificates, they will become a hub for further increasing the recognition of FSC. I think enhancing publicity, which we tackled with you, has become a new step towards expanding the idea of “forest certificates” – that is using the forest while protecting it.
In the future, we’d like to search for more efficient ways to run a promotion while thinking about a framework so that collaborating companies can better participate. In order to continue, we should figure out how we can inform many people without much manpower – by, for example, developing online tools. However, by trying to run a promotion with you, I realized that there are many things where you will never know how they turn out without trying them. With this year’s experience as a foundation, I’ll try more without hesitation.
Photograph : Chisato Hikita / Editing : Takako Chiba
“Started with no PR person, these 18 months were a chance for us to think again about what public relations is to FSC Japan”
Ms. Emika Kono, Nonprofit Organization FSC Japan
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