Long-term Tokyo resident Martin Webb is founder and chief executive of Communion, a communications firm focused on high-end brands.
Having set up his business just two years ago, he shared some of the questions commonly asked of him, and his insights on the retail industry.
Given Japan’s stagnant economy, why is it an important market for global brands?
Despite over a decade of negligible growth, Japan is the world’s second-largest market for luxury goods. It’s also the largest single market for many brands in the fashion and accessories categories, including major British brands such as Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood, DAKS and Aquascutum.
Tokyo is the top destination for affluent Asian travellers, so having a strong retail presence in the city is essential to establish credibility for brands in the mid- and high-end segments across greater China and South-East Asia.
What is the key to long-term success for retail businesses in Japan?
More than anything, building a healthy business in Japan requires forging strong partnerships, not only with distributors and retailers, but also with the media and influencers, whose cooperation is indispensable for brands seeking to operate profitably here.
What is your background in Japan?
I’ve been working in the fashion and lifestyle sector in Tokyo since 2000, initially in journalism. After a stint at The Japan Times I worked for a fashion PR agency in 2007. In 2009, one of my clients at that agency, Marc Jacobs, hired me as director of marketing and communications after the Louis Vuitton Group bought back the business from their local partner.
Why did you set up Communion?
Founding my own PR agency has long been a dream of mine, and it finally crystallised as Communion in March 2014.
In the two years since we began operations, we’ve grown into a team of 10 spunky, young, bilingual PR professionals with a fantastic showroom and office space in the Aoyama area of Tokyo.
We’re working with a lot of prestigious brands, including Cartier, Ferrari, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, La Maison du Chocolat, Seiko, BCBGMAXAZRIA, Kiehl’s, Louis XIII, Ardbeg, The Woodmark Company and Jawbone.
What services do you offer retail businesses?
When I was running marketing for Marc Jacobs Japan, I was very frustrated at having to engage with three different agencies for each of our three key functions: advertising, PR and digital. I wanted to create an agency that would be able to cover all three, thereby providing the client with a far more efficient service.
After two years —and a string of successes — I think I’ve proven the potential of that business model, and am looking forward to continuing to steadily grow the team along with our select portfolio of clients.
What is your competitive advantage?
This is a rapidly shifting market. Retail firms seeking long-term success need a communications partner that speaks the language of marketing, and understands the mindset of European luxury and premium brands.
I believe Communion’s formula of a non-Japanese chief executive; a holistic approach that combines print and digital media; and unrivalled expertise in social media operations, makes us the ideal partner for small and medium-sized UK brands seeking to forge a strong presence in the Japanese market.
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