The Sports Marketing Giant Dentsu: No Longer Flying Under the Radar

tadashi-ishii
Dentsu CEO Tadashi Ishii
Dentsu is a $15 billion company, with a 25% share of the Japanese advertising market. It’s #1 in Japan, but not dominant, at least in terms of revenue. That’s fine, because Japanese companies, even large ones, don’t like to draw too much attention to themselves.

And yet, you can argue that Dentsu has become one of the most influential sports marketing companies in the world. Currently, Dentsu represents Tokyo2020 as exclusive agent to secure Japan sponsors for the upcoming 2020 Summer Games, signing up over 40 sponsors. It represents such international sports agencies as the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), the International Football Association (FIFA), the International Swimming Federation (FINA), the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), as well as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), among many other sports organizations.

As sports marketing authority, David Cushnan, once told me, “if you are an international sports federation, or an international sports league that wants to go to Japan, then your first call is Dentsu. They can get you access.”

And as the Financial Times puts it, once you’re a client, they are so powerful it’s sometimes hard to tell who the client is. “It is not like any company in the world,” says a board member at one of Dentsu’s biggest clients. “You are the customer, but they are the master. Nobody ever says it, but over the years, you need them more than they need you. It is like an addiction.”

Dentsu may be glad to see 2016 over, however, as it was a tough year, nearly impossible to avoid the glare of the red-hot spotlight.

  • Black Tidings and AMS: In May, 2016, The British newspaper, The Guardian, revealed that a USD1.5 million payment was made in July, 2013 from a Japanese bank to an account with a person in a company called Athlete Management Services, affiliated with both the IAAF and Dentsu. This payment was prior to the vote for selection of the 2020 Olympic host city. After Tokyo was selected as the winning city in September, 2013, a second payment was made to the same account for another USD2 million.
  • Caught Overbilling: Toyota raised an alarm that they suspected Dentsu, hiding behind a notorious curtain of opaque transactional costs for online advertising, was overcharging them for ad placements. They were right. Not only that, over a 100 other companies were cheated as well, resulting in an announcement in late September, 2016 that Dentsu will reimburse an estimated 230 million yen ($2.3 million) back to customers.
  • Working Employees to the Extreme: Dentsu recently received the odious recognition being labeled the worst of the “Black Companies” in Japan. A “Black Company” in Japan is one considered a firm that blatantly exploits its employees. Much of this recognition was due to the horrible news that a first-year employee at Dentsu committed suicide. According to this article, the 24-year old woman, Matsuri Takahashi, jumped from the top of her company dormitory on Christmas Day in 2015, after working 100 hours of overtime the previous month.

Apparently, the notoriety around being considered a horrible place to work was the last straw. Dentsu’s president, Tadashi Ishii, announced last week that he would resign in March, 2017.

matsuri-takahashi-and-parents
Matsuri Takahashi and parents