Interview with AOY Winner: Sayaka Ohno, Head of Global Accounts

15 June 2021

Interview with AOY Winner: Sayaka Ohno, Head of Global Accounts

In STORIES, we are highlighting some of our proud TBWA\HAKUHODO pirates!

For this episode of “Campaign Asia Pacific’s Agency of the Year 2020 Winners” series, we interviewed Sayaka Ohno, Head of Global Accounts, who won Account Person of the Year (Japan/Korea)!

Sayaka Ohno
TBWA\HAKUHODO Head of Global Accounts

Sayaka Ohno was appointed as Head of Global Accounts for TBWA\HAKUHODO in April 2020. She has been building a strong relationship of trust with valued clients such as McDonald’s, Uniqlo, AIG, P&G, Adidas, and Oculus. As one of the female leaders of TBWA\HAKUHODO, she is also putting efforts on developing young leaders.


Q. Please tell us your career history to date briefly.

Since graduating from university, I have been working as an account person at creative agencies. The first company I worked for was a Japanese advertising company whose clients were mainly domestic companies. It was a good experience for me to learn a wide variety of operations of creative agencies including creative development, media and product promotion, and event planning. There were some opportunities to be involved in global projects, but due to the nature of our main clients, it happened rarely. As I wanted to be more involved in overseas projects to learn more, I moved to a global advertising company where I was in charge of global luxury and household brands clients.

Then I joined TBWA\HAKUHODO. As a global account supervisor, I have been leading the account team and working with TBWA global network to acquire new clients and last year, I was appointed as Head of Global Account.

Q. How did you start your career in the advertising industry?

Actually, it wasn’t that I was specifically looking into the advertising industry when I was looking for a job. Since I have always enjoyed communicating with people, I was vaguely thinking that a sales position would be suitable for me. After researching various industries, I thought an account person in the advertising industry would be perfect as you could be involved in creating things from scratch and sell what you sincerely believe is good. That’s how I decided to enter an advertising agency.

The more diverse the team is, the higher the quality becomes

Q. What do you do as a head of global accounts?

As a business partner, I am responsible for constantly providing insights to our clients to identify business challenges as well as planning how TBWA\HAKUHODO can support to nurture clients’ brands with our creativity. Then internally I manage the production process and the quality of the output until the creative is released to the world.

As a manager, my role is to check the process of various projects, and to create and direct teams that can communicate with the client smoothly. From the long experience as an account person throughout my career, I have developed a sense that can tell how a project is likely to proceed from email conversations, so if there seems to be seeds for potential problems I try to support by giving advice to our team or communicating with the clients directly to prevent misunderstanding happening in advance.

It is also very important to monitor the quality of our outputs to ensure that they meet the client’s expectations and the initial commitment we made, fulfill the original promise, are worthy of TBWA\HAKUHODO’s high quality, and are meaningful to the world. Above all, it is my priority to closely communicate with the team members to make sure that they are happy with the working environment and if there are any problems, I try to improve it.

Q. Being a leader, what do you put most importance when it comes to team-building?

I think it is essential to make the most of each member’s uniqueness. Especially the Global Account department, which I lead, is one of the most diverse teams in TBWA\HAKUHODO in terms of background, nationality, character, or career goals. I think it is important to build the team in a way that creates an environment where each one can have a positive influence on each other while making the most of each individual’s strengths as much as possible, rather than trying to average them out.

I want to create an environment where every member can freely utilize their abilities and potential. Also I think it is important for each member to ultimately grow as a global account person who can play an active role wherever they are, so I am mindful of making sure that they can acquire a good balance of essential skills as much as possible.

No right answer – is what makes it challenging but exciting

Q. What do you find most rewarding or most challenging about working as an account person?

Account management always involves gathering various members from all departments within the agency as one team in order to meet the needs of clients with the best creative works – which is not at all an easy task.
Having a variety of people with strong personalities is a powerful weapon for this company, and whether you make the most of that diversity or destroy it depends on how you organize a team. As I believe the most creative ideas come from the team of people with different perspectives, I always try to find a way to bring as much diversity as possible into the team and process.
So there is really a fine line between being “challenging” and “rewarding”. The fact that there is no right answer to how to proceed, and it is very difficult to produce the best possible output from each member makes it very challenging and sometimes troubling but the sense of accomplishment when we were able to produce great works makes every hardship rewarding.

I often feel that the way an account person works really depends on the way of thinking. Some people may think that the responsibility of a salesperson is simply to manage projects and keep a tight schedule, but many of the account executives at TBWA\HAKUHODO feel that it is not interesting or sufficient to limit the responsibility of account management to just that, and actively engage in project design. Project management also requires ingenuity and creativity, and when you think of it that way, I think it opens up all sorts of possibilities along with perspectives you haven’t seen before.

As an account person, you are basically involved in a project from the very beginning to the very end, so you get to interact with a lot of different people – sometimes with an opposite idea to yours, and get inspired all the time. That’s what I like most about my job.

Account persons are the ones to demonstrate creativity and innovation

Q. You once mentioned that “account persons are the ones who need to show creativity and innovation.” Could you elaborate more on your belief?

First of all, after receiving a brief (request) from clients, I think we should be creative in coordinating the team and designing the process. We always have to think about how to bring together a diverse team and to get the best performance out of that diversity.

I believe that the job of an account person at an agency is to use creativity to expand and grow the client’s business and brand. I always remind myself and my team to be more creative than the creative team, as the account team has responsibility to judge and understand why this creative is needed now and how it will contribute to the business, and explain it to the client with logic from a marketing perspective. To do this, only managing projects is never enough, but it is becoming more and more important to deepen the understanding of the client’s challenges and the output with a creative mind and a strong sense of curiosity.

These are why I believe that accounts are in a position to demonstrate “creativity” and “innovation”.

A picture taken from a team meeting

A picture taken from a team meeting

Building a trusting relationship with clients

Q. How do you overcome the difficulty of having to respond to various and sometimes urgent demands from clients?

My philosophy is that the client and the agency should always be on equal footing.
As an agency, we create advertisements with strong beliefs. I think that my most important role as an account person is to build a relationship of trust that allows us to have honest discussions by firmly aligning our intentions with what the client wants. In order to understand my clients better, even if they are not directly related to the on-going project I am in charge of, I make an effort to share information that may be useful to clients, or try to identify issues that they may be facing from an objective third-person point of view. These continuous efforts for relationship building eventually leads to the equal relationship and to fair discussions.

People who believe in the power of creativity

Q. What do you think is great about TBWA\HAKUHODO?

What I like about TBWA\HAKUHODO is that we are a group of people who have such a strong belief in the power of creativity, with high expectations and standards for quality of output. I am surrounded by people who are so inspiring with such professionality.

I think such a unique culture of creativity comes from our philosophy of Disruption®️, which connects diverse individuals to one. This culture of Disruption and such talented people are the strengths of TBWA\HAKUHODO that no one else can imitate.

Creating culture of mutual understanding and respect

Q. What is the most important thing to you in working with various global clients and leading a team with diversity?

Having worked with a variety of global clients, I have learned that different industries and countries have completely different ways of working and thinking. Japan is a very unique market, and I often feel that Japanese people have quite different personalities from people from other countries. Japanese people tend to be less assertive, which is considered to be good among Japanese people, but in global projects, it is often a problem, not being able to speak out to convince others. However, I think it is also important for people overseas to understand the great aspects of humility and virtue that Japanese culture has.

What I try to do at the start of a project is to first understand the other side’s way of doing things, and then to have the other side understand the Japanese way of doing things, so that we can find our original way based on mutual understanding to maximize the synergy.

There is an episode about this. I was working with a team from India for a week on a project. The Indian team members were discussing ideas endlessly until the day before the presentation to the client, and there was no sign of the presentation materials being prepared. Seeing this, I felt anxious inside, but I decided to trust their way of doing things. Then, late in the evening on the day before the presentation, the entire Indian team started working at once and completed a wonderful document. This was a big shock to me because the process in India was so different from in Japan. But I was happy to hear the Indian team say afterwards, “It was a great experience because we felt like we became a real ‘one team’ with Japan.” It was an experience that made me realize once again the importance of respecting the other team’s way of doing things.

When it comes to work processes, we often think of American and European methods as efficient models, but if we take advantage of the unique qualities of Japanese way of communication or project management, we can often create new values. I think this can indirectly contribute to conveying the good impressions of Japan, so I would like to continue to be mindful of this.

Advertising creates the air of the era

Q. Tell us how you felt after winning the Agency of the Year Award, and your future goal!

The world is changing drastically during the pandemic, and I felt a renewed sense of responsibility and meaning in my current position at a time when the standards of the past are no longer valid and everything is undergoing “disruption” to create new standards.

I believe that advertising has the power to create the atmosphere of the times. In this time of new-normal, we must deliver the messages that people need through advertisements. I feel a sense of responsibility for this, and I am excited about opening up new avenues. I believe that the shape of advertising agencies will continue to change in the future, and I hope that we will be able to take on the challenges of new things, and open up a new era.

We will continue to introduce our TBWA\HAKUHODO members in STORIES, so please stay tuned for the next episode!

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