Digital shop AKQA is opening an office in Tokyo to serve clients Nike and Nissan, with an additional goal of cultivating talent in one of the world's most technologically advanced societies.
The Japanese office is AKQA's 11th overall, and the fourth to open this year, following outposts in Paris, Atlanta and Portland.
"We have exceptional client demand at the moment where clients want us to be in multiple territories around the world, so we're responding to that demand," said AKQA's founder and CEO Ajaz Ahmed, adding that the new office had been in the works long before the company's acquisition by WPP this summer.
"Our goal is to create work that's made in Japan and celebrated internationally. That's really what we want to bring to the market," he said.
Added VP-Chief Creative Officer Rei Inamoto: "There are so many talented people (in Japan). I think there are sort of misconceptions or myths that the language thing is a big barrier but it's a pretty easy barrier to overcome. And getting over that mental barrier is the first step."
For the time being, AKQA is hiring little local management in Japan. Creative will be overseen by Mr. Inamoto and Duan Evans, an executive creative director from AKQA's London office who has worked on Nike and Nissan. The agency said the Tokyo office will be run by Mr. Inamoto; VP International Guy Wieynk, who is responsible for all offices outside the U.S.; and Mr. Ahmed.
With the new office, AKQA aims to help multinational brands like Nike more deeply penetrate the Japanese market, while also accelerating growth for Japanese brands like Nissan outside their home turf. Messrs. Ahmed and Inamoto, who were both in Tokyo to launch the new Japan operation, declined to discuss what other clients they might pursue, saying they want to focus on their current partners at the moment.
"As one of our key digital agency partners for more than 10 years, we are delighted to welcome AKQA to Japan," said Tagu Kato, director-brand communication at Nike Japan, in a statement. "Nike and AKQA share the same incessant focus on innovation. We look forward to delivering groundbreaking experiences to our consumers in Japan."
AKQA hopes to take advantage of Japan's unique and highly developed culture of technology, and share innovative ideas across markets.
"In many ways the future happens in Japan first," Mr. Inamoto said about his native country. "There's a certain kind of sensibility that the Japanese culture has that can be applied to many different markets. There's a level of meticulous attention to detail even for things that are analog. ...It's that attention to detail that's needed in the digital space as well."
Messrs. Ahmed and Inamoto shrugged off the question of whether it's smart to enter the Japanese market when many local brands are looking overseas for growth as the country's population shrinks and ages. They said Japan is still the third-largest economy in the world, and that AKQA will seek out clients with strategic needs in the market.
The Tokyo office has a staff of 10, with plans to grow to 40 by the first quarter of 2013. Mr. Ahmed said that in Asia, AKQA is focusing on its Shanghai and Tokyo operations at the moment but may eventually look to expand into Korea and India.