By on November 25, 2011

Tucked into a corner of the communication department of Nissan is a Japanese rarity: A closed room. Usually, a Japanese office is a sea of people, working elbow-to-elbow without even the suggestion of a cubicle. Most of the floor in Nissan’s swank headquarters in Yokohama is just like that.

Behind the closed doors however works an unusual group of people who probably have to be kept away from the general population anyway: An international team of professional journalists that could change the way companies interact with the media.

In May, Dan Sloan started his job as the Editor in Chief and General Manager of Nissan’s Global Media Center. His first assignment was the roughest job one can imagine: Nissan’s engine factory in Iwaki restarted, only miles from the exclusion zone around the exploded Fukushima nuclear plants. People on the other side of the globe were afraid of being irradiated, and Dan Sloan showed Carlos Ghosn walking through a factory while two more reactors had a meltdown.

All other car manufacturers in Japan avoided the story. Carlos Ghosn and Dan Sloan ran with it. Remembers Sloan:

“This story was radioactive in many ways. But when these things happen, you have to get in front of the story in an adult way, you have to become part of the discussion, and make the story work for you.”

It did work. Carlos Ghosn was once more the take-charge man of Japan, and ranked high in a survey of who Japanese would like to lead them out of the crisis.

The global Media Center is a fully equipped TV studio, and a single room into which Sloan and his team are crammed. The General Manager doesn’t have a corner office, he has a corner. All of the people in the windowless room are top journalists, and that is the big difference of this experiment. In-house TV studios are nothing new, but they usually produce yawners of inspirational messages for the workforce, and possibly training segments for dealers. They also aren’t staffed with this concentration of talent. Says Sloan:

“Other companies never hired in-house people with that external degree of quality.”

If I still would own an advertising agency, I would be worried: Crammed into this room is more talent than in most agencies, and it probably comes much cheaper.

Any wire service would be lucky if it had so much talent in one room.

Dan Sloan was Singapore Bureau Chief of Reuters before he came to Tokyo as Senior Correspondent for Reuters Business TV.

His deputy Ian Rowley worked as Tokyo correspondent for Business Week for 5 years. After Business Week was bought by Bloomberg, he was Deputy Team Leader for Asia.

Coco Masters was Tokyo Bureau Chief of Time Magazine. Now she works as Ghosn’s right hand woman  at the Media Center.

Camille Lim did TV documentaries at Reuters Singapore. Now she will document Nissan’s rich history that goes back to 1914.

There is Shotaro Ogawa, Nissan’s own Mobile Uplink Unit. And there are more whose cards and resumes I forgot to collect at my visit today. I played fly-on-the-wall during their strategy meeting for the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show. It wasn’t a corporate conference, it was very much a meeting like at any TV station or magazine before a big event: Who does what, who goes where, are hotel rooms booked, and what happens if we get stuck in Tokyo traffic. The studio is small, but fully equipped. A chromakey can produce the Yokohama skyline as a backdrop, or Waikiki beach, if that is needed. The editing is done via Adobe Premiere on a Mac, in a pinch on a laptop.

Soon, the Media Center will talk about more than just Nissan. Woven into their coverage of the Tokyo Motor Show will be trends at other manufacturers. Soon, there will be a weekly talk show about the car industry in general, and possibly beyond.

When I ask Sloan what’s different from working on the outside, he says not much. He tells the story that in Japan, the media often has a symbiotic relationship with large corporations anyway. His Media Center simply makes it official without maintaining false appearances:

“We still have to pass the ‘so what?’ test with everything we do.What we want is get a buy-in that we are not dishing out unpalatable corporate-speak. We deliver something beyond ‘everything is alright at the mothership.’ We have access people would not get otherwise, we have content traditional media would be envious to get. We want to provide content other media can take advantage of.”

Magazines and TV stations have budget cuts and fire people. They are being replaced by thousands of bloggers with no money, but a lot of enthusiasm. Any website that wants to do more than just regurgitate press releases will become an eager customer of  Nissan’s inhouse content-machine. This is where Sloan is going:

“People always say we are the death of the press release. I don’t think this is going to happen so quickly. We are a value-add to press releases, they can become more concise now. What we want is something that will be redistributed, reposted, watched multiple times.”

Other carmakers should make a pilgrimage to Yokohama and try to get into that closed room. They might learn something.

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9 Comments on “Inside Nissan’s Content Factory: Steal This Idea Immediately!...”

  • avatar

    Now, more than ever, we need Jack Baruth…

  • avatar

    If I still would own an advertising agency, I would be worried: Crammed into this room is more talent than in most agencies, and it probably comes much cheaper.

    There’s probably a market for a new kind of PR shop based on exactly this model.

    To be honest, though, it’s not that different from what the Jam Handy Organization and Ford Motion Picture Laboratories did in the 1920s and 1930s: create professionally produced free content for theater operators.

    Nothing new under the sun, plus que ca change, etc.

  • avatar

    Content think tank , more driver distractions less consumer diversions. I want a twitbook button on the steering wheel. And don’t let it glow green, Ghosen.

  • avatar
    Hildy Johnson

    Seems hard to imagine that a true top journalist would be happy as a corporate court jester for long. Also, I doubt this institution will deliver quality work for long – too incestuous, too much monoculture. This will get the ax again in some future round of cost-cutting.

    It will serve a noble purpose, though – for now, it makes Mr. Ghosn look like a visionary, and it will make the future CEO who will decide to ax it look like one, too.

  • avatar

    As a proud Flack I find this way cool. Thanks for telling this story Bertel, I’ll be referring to it in a meeting next week.

  • avatar

    Just about every song has bee sung in the auto industry. In-house publications (using all kinds of media) are probably as old as the car itself. Guaranteed as old as I – I did my fair share of them.

    What Ford did was indeed groundbreaking. I know the man who did it, coincidentally, he works for Nissan now. (U.S., not Yokohama). His story became too real. And he became a victim of politics.

    What is new here is that the team is staffed with high-carat talent which enjoys a lot of freedom. Their stories do not have to clear endless layers of bureaucracy, they appear in real time or near-real time. Other in-house publications die a slow death: By the time every department and legal have signed off, the story is old hat.

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