Hal Ito: An Expert In The Art Of Brand Revolution

Hal Ito: An Expert In The Art Of Brand Revolution

Hal Ito , President

Hal Ito


In the fast-paced world of advertising, true leaders possess the magic to transform brands into household names and agencies into hubs of creativity and innovation. Hal (Haruhiko) Ito is one such trailblazing leader in the advertising industry of Japan. He is currently the President of BBDO Japan setting the branding world ablaze with his brilliance for over 20 years. Over the course of two decades, Hal's professional voyage has taken him from the bustling streets of Tokyo to the vibrant energy of New York and beyond, traversing the diverse landscapes of Asia.

Throughout this thrilling expedition, Hal has been at the helm of network agency management roles, steering major global brands and agencies towards integrated and innovative excellence. A staunch advocate for the effectiveness of marketing, Hal's dedication to his craft is exemplified by his role as a jury member for the prestigious APAC Effie Award. His passion for driving meaningful results is evident in every step of his journey.

It all began in 1986 when Hal embarked on his career at the international department of DIK Agency in Tokyo, setting the stage for an illustrious path ahead. His remarkable journey led him to the bustling hub of FCB Worldwide's New York office, where he assumed the role of VP, managing the dynamic Asian markets. But the allure of his home city called him back, and he joined JWT Japan as SVP and Global Business Unit Director, taking the helm of global campaigns with finesse and vision. Not one to rest on past accomplishments, Hal's quest for innovation led him

to I&S BBDO in 2008, where he served as Executive Director and General Manager of PHD Japan, a global media agency. In 2015, Hal's unwavering passion for transformation and success culminated in the founding of BBDO Japan, where he assumed the role of Managing Director.

Beyond the professional realm, Hal's journey unveils a man with diverse interests and passions. As a student pilot, he finds solace in the skies, flying high on the wings of his dreams. His appreciation for culture and the finer things in life shines through his love for Japanese sake and the timeless works of Shakespeare. And when wanderlust beckons, his favorite travel destinations are the lush green fairways of golf courses around the world, where he finds joy in both the challenge and tranquility they offer. CEO Insights Asia is excited to interview him.

How would you define BBDO Japan as an organization and its current position in the market?

BBDO Japan is a prominent multinational agency in Japan, driven by a unique vision to be the most ‘effective’ creative agency in the country. Although we may not rival some of the Japanese giant agencies in size, our focus on client growth and results through creativity sets us apart. Our commitment to excellence has earned us numerous prestigious accolades, including Agency of the Year in Japan by Campaign Magazine, Cannes Gold, WARC Global Effectiveness Grand Prix, Effie AP Gold, and many others. This recognition highlights our ability to deliver outstanding campaigns that make a tangible impact on our clients' success.

Tell us about your leadership approach. What are the guidelines or methodologies you follow as a leader?

I'm a big fan of classical music, and I had the privilege of leading a collaboration project with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, the country's oldest orchestra, which went on to win the prestigious Cannes Gold Award. Throughout this experience, I couldn't help but notice the striking similarities between the operation and chemistry of agencies and orchestras.

Just like individual instrument players who excel in their craft, I've witnessed how our team members shine in their respective roles within the agency. However, the true magic unfolds when we come together as a harmonious orchestra, pooling our talents and expertise. This unity generates energy and impact that surpasses the sum of its parts, reinforcing my belief that the culture of teamwork is far mightier than relying solely on individual geniuses. Nurturing collaboration and fostering a strong sense of camaraderie among our team members has become a cornerstone of our agency's success.

With his visionary leadership & unwavering commitment to effectiveness, hal is not just a leader; but a strategic force, shaping the industry & leaving a trail of success in his wake

How do you keep yourself up-to-date with ongoing industry trends to steer your organization towards the future?

I've had the privilege of delivering lectures at esteemed platforms, including the Japan Advertisers Association and Tokyo University Graduate School. At one memorable seminar titled ‘Sex, Drug, and Advertising’, I explored the intersection of neurophysiology and marketing. To my delight, nearly 40 out of 50 science and engineering graduate students showed keen interest in pursuing careers in advertising agencies. This inspiring response highlights the immense potential for innovation and advancement in the marketing landscape. Witnessing such eagerness among the brightest minds motivates me to push industry boundaries further, leveraging emerging technologies and nurturing fresh talent to shape the future of marketing and advertising.

Could you reflect on some of the toughest challenges you have encountered in your journey so far? How did you overcome them and what did you learn from them?

One of the most significant challenges in the industry is the outdated style of Japanese giant agencies, which dominated the industry with strong media buying power. To overcome this obstacle, I decided to take on these traditional giants and initiate a process of modernization within my agencies and their services. I shifted the focus from mere media brokerage to a more strategic approach centered around branding. Embracing a global perspective, I expanded beyond Japan's borders, and I recognized the growing significance of digital media, making our approach more media-neutral.

Moreover, I took a stand for inclusivity and diversity, moving away from the conventional gender, seniority and nationality hierarchy that had been the norm. This transformation was not without its challenges, but I knew that embracing change was crucial for growth and success in a rapidly evolving industry.

In this process, I learned the value of combining three elements of human talents in the advertising industry full of art and science. This value is true to my week-end hobby as an airplane pilot. Sensing sudden changes of winds (social trends), nimble judging of right directions and maneuvering new technologies to make it happen.

What advice would you give to budding industry leaders?

Today, the advertising industry is in a fierce war for talent against business consulting firms and social media platformers. To successfully attract and retain the best new graduates and rising stars, agencies must carefully reconsider their purpose and redefine their mission. Instead of positioning themselves solely as 'advertising' agencies, they should embrace a broader identity as marketing and creative agencies.

Furthermore, agencies should invest in employee development programs and provide opportunities for continuous learning and growth. Young professionals are increasingly seeking workplaces that prioritize personal and professional development, and agencies that offer such avenues stand a better chance of retaining top talent. It's also essential to create an inclusive and diverse work environment. Embracing diverse perspectives and fostering an open culture not only promotes creativity but also ensures that the agency can effectively connect with a broader audience.

Hal Ito, President, BBDO Japan

Hal has worked with major global and Japanese brands like Meta, Mars, VISA, Phillip Morris, Johnson & Johnson, Starbucks, HP, P&G, Disney, GM, Shiseido, Unicharm and more. His expertise spans IMC/media management, having served as ex-GM of phd Japan and Asia region director in NY. He is also an Effie AP jury member.

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