Aldo Liguori is global PR director at Fast Retailing, the Japanese fashion company that is best known for clothing player Uniqlo. Liguori took on the role one year ago after more than two decades in various communications roles with Sony and Sony Ericsson, both inside and outside Japan.

Since taking the Fast Retailing position, Liguori has relocated back to Tokyo and, as he tells the Holmes Report in a new interview, is determined to build a stronger narrative for a company that is now the world’s fourth-largest apparel retailer, with considerable designs on international growth.  

How are you using public relations to build awareness of Fast Retailing, given that not many people are aware it’s the world’s fourth largest apparel retailer?

It’s very different from previous roles because I’ve tended to work for companies where the company product name are the same, be it Sony or Sony Ericsson. In this case it’s a little bit different - we are, more and more, trying to promote the group name. Even something as simple as the boilerplate at the end of the press release, we are trying to remind everyone who is Fast Retailing. So, on the PR side, it’s trying to find the soft ways to be able to add to that, or to be able to support Uniqlo products.

Fast Retailing has clear global ambitions. What are the challenges from a PR perspective?

For PR people, regardless of country - if it is a British company out of London or a French company out of Paris, or in my case a company with roots in Japan - probably the biggest challenge is the pace. It can vary, industry by industry. But our industry is retail, and it is apparel. Two very fast industries. The fast pace is the same of any luxury brand clothing company. The pace and the opportunity to increase awareness at a quick pace.

What are the differences for this generation of Japanese companies, in terms of how they approach communications locally and overseas?

Probably in Japan, it is less about pitching stories. It’s more of a very respectful two-way relationship but there is less pitching from the manufacturer, more from the media contacting the manufacturer. The starting point is the press release or the press conference, not the pitching of story.

Is the PR landscape in Japan changing?

I think so, and I imagine depending on the industry it is probably changing quicker or slower. The other interesting thing here in Japan I’m noticing is the launch using personalities, or a certain external spokesperson/role model/celebrity endorser. That is very big in this country. And by big, I mean probably every manufacturer does it.

Is that why you signed up Novak Djokovic?

No, actually, we had and are continuing to sponsor two male tennis players - Kei Nishikori and Shingo Kunieda, who just won gold at the Paralympics in London. The opportunity with Djokovic is that first of all he is globally known. We’re looking for an opportunity to associate ourselves not just in tennis wear but also to promote the brand in a much more horizontal way. And also to look at opportunities for CSR activities and how we can pursue our target of contributing to the world in some way. We share many common views about the importance of children and young people. We felt it was a natural next step to get us beyond tennis sponsorship.

International expansion often throws up issues you may not face in your home market. For example, you recently faced an issue regarding the sourcing of your wool. What did you learn from that experience?

I think we probably learned that even though we go through official sources which have been checked and double-checked, the more global we become, the wider the number of stakeholders become. Not just larger, but wider. One can argue that the same companies that target us, could have also had dialogue with the original source. More global means more stakeholders, and a wider umbrella of stakeholders. It also means a different dialogue. That was a good learning for us.

Founder Tadashi Yanai has said Uniqlo is a technology company. How does this positioning factor into your messaging and communication?

It’s fascinating coming from an electronics background where technology innovation was at the core of what I was doing years ago. To me it was personally refreshing to be in a totally different industry where there is a strong appreciation of technology and innovation. What is different is how I can apply this in my PR messaging to a consumer audience in a different way from how I was applying tech and innovation to a consumer product. When we talk about innovation to do with fabric and heat retention - this is for me very interesting, and a different form of applying innovation in this industry.

Would you say Japanese companies are becoming more bold in their PR strategies?

I have to say I think it depends on the industry. In Japan I’m seeing companies being bold when it has to do with technology as it relates to certain industries - the car industry for example. It also depends on what they have to offer the consumer. Here in Japan, looking from a retail point of view, the customer is king or queen. A very valued and respected person.