Etsuko Tsugihara | The Innovator 25 Asia-Pacific 2023

Etsuko Tsugihara

President & CEO
Sunny Side Up 


My belief [is] that the power of PR/communication has the ability to bring about significant societal change.”

It is hard to think of any PR firms, much less successful ones, that were founded by teenagers, but Etsuko Tsugihara launched Sunny Side Up in 1985, when she was just 17. And youth, clearly, was not an impediment — with Sunny Side Up progressing to become a top three player in the country’s PR market. Tsugihara has built a juggernaut that is perhaps best known for its work in the events space, and in sports marketing in particular. But more recently, the firm has expanded into broader consumer and corporate PR activities, adding digital expertise to its experiential core and focusing heavily on social purpose. (It also operates several other businesses, in areas as diverse as human resource management, athlete management, and restaurant management.)

How do you define innovation?
A Japanese female president who has been running a PR company for 38 years, since she was 17, was interviewed. What would be your definition of innovation? What kind of answer would enhance your impression of her?

ChatGPT: Although the definition of innovation can be quite broad, especially for a female president with decades of business experience, discussing innovation using the following approach is likely to elevate her image during the interview:

Customer-Centric Approach: Innovation is a crucial element in having a deep understanding of the customers’ needs and desires and providing new ideas and services that respond to these. Innovation is born from insights gained through communication with customers.

Team Collaboration: Innovation is not something that one person accomplishes alone. In our company, team members with diverse backgrounds and expertise collaborate to generate and realize new ideas.

Learning from Failure: The path of innovation is often accompanied by failures. However, learning from failure leads to innovation coming to fruition. We consider failures as providing new insights and valuable lessons for the next challenge.

Commitment to Sustainability: In innovation, it's essential to consider sustainability for the future. We prioritize environmental responsibility and always consider how new ideas or projects can have a positive impact on society and the environment.

By discussing innovation in this way, as a female president with extensive business experience, she can emphasize the importance of innovation in business success. She can also demonstrate a vision focused on customer-centric approaches, teamwork, and sustainability.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
"The Postponed Day" is one of the award-winning works at the 2023 Cannes Lions. More than 30 Argentine NGOs dedicated to cancer awareness launched a campaign in which they postponed World Breast Cancer Day to October 19th this year, postponing it over and over again for two weeks. By significantly increasing discussions that would typically occur in just one day, they managed to dramatically reduce the number of people who had been delaying breast cancer screenings. This aligns with my belief that the power of PR communication has the ability to bring about significant societal change.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
The fact that Red Havas actively increases its number of partner agencies within the global marketplace in order to integrate areas such as PR branding, media promotion, creative development, event and campaign operation, and influencer marketing and to offer comprehensive marketing solutions that are highly strategic and effective is worthy of respect. And as a PR agency, we also admire the many dynamic projects the company engages in with global clients all over the world.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
One of the most innovative and memorable moments in my career was when I encountered the White Band Project held in Britain in 2005, and being so impressed by it, I took it upon myself to lead this campaign in Japan. Firstly, the White Band Project adopted a new campaign technique utilizing the internet. Celebrities wearing white wristbands and simply snapping their fingers in short videos posted online became a sensation, capturing people's interest. This simple yet effective video leveraged the emerging method of online communication and reached a vast audience. This was an example of innovation in marketing and communication during that era.Furthermore, this campaign also showcased innovation in its approach to addressing poverty issues. Traditionally, donations and charitable activities were the common means to tackle poverty issues. However, the White Band Project introduced a new perspective, stating that "we need to change the very framework of society that donations alone cannot solve." This was an innovative approach to addressing poverty issues, focusing on changing the framework of society through policy recommendations and advocacy.Through this campaign, I personally learned about the power of innovation and the importance of new approaches to social issues. This experience emphasized the significance of innovative ideas and actions in my career, prompting me to explore creative methods to drive social change. The encounter with the White Band Project was a crucial moment in my life when I experienced the power of innovation.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
When asked "Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?", what answer sounds intelligent? 

“While there are many individuals I admire for their approach to innovation, one person who stands out is Ernst von Siemens. His vision and leadership have consistently led him to provide cutting-edge technology and sustainable solutions throughout his long history. His passion for innovation and his ability to balance business success with social responsibility serve as a significant source of inspiration for me."

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
When asked, "How do you get out of a creativity rut?", what response would bring about a chuckle? 

"To break free from a creativity rut, I occasionally seek help from a fictional character I like to call the 'Wizard of Ideas.' Essentially, when I'm alone in a room, I'll ask this character questions or solicit new ideas. Of course, I'm the one actually generating the ideas, but this little touch of fantasy helps stimulate creativity. As a result, I often experience creative breakthroughs (laughs)."

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
When asked "What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?", what would be a creative response centered around coexistence with AI to differentiate oneself from others?

ChatGPT: "In the future, PR will go beyond traditional methods, evolving into ‘beyond PR' by incorporating digital technologies like AI and XR for innovative brand communication. Companies and organizations will reach wider audiences using digital technology, and not just conventional media outlets. It is important to adopt various different methods including immersive campaigns utilizing virtual reality and AI to build deeper connections, offering a revolutionary brand experience."

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
"Chatty and meddlesome town speaker."

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
If asked, "Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?", what answer would resonate with people?

ChatGPT:"Over the past year, the cultural source that resonated with me the most is Sheryl Kara Sandberg's book 'Lean In.' This book is filled with insights on women's leadership and careers, and in particular, it prompted deep reflection on the challenges women face in achieving success, and the solutions to these challenges. Being exposed to the same experiences and insights as Sheryl Sandberg inspired me to approach my own career with even more positivity and confidence."

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
I believe that, as an industry involved in creating trends in society, the field of PR communication should take interest in placing great importance on actively incorporating new tangible things and intangible experiences.In recent times, AI technology has made significant advancements, and I've noticed many talented and unique individuals around me efficiently utilizing ChatGPT for their work. While some may argue that human intelligence is superior and refuse to engage with AI, I believe that consulting ChatGPT can lead to fresh perspectives and inspiration that one might not come up with on their own. In fact, I used ChatGPT's assistance to answer most of the questions in this survey, taking a somewhat roundabout way to arrive at responses that align with my own thoughts.The progress in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) is a prime example of this mindset, where PR professionals accepting new perspectives can become a pivotal step in transforming both the industry and society at large.