Day in the Life: An American ad exec in Tokyo

Back in May 2014, ad veteran David Rittenhouse moved to Tokyo for what was to be a three-month gig at Ogilvy & Mather Japan. It has turned into a longer stay. He was recently named representative director for Neo@Ogilvy in Tokyo.

For Rittenhouse, Tokyo is his second assignment abroad. It meant moving his family across the world to a place very different from their home. He’s learning the language, working with a tutor twice a week, while adapting to a new culture. Over nearly two years, Rittenhouse said he’s grown to appreciate how diligently the Japanese apply themselves to every task at all levels of society.

“No detail is small here,” he said. “In their work, in their thinking, and in their relationships, my Japanese colleagues inspire me with their precision, with their ability to see small-but-important things by looking carefully.”

Here’s Rittenhouse’s day as an American ad exec in Tokyo, edited for clarity and flow.

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At home in Japan: David in Daikanyama

6:00 a.m.: I wake up and take a quick look at emails that came in overnight from New York. The time difference between EST and JST is 14 hours. Ogilvy & Mather New York’s day is my night, so there are often quite a few emails to sort through. After dealing with anything urgent, I go for a short run in my neighborhood, Daikanyama. As I run, I am reminded of what an amazing city Tokyo is. Old and new. Japanese and international. We chose to live in Daikanyama because it feels very modern and international but also very Japanese at the same time.

7:00 a.m.: I walk with my daughter to her school bus stop. She is a sixth grader in an American international school. Then I walk to work.

8:00 a.m.: It’s very quiet early in the morning at Ogilvy & Mather Japan. Nights are busy-busy, but mornings are tranquil. At my desk, I work on proposal for a sports sponsorship activation around the The Tokyo Marathon. I am planning to go to the event to study how sponsor brands integrate. I’m interested in how brands can go beyond stamping their logo on event-related materials and truly enhance the experience for runners, fans and the city.

9:00 a.m.: It’s Friday, and at 9 I have a regular meeting with IBM Japan brand systems lead Yukiko Yamaguchi and Ogilvy & Mather account leaders — Leo Osako, Kei Asakura. This week, we are talking about a new capability of IBM’s Watson. Watson can now read and speak Japanese! A new spot featuring Ken Watanabe and Watson will be airing on TV later this quarter with an important digital activation. We want to be sure that it gets in front of the right people at the right time. Many of my Ogilvy & Mather Japan colleagues are bilingual, and it is natural for us to meet and speak both Japanese and English as desired. However, in more formal business settings, only Japanese is spoken. In these situations, we have interpreter-translators to help. I would be nowhere without our interpreter.

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‘Family” time: Lunching and learning

11:00 a.m.: I exchange a few emails and with my Neo Asia regional counterpart about an upcoming meeting in Japan. The regional team is based in Hong Kong and makes a few visits each year to share best practices and new ideas from other offices in the region.

12:00 p.m.: Next, I break for a quick office lunch with a colleague, in one of the “family restaurant” booths near my desk. They are called this because they remind Japanese people of family restaurants. Today we had sandwiches from a bakery downstairs. One nice thing about Ebisu is that there are many choices. Typical Japanese office lunch food includes take-away bento boxes or rice bowls or noodles from a food hall or grocery store. My favorite lately are the tempura rice bowls. Oishii. We talk about a popular American TV and movie streaming service entering the Japanese market and locally produced original content that they will be releasing soon.

1:00 p.m.: This afternoon I am meeting with my programmatic media specialists and local reps from an ad tech service provider that we work with. We are discussing an original research project to better understand the relationship between viewability and view-through. We are curious to know if our view-through conversions are tied to viewable impressions. This, we think, will give us a clearer understanding of the attribution value of a view-through conversion.

2:00 p.m.: Did I mention that, in Japan, Neo is a joint venture with Dentsu-owned CCI? To be a good partner, I try to share information from the U.S. market proactively with my peers at CCI. Recently, I read a few reports on ad blocking that I plan to share with them. Ad blocking is an emerging topic — by no means as far developed as in the U.S. That makes the POVs and coverage coming out of the U.S. interesting for us. Before sending them over, I want to make sure that I fully understand the reports. I am conscientious about it because in some way, I represent the entire U.S. market when I pass forward information like this.

5:30 p.m.: Last item on the list for this Friday. A beer from the beer fridge. Ogilvy’s management is trying to improve the employee satisfaction scores. The beer fridge is a priority element of the action plan. Plus, it’s a nice way to socialize with agency colleagues in different disciplines whom I don’t get to spend much time with otherwise. My Japanese colleagues are the most dedicated people I have ever worked alongside. They find it natural to commit themselves completely to their profession. There is less emphasis on being “well rounded” here. Instead, in my experience, they would prefer to be really good at just one or a few things than to have a lot of different pursuits. “Regular hours” in this context means working pretty late into the evenings most workdays. Great work takes time and effort.

6:30 p.m.: Walk home. It’s a cold winter evening. I’m looking forward to a relaxing dinner with my family. It’s a good night for something warm, maybe soba or udon noodles. And maybe a movie with my daughter. Since coming to Japan our interest in Studio Ghibli (movies like “My Neighbor Totoro” or “Kiki’s Delivery Service”) has been expanded. I hope it has subtitles!