What lessons can we learn from a geisha girl?

  • Business
  • Saturday, 11 Jul 2009

RAISING eyebrows in the marketing and media community recently was the confirmation of the world’s first western Geisha Fiona Graham aka Sayuki’s appearance at the 6th Malaysian Media Conference (MMC) on July 22 in Kuala Lumpur.

An internationally sought after speaker, Sayuki (her name means transparent happiness) took her doctorate in social anthropology at the University of Oxford and specialises in Japanese society. She has spent half of her life in Japan, went through Japanese schools and graduated from Japan’s oldest university, Keio. Sayuki has also lectured at a number of universities around the world, published extensively on Japanese culture and is an anthropological film director with production credits on a wide range of international broadcasters.

But what is more startling is that Sayuki reminds us about basic values in business and society: she relates her experience in an art steeped with tradition, honour, secrecy, perseverance, discipline and integrity. Leadership qualities that are fading in our wired world. And her mantra of listening, learning and leading cannot be more true than today.

Imagine a white women with pale green eyes in a pink kimono taking tiny geisha steps, eyes downcast and bowing in greeting to passers-by. Fiona was certified as the world’s first white geisha late last year – crossing a cultural divide with her initiation. She dismisses the film Memoirs of a Geisha and says it has nothing to do with real geisha life. Geishas do not “sell” sexual favours, a true geisha is “perfect but unattainable” and there are only about 2,000 geishas in the world.

Geisha means “artist” and a potential geisha needs to be sponsored by an older geisha who owns a geisha house and involves five years of intensive discipline and training. The beauty in geisha life is about flawless artifice – the art of performance and costume – Sayuki is an accomplished flute player. She has to know everything about business since she interacts with rich and powerful businessmen every day at teahouses and restaurants. Her talk covers the world of business, about introducing initiatives in the geisha world and the fine art of networking.

Of course, while the real world is racing all around us, we forget that new stuff has come into our media space: branded content, mobile, product placement, dialogue not monologue, social marketing and more. In an age where a monologue is as hip as the fax machine, communications has become all about interaction, conversations and engagement.

The other speakers at the conference are GroupM’s Paul Corrigan, Carat’s Roy Tan, OMG’s Andreas Vogiatzakis and Emmanuel Allix – a mobile advertising guru. Also Asia’s word of mouth marketing expert Ian McKee, MDSA entertainment marketing’s Mike Da Silva on branded content with Hungama India’s Neeraj Roy – one of the world’s best speakers on digital content.

Malaysia’s first Cannes media juror, Universal McCann’s Prashant Kumar, will give a sneak peek into how new communication and content is changing the way advertising and marketing is done globally. Apart from them, Khailee Ng of Youth Asia who is in his mid-20s will share how 160,000 Malaysian youth assist brands in research and engagement.       

The MMC is an annual alumni of about 250 media pundits, industry specialists and key media decision-makers in the fields of media, marketing, branding and advertising across Malaysia. Among the speakers featured are thought leaders in their space from Malaysia, Singapore, India, Australia and Japan. Details: http://www.adoimagazine.com/mmc2009/

Harmandar Singh aka Ham is regional CEO of Sledgehammer Communications (M) Sdn Bhd

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