A chat with Tokyo creative agency Y+L Projects’ co-founders Yoichiro Tamada and Lucy Dayman
Company beginnings, collaborations and cross-cultural exchanges
Interviewer: Yoshiko Tezuka
Co-founder, CEO, Creative director & producer
Yoichiro has worked for several global agencies in digital branding, marketing, production, and communications strategy for various domestic and international clients. In 2019, he was part of the team that won the “Best Use of Earned Media” award in the advertising, media, and PR category at The Webby Awards. He later co-founded Y+L Projects, an international creative communications agency.
Co-founder, COO, copywriter, publicist
Lucy Dayman is an Australian-born journalist and copywriter with a background in PR and communications. She began her career as a PR manager in the music industry before becoming editor of Australia’s best-known music and culture magazine, Tone Deaf. She moved to Japan in 2016 as a freelance journalist, copywriter, co-program director of Global Hobo, travel consultant, and co-founded Y+L Projects in 2019.
Y+L Projects is a creative agency launched in 2019 by two business partners, Yoichiro Tamada (Japan) and Lucy Dayman (Australia). The pair run the agency with a few core members and often collaborate with freelance professionals to solve clients’ problems through communication and production strategies.
What are your backgrounds, and tell us a little about how you work? It seems important that the team members are from all different backgrounds?
Yoichiro: We typically refer to the company just as ‘YL.’ It’s hard to define what a creative agency is, but we do is; brand design, communication strategy, social media content creation, advertising management, written and visual production, and website creation.
Early in my career, I worked at a web advertising agency, where I worked in sales and promotion. After working in sales and promotion for a while, I felt I had reached my limit, so I started working as a planner at a creative agency (Ultra Super New) that specializes in solving corporate and brand issues.
I think I can combine my knowledge of sales and promotion as well as my knowledge of the creative industry to achieve this. Depending on the project, we work not only with creatives and artists but also with digital marketing experts and other outside people on the team. For example, for a competitive pitch for a golf manufacturer, we asked a golf journalist to join the team in addition to the creatives.
Lucy: In terms of the work that I’m involved in, I do a lot of tourism-related projects. For example, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) often asks me to write for them in order to attract foreign companies, brands, and tourists to Japan. Japan’s market is ten times bigger than Australia’s, so I’m also approached by foreign companies wanting to enter the Japanese market.
Before I moved to Tokyo, I was creating content for a music media company called Tone Deaf. So, I didn’t know much about other agencies yet, but I’m always working with a small team of freelancers who have a variety of knowledge and experience, which is very valuable.
We don’t necessarily ask the same people to do the same thing every time. This is partly because the company is still in its infancy, and we’re in a position to experiment. Yoichiro often talks about his experience at an advertising agency, and he says that if you work with the same creative team every time, regardless of the client or project, the products will be similar. That’s something I’m always careful about.
Yoichiro: I’ve often thought that if you work under the same creative director or designer, it’s only natural that the output will be similar and that it would be better to have someone younger, closer to the target age, as the creative director for digital content.
In terms of your age and nationalities, it’s quite unique to have a company that was co-founded by a man and woman in their 20s of different nationalities, don’t you think?
Yoichiro: I think so. There are people who started their businesses young with friends, but I don’t think there are that many co-founders similar to us. There are some male/female combinations, but I don’t see many companies with male/female pairs and different nationalities.
How do your roles at YL differ?
Yoichiro: My background is in marketing and creative direction visuals, and at YL I’m in charge of marketing strategy planning and visual/ design creatives.
Lucy: Role is in the realm of storytelling and communication strategy, like helping companies clearly communicate their message. Both of us talk to clients, but Yoichiro is better at presenting (laughs). It’s good to have a small team so that we can learn everything from each other across all aspects of an agency.
Starting young and finding a space in the industry
I don’t think there are many people who start an agency in their 20s, but what do you two want to achieve? And when you founded it, what did you both want to achieve?
Yoichiro: There are two reasons I wanted to start a company. The first reason is that I see that most regular advertising agencies are probably made up of people who came from TV commercial planners who gained experience at large companies and went independent, and many of them are skilled at creating productions for that specific place. But nowadays, there are so many digital media formats, and we are expected to create something for each platform. Just like what I said earlier, I always think that young creative directors can create things more flexibly.
Secondly, I have been working with video creators and graphic designers lately, and I feel that there are still a lot of creators who are making good things that are being missed. I would like to match talented people with better partners (clients) for projects and create a stage and environment where they can demonstrate their abilities.
Lucy: To be honest, I didn’t have any big ambitions at first, but now I think I want to continue to do good work, always respect the creators and the work involved, and pay them what they deserve. Having big clients is important, but having good relationships with my colleagues and the creators I work with is my top priority.
From friends to founders
That may be a way of thinking born from the fact that we both have experience in freelancing. From your point of view, what do you think of the creative industry in Japan?
Lucy: I feel that the creative industry in Japan is very open. I get the impression that creators in Japan are less competitive with one another and more open to collaborate and value friendly connections. I feel that in Japan, people love connecting, and I think that’s really wonderful. When I was freelancing, I was amazed at how people would go so far out of their way to help me!
It’s true that you often get work through human connections. It seems to be a culture Japan cultivates well, not just the creative industry. It’s interesting!
Yoichiro: We want YL members to educate and support our clients rather than just working as an agency. We can change surface issues and create content and campaigns quickly, but we want to work with the client as a team for long-term achievement. That’s why I want to stay independent with a small team. I think that former Prime Minister Abe’s Let’s Dance at Home campaign by Hoshino Gen would not have happened if there had been a creative director by his side.
How did you two meet in the first place?
Yoichiro: To be honest, I was introduced to a girl, and I met her group of friends one evening, and one of her friends was Lucy, and we became friends from there.
Lucy contacted me to tell me that she had become a freelance writer, and at that time, we didn’t have many freelance friends, so we met up at the Trunk Hotel in Shibuya and did our respective jobs together. As the number of projects we were involved in increased, we decided to start a company.
Lucy: Yoichiro was putting together a proposal for a company that needed native English writers, so he invited me to join. We realized that if we combined our skills, we could take on more interesting projects, but to look more legitimate, we’d have to set up the company.
Yoichiro: I think we have an open relationship with each other, as friends and coworkers and everything.
Meeting people in the first place is often an inspiration in itself, isn’t it? How do you meet the freelancers you work with?
Yoichiro: We both like to meet new people, and we tend to start out as drinking buddies or people who share our interests and get to know each other before we start working together.
Sometimes we ask the people we are working with to connect us with other people. I like to meet new people in new fields of expertise, absorb their knowledge, and then connect them with people in other fields; it’s all quite organic.
Staying mobile and flexible, the future of creative work
What is the working style of the two of you?
Yoichiro: Right now, we have rent an office in Omotesando, and we basically come to the office every day to work, but the team members we work with are in various places where they want. Some of the designers work in Nagoya, and some live in New York. Sometimes we have meetings at the office, but basically, everything is online. The frequency of coming to the office varies depending on the project, like once every two weeks.
Although the world is shifting to this nomadic way of working, it can be a bit of a hurdle to overcome, isn’t it? How do you communicate? What is your general daily routine?
Yoichiro: Right now, I use tools such as Slack, Facebook messenger, and Google Meet. I used to use Asana for task management, but when the number of tasks increased too much, I didn’t want to open my PC, so I consolidated them into Google Calendar, Google Drive for project data management, and Google Slide for sharing ideas. We use Keynote and Google Slide for proposals.
Lucy: I usually wake up around 6:30 a.m., do yoga, have a cup of coffee, study Japanese for an hour, read for half an hour, eat breakfast, and come to the office at 10:00- 10:30 a.m. I try to be done by 6:30 p.m.
Yoichiro: I usually wake up at 8:00 a.m., work out at the gym for an hour, and then come to the office; I work until about 7:00 p.m., and then go home to cook, read, watch Youtube or Netflix.
You both have a healthy work style. Do you ever work on weekends? Are there things you want to explore outside of this schedule?
Lucy: Before Corona, I was doing a lot more travel work than I do now. I was travelling 1–2 times a month. I was exhausted at the time, but now I miss that life. Recently, I’ve been thinking about being more experimental and creating opportunities to meet different people. Once things settle down a bit, I’d like to hold small workshop-like events where we can learn something from each other, including both our team and the wider creative community.
Yoichiro: We live in an age where anyone can create a brand and sell it easily. I’d like to hold workshops on how to solve problems, not only for companies but also for people who want to do business. I would like to invite creators who are active in various fields to give lectures.
Lucy: Yoichiro once accompanied me to Bali to attend Global Hobo, a month-long workshop program I’ve been a part of for a while now. It’s designed for people who want to work as journalists and want to learn from journalists in the field right now. It was a great opportunity for people at a similar level to learn from each other how to become freelance writers. It was a great opportunity to learn from each other. (*Lucy is a teacher at Global hobo).
How do you see the company growing and the industries changing? Have you seen any new trends?
Yoichiro: I think it’s interesting to see changes in traditional companies that are shifting to a more D2C (direct to consumer) model.
There are many Japanese companies that make good products, but they are not good at branding and marketing. I think there are many good products and services that have not yet been communicated well enough.
In particular, there are many companies now focusing on D2C, but most of them are targeting the domestic market in Japan. I think they should look overseas. I believe that we can help with both strategy and creativity. Unfortunately, if you only target the Japanese market, the numbers won’t grow, will they?
Lucy: Often, with a lot of the work I do, especially in the tourism industry, I try to keep a ‘foreign’ perspective. I want to always view things with fresh eyes and try and look at the current situation I’m in (living in Japan) with a fresh view.
I was talking to a client in Australia recently, and I think the size of YL allows us to be very flexible. We don’t need as many people’s approval as a big company, so we have more transparency and flexibility. Of course, being international is also one of our strengths.
Yoichiro: If the team gets too big, the work will be unbalanced, so I want to keep it at a good size. In a book I read recently, there is a co-working space in the Netherlands called seats2meet. In this space, if one of the people inside wants to know more about marketing, the space is set up that they can match and connect with an expert in the space in that field. I think that companies and industries need people who can run horizontally and vertically to connect the various organizations within the company.
Closing remarks from Yoshiko (writer)
We have to get over the recent “new way of working” and use language and technology as tools to achieve what we want. YL’s openness and flexibility were impressive as they spoke about their own experiences.
YL is not just a creative agency that makes and presents cool things but also completes strategic “creativity” in marketing and PR. I think the current Japanese market needs a next-generation creative agency like YL, with a broad perspective that is aware of the new sensibilities of the millennial and Z generation and the world outside of Japan.
Before they even think about breaking the mold, the two of them are already thinking lightly about what to do next without thinking about the mold. I felt that their magnetic power attracts people when they go after what they want.
(Writing by Yoshiko Tezuka; English translation by Lucy Dayman and photography by Kim Marcelo, Matt Vachon, Patryckyuto Satohshimizu