Historically, the Japanese market has seen a sharp dividing line between local firms and giant western-owned agencies, with Japanese clients preferring Japanese firms and western multinational preferring a familiar western approach. A handful of Japanese firms have successfully bridged that divide, working with western clients who value their local knowledge, but it’s only relatively recently that the western-owned agencies have enjoyed some success attracting Japanese clients—which makes the achievement of Ashton Consulting all the more impressive.
Founded in 2000, Ashton has been able to attract an impressive Japanese client base from day one; its roster of Japanese clients is almost certainly the strongest of any international firm in the market. Perhaps that’s because everyone at Ashton—from director level to the assistants—is fluent in both Japanese and English. Or perhaps it’s because Ashton is an independent, and its owners John Sunley and Dan Underwood manage the firm and work with clients on a daily basis.
Sunley founded Ashton in 2000 after 15 years working in corporate communications and investment banking in Tokyo and London, spending three years as head of the Tokyo office of Cazenove & Co., the U.K. investment bank, where he was responsible for all of the firm's activities in Japan, including corporate counsel, international equity placements and Japanese equity research, and then serving as director of the Tokyo office of Gavin Anderson & Company. Underwood joined as an equity partner in 2002, with a background in journalism and communications.
The firm works best at the intersection of public and investor relations (including in-depth investor audits), with specific expertise in internal communications, crisis communications, transaction communications and government relations, and in media training, which provided much of the growth in 2008. Overall, the past 12 months has seen continued steady growth in revenues, up about 20 percent, with the transaction business making its usual strong contribution, and an increase in internal communications assignments. The firm does not disclose information about clients, but major Japanese clients include blue-chip names in a variety of sectors including finance, manufacturing, food and beverage and pharmaceuticals. Overseas clients include leaders in technology, food and finance
As an independent corporate and financial specialist in a market where many of the international leaders in those fields do not yet have their own branded presence, Ashton works regularly with overseas firms, partnering in the past year with firms in the U.S., , the U.K. and Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore. It has also begun to help several of its larger Japanese clients with their communications strategies outside of their domestic market.