Asia-Pacific Consultancy of the Year: Hill & Knowlton

While regional revenues were down an estimated 5 percent in 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis, by most other metrics Hill & Knowlton enjoyed a pretty successful year. Headcount increased to 500, profit margins held steady at around 15 percent, and the firm continued to generate an impressive proportion of its revenues (close to two-thirds) from multi-market clients. New additions to that list in 2009 included Abbott Nutrition, AIA, Haier, LG Electronics (shared with other WPP firms), Shanghai Expo 2010, and Tata Communications, while there was growth from existing clients such as Chinese insurance company Ping An, Better Place, Continental Airlines, the Almond Board of California, HSBC, Intercontinental Hotels, Procter & Gamble, Pernod Ricard, and RIM (Blackberry). The firm also extended its reach in 2009—while most of its peers were retrenching and consolidating—adding operations in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderbad, Calcutta (all through the integration of its former Indian affiliate IPAN), and opened a fourth China office in Chengdu.

Australian Consultancy of the Year: Weber Shandwick

In Australia, following good growth over the past couple of years, Weber Shandwick’s 30-person operation was named PR Agency of the Year by AdNews, and continued its work with Samsung, Nestle, Johnson & Johnson, and APP while picking up new business from VHA, National Youth Week, Weight Watchers and MySpace. Under the leadership of Emma-Jane Granleese—a 10-year veteran of the firm—Weber Shandwick Australia offers expertise in consumer marketing, corporate communications, health and wellness, technology, digital and social media, issues and crisis management, corporate responsibility, media training and internal communications Highlights of the firm’s recent work ranges from managing the media launch of the inaugural flight of Singapore Airlines’ A380, which received a 2008 IABC Gold Quill Merit Award, to handling product recalls and mergers and acquisitions. Since 2006, Weber Shandwick Australia has won more than 20 regional, national and international industry awards for work performed for clients including Singapore Airlines, Unilever, Bayer Schering and Habitat for Humanity.

Greater China Consultancy of the Year: Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

Ogilvy has 24 owned offices in the Asia-Pacific region, including the largest China presence of any multinational firm, with more than 350 people in the market, under the leadership of 30-year market veteran Scott Kronick, working for both the Ogilvy and HLine brands, with particular strength in public affairs and technology in Beijing and luxury goods in Shanghai (led by group managing director Debby Cheung). The Greater China operation also includes a market leading presence in Taiwan, where the firm operates both the Ogilvy PR and Era Ogilvy brand (the latter focused largely on technology clients) and in Hong Kong, which is now the regional digital hub. New China business—in addition to an impressive array of global and pan-Asian clients served in the market, included assignments from Danone, Molson Coors and Unilever.

Indian Consultancy of the Year: Blue Lotus

Blue Lotus draws its name from the mythical Blue Lotus flower, which blooms only once every 3,000 years and is said to herald an era of prosperity, fecundity and knowledge. The blue lotus is described in literature as “unerring, true and good,” which might seem like a pretty lofty aspiration for a public relations firm, but is one that Blue Lotus co-founder and chief executive N. Chamdramouli is determined to live up to. To achieve that objective, he has set up a values-based organization, with an emphasis on “retention”: retention of people, of clients, and of knowledge. An engineer by training, he has also placed a serious priority on systems, using a PPT (People, Process and Technology) approach for gathering, managing and leveraging knowledge within the firm. As a result, Blue Lotus has grown rapidly to around 130 people, making it one of the largest as well as one of the most exciting of the new generation of Indian firms that is challenging established leaders. The past 12 months have been particularly impressive, with significant top-line growth and the addition of numerous new clients including Gujarat 2011 (a State Government initiative to make Gujarat a global business hub), Bajaj Allianz (one of India’s leading insurance company), DHL Group, Yash Birla Group, Unitech-Omkar, and Lodha Builders.

Japanese Consultancy of the Year: Fleishman-Hillard

Even before last year, Fleishman-Hillard was arguably the strongest of the western multinational firms operating in the Japanese market, with its impressive branded operation in Tokyo supplemented by BlueCurrent, a specialist brand that has emerged as a thought leader in digital and word-of-mouth marketing in the market. The firm’s Japan leadership team includes Shin Tanaka, a former Honda and Sega communications chief who has led the Tokyo operation since its inception in 1997, and Blue Current managing director Tetsuya Honda, author of The Power of Influence, a best-seller in Japan. The team was strengthened in 2009 with the addition of Akihiro Nojiri, formerly with the Ministry of Finance, as senior VP in the government relations and corporate practices in Tokyo, and the firm has already made significant additions in 2010, most notably Yoichi Kinoshita, formerly of DDB Japan, as managing director and partner. The public affairs arena has seen considerable growth over the past 12 months, with the firm’s Vox government affairs brand opening in Japan.

Korean Consultancy of the Year: Prain

Prain agency reported revenues of $13 million in 2009, a healthy increase over its 2008 total of $10 million, making it one of the biggest players in Korea, with a client roster of public sector accounts and blue-chip brands such as HP, Samsung, SK Telecom, Hite Beer, Danone, Nike and NBA Asia. In 2009, the agency also won new business from Johnson & Johnson, Henkel Korea, Philips and Nivea. Over the past 12 months, important achievements include the agency’s work for ‘Festa on Ice’, an account it has won for four years in a row. In addition, the agency won the high-profile pitch to handle PR around the G20 Summit, which will take place in Korea in November 2010. Growth also came from increased healthcare and pharma business, from such clients as MSD, Novartis and Janssen. Prain recently inked a deal to become Ketchum’s exclusive affiliate in Korea, representing something of a coup for the Omnicom agency.

South-East Asia Consultancy of the Year: Indo-Pacific Edelman

Edelman has 16 offices in eight Asia-Pacific markets, including a market-leading presence in Indonesia via Indo-Pacific, which was acquired three years ago and has continued to flourish under the leadership of Chadd McLisky, offering corporate communications, government relations, public affairs, media relations, crisis management, marketing communications and digital and social media expertise to a mix of local and multinational clients. The firm continues to garner strong local recognition. In 2008, the Mix Magazine “Marketers Choice” survey named Indo-Pacific as its PR Agency of the Year (the firm ranked number one on criteria including “top of mind”, “best service”, and “most recommended”) and in 2009 the same magazine presented the firm with a gold award for crisis PR. Indo-Pacific is also known for its thought leadership, and has become a full participant in many of its parent company’s global research initiatives, including its Trust Barometer surveys.

Financial Consultancy of the Year: Brunswick

Four years after its arrival in the region, Brunswick’s Asia-Pacific operations include offices in Hong Kong Beijing, under the leadership of Tim Payne—a longtime Brunswick executive who was also responsible for establishing the firm as a player in the U.S. M&A market. The firm has about 35 people and established itself as one of the leaders in Asia, coming top of the mergermarket ranking of M&A advisors by value, and second by volume, working on working on 22 transactions worth around $76 billion in 2009. Brunswick has also clearly established itself as one of the firms of choice for crisis work in the region, and 2009 saw assignments included support for the recapitalization of major Chinese appliance retailer Gome following the detainment of its chairman and controlling shareholder, Huang Guangyu; defending New Zealand company Fonterra’s reputation when the Chinese dairy firm in which it held a 43 percent stake was found to have sold melamine-contaminated milk powder; and reputation management for drywall manufacturer and distributor Knauf when it was accused of selling contaminated drywall from China in the U.S. And while the M&A business was down, the firm provided support for high-profile transactions originating in China, including Geely’s proposed acquisition of Volvo, Tengzhong’s proposed acquisition of Hummer, and Richard Li’s proposed acquisition of AIG Investments.

Technology Consultancy of the Year: Waggener Edstrom

In Asia, Waggener Edstrom has been expanding at an impressive pace since its acquisition of Shout—a 20-person Hong Kong-based tech specialist—in 2005, developing into one of the region’s top technology networks, and expanding the its offer into consumer and corporate work. Today, Waggener Edstrom has three equally strong practice areas, all supported by digital capabilities that are at least the equal of any of the giant full-service networks, and four offices (Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore) in the region, plus strong affiliates in Australia (Buchan Consulting), India (Adfactors PR), Japan (Actio), Korea (Shout Communications), and more recently Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia; and a team of more than 80 across the region. Not surprisingly, the firm’s digital capabilities have been in high demand, with new retainers in 2009 from clients including CSL (1010 and one2free), ZUJI, HP, Asia Pacific Breweries, and new products including Twendz Pro (Twitter management), WExPulse (online influence monitoring), Hearts and Minds (consumer influence). Those new offers helped to fuel healthy single digit growth in 2009.