Asia-Pacific Consultancy of the Year: Fleishman-Hillard

While the Asia-Pacific region recovered more rapidly from the ravages of the global economic crisis than other parts of the world, no other firm returned to growth as quickly or an impressively as Fleishman-Hillard, which saw regional revenues rise by about 30 percent in 2010, fuelled by the addition of two new offices (Jakarta and Bangalore) and a new practice (adding the Vox Global Public Affairs brand to its Tokyo office).

The year got off to a strong start when FH (along with other Omnicom agencies) picked up a global assignment from Royal Philips Electronics that drew on the resources of 10 offices in the Asia-Pacific region for corporate, consumer and healthcare support. Other new business highlights included a pan-regional assignment for JPMorgan, an integrated campaign for the Australian Coal Association, work for Deutsche Bank on Korea and for Fujitsu and Sony in Japan, and a major issues management project for Abbott in China.

Now, with close to 350 people across the region and a client list that includes Asian giants such as Huawei and Tata as well as western multinationals Emerson, P&G, AT&T, Motorola and British Airways,, the firm is snapping at the heels of several better-established agencies challenging for the number two spot in Asia.

Greater China Consultancy of the Year: Ketchum

While Ketchum does not have the same reach throughout the region as most of its competitors, it does have a formidable Greater China presence, with five offices: strong operations in Beijing and Shanghai, impressive offices in Hong Kong and Guangzhou (working together under the “Pearl River Delta Working Group” banner since 2008), and a well-established Taiwan presence.

After weathering the downturn in 2009, Ketchum mounted a solid recovery in 2010, benefiting from its focus on the Greater China markets that bounced back better than many others in Asia-Pacific.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, revenues grew by more than 15 percent, with the firm adding new business from Lufthansa, Norwegian Seafood Export Council, China Mobile, Lenovo Hong Kong, Alhambra Resources, Carl Zeiss, Longines and Hublot. There was also a new global retainer from Applied Materials, joining a client list that features Land Rover China, FedEx, China Construction Bank, Luxottica Group, Kodak, CNOOC, GAGOC and Eaton.

At the end of 2010, furthermore, Ketchum upped its stake in the China operation into a majority interest.

India Consultancy of the Year: Corporate Voice Weber Shandwick

Despite Weber Shandwick’s impressive resurgence in Asia-Pacific over recent years, it could be argued that India had remained something of a weak spot. All that, though, appears to have changed after a year that saw Corporate Voice Shandwick finally take its place among the elite of India’s PR agencies.

Always strong in Bangalore, Corporate Voice Shandwick’s real growth has come in the critical New Delhi PR market, where president Atul Ahluwalia has engineered a genuine turnaround since taking charge in 2009.

The year’s standout win was Boeing, while Corporate Voice Shandwick’s campaign work also received plenty of plaudits, bagging more awards than any other firm at the inaugural Indian PR and Corporate Communications Awards. Indeed, the firm has good reason to call itself the most awarded PR agency in India, after winning the country's first Cannes PR Lion on behalf of Gillette, and propelling the same brand to receive Campaign's 2010 Brand of the Year.

All of that helped spur revenue growth of 25 growth, made more impressive by client retention of 80 percent and staff retention of 75 percent.

Japanese Consultancy of the Year: Cosmo

Cosmo occupies a unique niche in the middle ground between the large Japanese advertising agency-owned public relations firms, many of which have impressive media contacts and local knowledge but limited strategic capabilities, and the Japanese operations of US multinational agencies, which often provide good processes and sound strategic thinking but don’t always have strong local relationships. Led by Kumi Sato, an American-educated former McKinsey consultant who took over her parents’ firm in the early 80s, Cosmo looks to combine the best features of both those groups.

While, 2010 was not an easy year for the Japanese PR market, Cosmo remained profitable and achieved growth over 2009. The firm employs a team of about 40, with new business was led by healthcare, food and food science, including such accounts Pfizer Animal Health, Alexion Pharma’s Soliris drug and Syngenta’s food security agenda. The firm also increased its crisis work, helping H&M, Reckitt Benckiser and BASF’s petrochemicals division handle distinct issues.

The firm’s retained client list features Novartis, Sanofi Aventis, Abbott Japan, GSK, the Norwegian Seafood Export Council, Visa and the American Medical Devices and Diagnostics Manufacturers Association.

Australia Consultancy of the Year: Edelman

Edelman galvanized its presence in Australia in 2010 by hiring Michelle Hutton, one of the best respected practitioners in the market, away from Hill & Knowlton. Under Hutton’s leadership, the Australian operation—which includes offices in Sydney and Melbourne—was one of the fastest-growing in a generally impressive Asia-Pacific region last year.

There was new business from clients such as Samsung, Wrigley and Nature’s Own, and new hires including Grant Thomas as director of technology in Sydney and Trevor Young as director of strategy and innovation in Melbourne.

The firm has also extended many of its high-profile global thought leadership activities to Australia: the firm conducted its Trust Barometer, Asia-Pacific Digital Brand Index, and GoodPurpose research into the market.

The arrival of new regional chief executive David Brain, who will be based in New Zealand, gives the firm even stronger presence in the region.

South-East Asia Consultancy of the Year: APCO Worldwide

APCO established its first Asian operation, in China, a little over a decade ago, and expanded into in South-East Asia almost immediately. An acquisition in China cam with the added bonus of an office in Vietnam, the firm followed with the addition of an office in Indonesia, adding a base in Singapore in 2006 and Thailand in 2007.

But the addition of APCO Malaysia, which opened in 2009 and is now home to a team of 30 leading a massive communications operation supporting the government, that really caught the eye, and last year the firm signaled that it was taking the region extremely seriously with the appointment of Garry Walsh (former MD of the firm’s Brussels office and global lead on the Microsoft account) as managing director, South-East Asia, based in Singapore.

The regional operation has capabilities in public affairs (working for Diageo on a campaign to eliminate the luxury sales tax on alcoholic beverages in Indonesia), corporate positioning, economic development, crisis communication, financial communication, and top tier media relations.

Korean Consultancy of the Year: KPR

Established in 1989, KPR & Associates is one of the most experienced public relations firms in the Korean market, and with 86 full-time professionals it is also one of the largest, differentiated from the majority of its local competitors (including the Korean offices of many multinational PR firms) by the full-range of services it can offer.

That differentiation was further underscored during an impressive 2010 that saw the firm recognized as one of Asia’s PR Agencies of the Year at the International Business Awards. KPR experienced double-digit revenue growth, despite difficult economic conditions, with its several new innovations— including a digital PR practice, and a broadcast team—leading the way.

The firm enjoys a reputation for both creativity and client service that has been rewarded with impressive client loyalty: Airbus has been with the firm for 16 years, Hankook Shell Oil for 15 years, 3M for 13, CA for 12, and Lockheed Martin for 11. And there was new business last yar from Black & Decker, Fiji Water, Handok Pharmaceutical, Korea Smart Card, Lanxess Korea, Lilly Korea, Nike Golf, and Hawaiian Airlines, with growth being driven by consumer, digital, international and sports marketing. The firm also saw an increased demand for CSR projects from clients in various sectors.

New Agency of the Year: Six Degrees

Six Degrees, an independent firm formed two years ago by former Text 100 leaders Zach James and Rishi Seth, has quickly grown to 30 people, headquartered out of New Delhi and supported by offices in Mumbai and Chennai and fee income of more than $1 million.

The firm positions itself as a more consulting-oriented player than some of its peers, with a leadership team that features several agency veterans. Co-founders Seth and James bring 15 years experience of India’s PR industry to bear. They are supported by Delhi GM Karan Punia, another Text 100 veteran with significant technology experience.

While Six Degrees’ client portfolio remains largely tech-focused, it offers a comprehensive set of services, including corporate governance, sustainability, digital and crisis, along with the usual suite of stakeholder relations. In 2010 it won Nokia’s corporate strategy mandate in one of the year’s biggest reviews, and also added new business from HCL Enterprise, Nokia Siemens Networks, Hughes, EMC and Juniper. Non-tech clients include Air France/KLM, Amadeus and EgonZender.

The Agency of the Year award winners will be presented with their trophies at our first annual Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards dinner, to be held in Hong Kong this August.

A list of the Specialist Agencies of the Year can be found here.