In 2006, an American lobby called Apco Worldwide, which doubles in public relations and boasts clients ranging from dictators to global investment banks, stepped into India. Uncharacteristically for one of the most muscular business lobby groups in Washington, it was a quiet entry. So it was not until three years later that Apco’s business in India really came into its own.
Apco muscled out a raft of PR companies, including the now defunct Vaishnavi Communications of controversial lobbyist Niira Radia, to win the contract to promote Vibrant Gujarat, the showpiece investment meeting of chief minister Narendra Modi that often sees dizzy pledges to do business and lavishes praise on Modi’s administration.
Vibrant Gujarat has evolved into the country’s premier investment meet – it is billed the “Indian Davos” – and as Gujarat goes to polls on December 13 and 17, Modi has frequently used the massive publicity around the event as a plank in his campaign.
Until Apco appeared on the scene in 2009 to sell the event, Vibrant Gujarat was a modest show. At the first three events, investment promises were worth no more than $14 billion, $20 billion and $152 billion.
Enter Apco and in 2009 and 2011, the promises grew to $253 billion and $450 billion. The 2013 edition – from January 11-13 – is billed as the biggest yet. The United States-India Business Council (USIBC), along with counterparts from the UK and Australia, is sponsoring the event.
Those following Apco’s fortunes wouldn’t be surprised by the success of Vibrant Gujarat (the company has won a Global SABRE Award for its work). From its headquarters in Washington, Apco has long influenced many hot-button political and economic debates that roiled the US.
In 2010, Apco offered to start an image-improvement campaign for the US financial industry, which includes JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc, after more than a year of public flogging in Washington. When these companies solicited proposals from public relations firms, they said: “Past experience in successful reputation enhancement campaigns is valued.”
Apco was hired by Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev to extricate himself from a four-year-long dispute with his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev. The company was approached by Hewlett-Packard Co’s board after accusations of harassment against its chief executive officer. It also handled crises as diverse asMerckBSE 0.27 % & Co’s scandal involving Vioxx, the arthritis drug that killed thousands before it was withdrawn, and Ford Motor’s troubles with Firestone tires on its Explorer vehicles.
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