After two years of growth of close to 30 percent, Fleishman-Hillard continued to close the gap of the longer-established regional players in 2009, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. That means that over the past three years the firm has almost doubled in size in the Asia-Pacific region, and continues to be the fastest-growing part of the global business. Organic growth was healthy in 2009. The firm saw its top 10 clients in the region—a list that includes Qualcomm, Avaya, Emerson, P&G, AT&T, Motorola and the Korean government—grow by an average of 16 percent, while several other leading clients (Nike, Bourgognes, Deutsche Bank, and Brand Hong Kong) increased their spending significantly. There was new business, meanwhile, from clients such as Philips (already being served in nine markets in the region), Nokia (in India), Swire Group (in China), Standard & Poor’s, Societe General, Kumho Tires of Korea, British Airways, Hyatt, Nissan, the Korean Ministry of Labor, and the G20 Summit in Korea.
Fleishman-Hillard now has 13 offices in the Asia-Pacific region. It launched in China in 1994, with a Beijing office that has since been supplemented by offices in Shanghai and Guangzhou, with about 100 people spread between those offices. It added Singapore in 1996 and Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan in 1997, followed by Kuala Lumpur in 1999, Australia in 2001, Korea a year later, and India in 2007, expanding from its Mumbai base into Delhi last year. The most recent addition to the network is an office in Jakarta, which provides the firm with access to the large—and growing—Indonesian marketplace. The firm also formed an affiliate agreement with Rowland, one of the largest and most respected firms in Australia, adding a Brisbane presence to its existing operation in Sydney.
Fleishman-Hillard is almost certainly the largest public relations firm in North America, where it has fee income in the $300-350 million range, about 60 percent of its worldwide revenue, and it also has more offices throughout the U.S. than any of its competitors. There’s strength in every part of the country: the central region, led by Susan Veidt, includes the headquarters office in St. Louis, a major Kansas City operation, and strong teams in Chicago and the Twin Cities; the mid-Atlantic features a Washington, D.C., presence that is arguably the strongest of any multinational; the East includes New York and Boston; the West includes a powerful presence in both L.A. and San Francisco; the Southwest continues to offer formidable competition in Texas; and in Canada, the firm has a network of five offices that may be the best branded operation run by one of the U.S.-based multinationals. The European business, meanwhile, has continued to grow. The U.K. operations are its largest in the region, with about 125 people and strength across all major practice areas, but Fleishman also has an increasingly formidable presence in the region’s two other key markets: in Germany, it has consolidated its Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich offices under a single leadership structure; while in Brussels there are close to 50 under the leadership of Caroline Wunnerlich. FH is also among the market leaders in some secondary markets, including Ireland and South Africa.
The technology practice is still the firm’s largest in the region, but the corporate practice continues to grow at a healthy pace, with issues and crisis work in particular booming; there’s an impressive financial services capability, most notably in Hong Kong; a slightly smaller healthcare practice; and some public affairs business. The latter arena has seen considerable growth over the past 12 months, with the firm’s Vox government affairs brand opening in Japan, and a sharp (43 percent) increase in government work, which now accounts for 18 percent of the region’s income and includes significant assignments in Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore. But like many of its peers, Fleishman saw the biggest growth in 2009 in its digital activities, with digital revenues up 200 percent.
One of the major contributors to Fleishman-Hillard’s recent growth in the region has been a strong and stable senior management team headed for the past decade by Lynne-Anne Stevenson, an 18-year veteran of the firm, supported by local talent that includes experienced professionals such as Shin Tanaka, a former Honda and Sega communications chief who has led the Tokyo operation since its inception in 1997, and China managing director Li Hong. New hires in 2009 include Akihiro Nojiri, formerly with the Ministry of Finance, as senior VP in the government relations and corporate practices in Tokyo; Wang Lei, formerly of the Ministry of Commerce, as VP in the Beijing government relations practice; Australia veteran (formerly of Burson-Marsteller and his own firm, Perception Counsel) Walter Jennings as general manager of the Sydney office; and Megha Sharma, formerly of Euro RSCG, as VP in the fledgling India operation. On the digital front, the firm named 10-year digital veteran and prominent blogger Napoleon Biggs as vice president and head of digital integration, and added Kylie Johnson (who led several social media initiatives for the government) in Australia. And the firm has already made significant additions in 2010, most notably Yoichi Kinoshita, formerly of DDB Japan, as managing director and partner of its Tokyo operations.
One of the benefits of the slowdown is that firms like Fleishman-Hillard saw a marked improvement in employee turnover, which was down by 47 percent in 2009, while headcount actually increased across the region by about 3 percent. But the firm didn’t use the downturn as an excuse to rest on its laurels. One major initiative was a “digital indoctrination” training effort that included Omnicom’s digital:works executive training program; a digital academy in Washington, D.C., that drew a number of participants from the Asia-Pacific region; and a robust schedule of digital courses. The firm also continues to offer a wide range of professional development activities under the FH University banner, with a “Train to Fly Higher” theme.
Fleishman-Hillard took a significantly more aggressive approach to thought leadership in Asia in 2009, highlighted by a survey into the reputation of Asian-based multinationals that was released at the World Economic Forum in China and generated considerable media attention throughout the region and beyond. The research will provide a benchmark for future surveys on the same topic. In addition, FH Japan president Shin Tanaka launched a new book on communication strategy that included eye-catching sections on the communication strategy that helped elect President Obama and the growing influence of social media, generating several high-profile speaking opportunities. The firm also partnered with sister agency Bernard Hodes to provide change management and internal communications services to Asian companies using an approach the firms call Talent Asset Impact.
Fleishman-Hillard picked up three trophies in our inaugural Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards competition, for its work building a global brand on behalf of China’s electronics giant Huawei; helping to address the issues raised by Korea’s ageing society on behalf of the Korean Ministry of Health, Welfare & Family; and an employee communications campaign for Kozo Keikaku Engineering of Japan. In the digital arena, the firm launched the Smart car for Mercedes-Benz in China, promoted BMW’s independent film competition, handled a major social media engagement for Malaysia Airlines, and helped with online reputation management for the Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation.
Fleishman-Hillard has been enhancing its reputation in Asia over the past few years, winning more awards and getting involved with more high-profile events. Certainly the firm is beginning to get noticed in China, where BusinessWatch named it among the 10 fastest growing companies in the nation. The firm also continued to benefit its partnership with the Financial Times, which began in 2003. And FH was recognized for a wide range of work in awards competitions, honoured by the Asia-Pacific PR Awards for work in the public sector and digital arenas and in local Malaysian and Korean competitions.
Almost half of Fleishman’s top 20 clients in the Asia-Pacific are Asian-based, and the firm has successfully exported business from the region, serving clients such as Chinese consumer electronics giant TCL, Huawei, Lenovo, Tata and ICICI Bank in other geographies. Expanding its global work for major regional players will be a significant focus in 2010.