HONG KONG—Lewis PR is re-entering China after acquiring one of the region's oldest independent PR firms, EBA Communications.
The deal, which sees Lewis buy out 100% of EBA, brings with it the independent firm's three mainland China offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guanghzhou, along with its Hong Kong HQ.
Founded in 1987 by Euan Barty, EBA quickly grew to become one of the region's largest independent tech players. Tech and B2B now account for around 60% of the agency's revenues, following successful diversification into consumer accounts such as Tourism Australia and Line.
In addition to majority shareholders Barty and his wife Patricia Malone, long-term executives Claudia Choi and Brian Paterson also owned minority stakes.
Choi, who previously served as MD of the agency, becomes VP of Greater China, charged with spearheading business growth and marketing China to Lewis' existing clients. EBA will retain its branding in mainland China, while its Hong Kong office will merge with Lewis' SAR operation.
Paterson, meanwhile, takes on a regional role as head of content. Barty, who has not been involved at a day-to-day level for several years, will serve as a non-executive advisor.
Lewis previously launched in Shanghai in 2005, but the operation faded due to lack of demand, said agency founder and CEO Chris Lewis.
That situation, added Lewis Asia-Pacific SVP Andy Oliver, has changed. "This whole deal is about having a direct presence in China. We need to compete on a global basis, so this is the driving force."
The new acquisition doubles Lewis' Asia-Pacific revenues to around $8m, with the firm set to invest $10m over the next five years to build digital capabilities in China. Upon completion, Lewis' global revenues will increase to $65m.
Oliver, to whom Choi will report, added that EBA's mainland presence had proved particularly compelling. "EBA was one of the pioneers of PR for MNCs in China. They have got unparalleled knowledge of the China market."
As for EBA, the decision to sell comes after several fruitless approaches by other suitors. "When Lewis came to us, we found we were attracted by the strong culture and total independence," explained Choi. "We also share the same values and mentality."
Choi added that Lewis' global network will help EBA compete "in terms of global business". The firm's digital practice also proved compelling, she noted.
Oliver, who has been based in Singapore for the past five years, relocates to Hong Kong to oversee the Greater China expansion.
"Asia is an extremely exciting market, it’s our fastest-growing region," he said. "We’re going to keep investing in the region."