Winners are selected on the basis of submissions to our annual Consultancy Report Card. The trophies will be awarded at our annual Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards dinner in Beijing on September 18.
Asia-Pacific Network of the Year: Weber Shandwick
Determining the Asia-Pacific Consultancy of the Year can be a difficult task. Our five finalists are all growing at upwards of 20 percent a year, diversifying into new areas and expanding their geographic footprint in a region where communications is maturing fast. Weber Shandwick clinches 2014 honours thanks to an unusually well-rounded performance that saw it outperform on all of these measures, while also developing an eye-catching array of client campaigns.
First, the numbers. Weber Shandwick grew Asia-Pacific revenue by 22 percent in 2013, without the benefit of a major acquisition, thanks to standout performances in Korea (+67 percent), Indonesia (+33 percent), China (+21 percent), Australia (+19 percent) and Hong Kong (+15 percent).
That performance has helped the network consolidate its position as one of the largest PR networks in Asia-Pacific. Remarkably, it happened despite the spin-off of DeVries, which took approximately 65 employees out of Weber Shandwick for its Asia launch. The firm has also addressed its key geographic blind spots in recent years by launching in Korea, Thailand and Indonesia, and acquiring a majority of its Indian operation, which continues to produce the market’s best PR campaigns.
Some $11m worth of new business included Unilever, Abbott, Bharti/Walmart, Ikea, Tetra Laval, Master Kong and Facebook. They join an enviable client roster that already included Microsoft, Nestle, MasterCard, Pfizer, GM, Temasek and ExxonMobil, much of which involves multimarket activity. There was particular growth, furthermore, from the firm’s public affairs (+80 percent), corporate (+30 percent) and financial (+11 percent) practices, with Weber Shandwick’s top 40 clients increasing their spend by 16 percent with the agency.
The stability of the firm’s management team, led by chairman Tim Sutton, also deserves special mention; local operations have seen far less senior-level turnover than competing agencies. This may help explain the agency’s success when it comes to diversifying its service offering, particularly via the rollout of its digital production studio and content unit Mediaco, both of which have helped Weber Shandwick access budgets that are typically out of reach for PR firms.
Award-winning campaigns such as Poshan in India; Master Kong in China; and MasterCard’s Project Inspire, meanwhile, mean that Weber Shandwick has developed a well-founded reputation for cutting-edge campaign work.
With more than 850 staffers currently working across 18 Weber Shandwick offices in 12 markets, the Interpublic firm has clearly established itself as one of the region’s top PR operations after the early turmoil that accompanied its birth in Asia. And that is some feat, given the quality of its competition. —AS
Finalists: Edelman, FleishmanHillard, Ogilvy PR, MSLGroup.
Australasia Consultancy of the Year: PPR
Professional Public Relations has been a leader in the Australian public relations market for four decades, establishing itself as the largest indigenous agency in the region, with 250 consultants in offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, and Auckland. But over the past couple of years the WPP-owned agency has established itself internationally, with new operations in New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, and Austin in the US, as well as London, Paris, and Mexico City. It now has 300 consultants generating $30 million globally, up by close to 50 percent last year.
As one might expect from a firm of that size, PPR is genuinely full-service firm, with corporate and consumer expertise and practice in investor relations, public affairs and change management. Sector expertise includes FMCG, technology, mining and natural resources, and travel and tourism. Highlights last year included supporting McDonald’s—a client for 35 years—with the launch of the “Our Food Your Questions” initiative in Australia; helping pet supplies retailer Petbarn gain recognition for its pet adoption CSR efforts with a “pet speed dating” event; and helping gaming hardware company Alienware break into the Australian market with a new product launch.—PH
Finalists: Edelman, Eleven, Haystac, Mango
Greater China Consultancy of the Year: Blue Focus
Several of the giant multinational agencies have established themselves as leaders in Greater China, while many others are seeing healthy growth, but in terms of exceptional performance it is difficult—this year as last—to look beyond Blue Focus, which continues to grow at a phenomenal pace. Revenues for 2013 were RMB3.6bn (US$592m) for the group as a whole, and while only about a third of that is attributed to traditional PR operations, that’s enough for the firm to rank among the top 20 in the world, and most of the balance is in the digital realm, and includes a good deal of content creation and social media work that would meet this publication’s broad definition of PR.
Just as important as the firm’s growth, however, is the fact that it is staring to produce its share of outstanding creative work. It received a very impressive 11 nominations in our most recent Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards competition, with stand-out work from its Phluency Interactive division, for clients including Lenovo and its Thinkpad line of laptops; automakers Volkswagen, Jeep and Jaguar; Durex and Reckitt Benckiser.—PH
Finalists:FleishmanHillard, MSLGroup, Ogilvy PR, Weber Shandwick.
Indian Consultancy of the Year: Adfactors PR
India’s largest public relations agency continues to go from strength to strength, despite a certain measure of malaise in the market. Now worth $17.2m, Adfactors grew 18 percent last year, meaning that it has averaged a remarkable growth rate of 32 percent over the past decade, resulting in a firm that now employs 275 PR consultants. Much of that growth can be put down to a senior team led by founder Madan Bahal, which has successfully diversified Adfactors’ offering beyond financial PR into such areas as corporate reputation, issues management and crisis communications.
Recent years have brought a particularly rich new business haul, including new clients such as Vodafone, Infosys, Deutsche Bank, Vedanta Group and Cairn Energy. The firm’s campaign work has also attracted attention, winning plenty of recognition at this year’s SABRE Awards South Asia. And Adfactors also deserves praise for a typically independent-minded attitude towards continued expansion, which has seen it open a state of the art office facility in Mumbai, to go with a focus on cultural diversity and the establishment of a council to improve female representation among its senior leadership. Now boasting operations in Dubai, Sri Lanka and Singapore to go with its 18-office network in India, Adfactors looks well positioned to become the first Indian PR firm to ‘go global’. —AS
Finalists: Avian Media, Edelman, Six Degrees, Perfect Relations
Japanese Consultancy of the Year: Vector
For the past three years, Vector has been one of the top performing agencies in the Japanese market, achieving an average of about 25 percent growth at a time when the market as a whole has been slow to recover from the global economic crisis. Last year saw robust 24 percent growth, and with fees of around $62 million, the 20-year-old firm is now firmly established as a leader not only in Japan, but across the region (unusual for a Japanese firm, it has built a network of offices in other markets, and now has offices in Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City).—PH
Finalists: Dentsu PR, Edelman, FleishmanHillard, Hill+Knowlton Strategies
Korean Consultancy of the Year: Prain Global
Established in 2000, Prain has grown rapidly to become one of the market leaders in Korea, with a team of 140 serving multinational clients in technology (HP, Huawei, Samsung Electronics, Canon, SAS); healthcare (MSD, GSK, Novartis, Takeda, Astellas); food and beverage (Pizza Hut, Hershey’s, CJ, Dongsuh, Yonsei Milk, Dr. Chungs Food, Hard Rock Café); travel (Finnair, Expedia); and more (Dow, L’Oreal, Henkel). The firm also has a specialist division focused on movie marketing and celebrity publicity.
Prain is the go-to agency for many of the largest projects in Korea—its client list includes the Office of the President, the Ministry of Culture Sports & Tourism, the Ministry of Labor, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government—so when Coex, one of the major shopping mall in Seoul, Korea, began a major renovation in late 2013 it turned to Prain for assistance with a rebranding a positioning assignment as it works toward a re-opening in December 2014.—PH
Finalists: KPR, Medicom, Ogilvy PR, Weber Shandwick
South-East Asia Consultancy of the Year: Eon
The first firm from the Philippines to gain recognition as one of our Consultancies of the Year, Eon stands out alongside larger firms from larger markets because of its focus on stakeholder engagement and reputation management, a positioning that fits well with its status as an affiliate of Edelman and active partner in the latter firm’s “trust” research. That’s not to say Eon is a minnow: a staff of about 70 makes it a market leader, and it has doubled in size over the past four years despite turbulent times for the local economy.
Clients include multinationals such as Shell, McDonald’s, Diageo, AES, Visa, Intel, HP, Blackberry, BMW, and Cisco, with new business last year from FedEx, the European Union, Nike and more. High-profile assignments included the McDonald’s Philippines National Breakfast Day campaign; helping the Australian Agency for International Development raise awareness of climate change and natural disaster preparedness issues; and creating a social media effort for client Maynilad’s “Best of the West” event, which raises the profile of products from the country’s western region.—PH
Finalists: AKA, Cohn & Wolfe, Edelman, Ogilvy PR
Consumer Consultancy of the Year: Ruder Finn
Over the past 12 years, the Asian operations of international independent Ruder Finn have grown from 10 people to more than 250, establishing themselves as a market leader in the consumer space in China in particular, where the firm is known for its work in the automotive sector and particularly in marketing luxury goods: the firm has a team of 80 dedicated to the luxury market and publishes annual research into market trends in China.
Ruder Finn handles pan-Asia work for clients SGX and “Watches & Wonders”; retainer assignments for Audi, Hermes, and Cartier (all clients for a decade or more); and picked up news business from Vacheron Constantin, Wrigley and Shanghai Disney last year. The firm also introduced its RFI Studios to China last year, creating a formidable digital and content creation capability.—PH
Finalists: Edelman, Liquid Ideas, Mazarine, One Green Bean
Corporate & Public Affairs Consultancy of the Year: Brunswick
While Brunswick remains best known for its financial work—it ranked among the top three M&A advisors in the region again last year, according to mergermarket, working for CP ALL on its acquisition of a majority stake in Siam Makro—the firm’s Asia-Pacific operations, which now include an office in Beijing and a new outpost in Shanghai in addition to the Hong Kong headquarters, have grown under the leadership of Tim Payne to around 50 people and a leader in corporate communications and crisis management in particular.
Having previously helped Goldman Sachs and Gucci address reputational issues in the region, a highlight last year was the firm’s work for Sinopec—a proactive crisis communications effort that did a lot to dispel the idea that Chinese companies struggle with transparency, providing a textbook example of openness in responsibility in response to the sinking of a container ship carrying the petroleum company’s products. The resulting community outreach was recognized with a Global SABRE Award last year.—PH
Finalists: Burson-Marsteller, Ketchum, Ogilvy PR, SenateSHJ
Digital Consultancy of the Year: Edelman
In a year when Edelman cracked the critical $100m revenue barrier in Asia-Pacific, it again had its digital operation to thank for much of its growth, reflecting an offering that continues to lead when it comes to investment and innovation. Edelman grew its Asia-Pacific digital revenues by 32 percent in 2013, benefiting in particular from an approach that has advanced considerably beyond the increasingly commoditised world of social media management. In particular, the firm has focused on driving sales by integrating social with enterprise activity, fusing programmes and platforms by investing in development, paid media and data/analytics.
The approach has paid off handsomely, enabling Edelman Digital to outperform traditional PR rivals and compete against digital and media agencies for bigger marketing budgets. There was new business from HP, Bosch, MasterCard and GM in China; Symantec and PayPal regionally; and GE and Samsung in multiple markets. In addition, there were a slew of eye-catching campaigns, notably the SABRE-winning GE Reports and HP efforts in Australia and India, respectively, along with other programmes for HP China and the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health.
Under digital lead Gavin Coombes, furthermore, Edelman has built one of the best digital teams in the business, including a number of recent new hires: Kim Hoang in Southeast Asia; Max Hegerman in India; Nigel Hammersley in the UAE; and Janet Dai in China. —AS
Finalists: Blue Digital, [email protected], Text 100, Weber Shandwick
Financial Consultancy of the Year: Ryan Financial
With the giant multinational financial specialists growing their Asia-Pacific operations in recent years, it’s nice to see that there’s still a place for local firms to flourishing. Ryan Financial—founded by former Bloomberg News report Damien Ryan—has carved out a niche for itself providing broad corporate communications counsel to companies in the financial services sector, with a staff of about 20 in Hong Kong and Singapore serving clients such as Standard Chartered, Rothschild Global Financial Advisory, Royal Bank of Canada, Legg Mason, and Pioneer Investments, and (new last year) White & Case, the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, and SunGard.
The firm’s capabilities were well showcased last year via its work for the British Virgin Islands, after its reputation as a financial center was impacted by a series of damaging data leaks that revealed the identity of thousands of holders of offshore accounts. The issue prompted criticism from governments and regulators around the world, and Ryan Financial was charged with restoring balance to media coverage and engaging with key stakeholders in the region.—PH
Finalists: Artemis, FTI Consulting, Sefiani, Strategic Public Relations Group
Technology Consultancy of the Year: Rice Communications
Since launching in 2009, Rice Communications has quickly emerged as one of the best in a new breed of Asia-Pacific boutique consultancies that are smart, nimble and led by executives with plenty of big agency experience, in this case founder Sonya Madeira and partner/director James Brasher. In just five years, Rice has grown into a firm that employs 22 people, with particular strength in B2B technology and tech-focused areas such as media/marketing and corporate.
Key clients include Inmarsat, FICO, Bosch, National Instruments, Digital Realty and Emerson Network Power, a roster that has been bolstered by new business from Palo Alto Networks and Wipro, among others. And Rice is one of the few local market firms that can genuinely offer regional coverage, with much of its work involving multi-market activity across the Asia-Pacific.—AS
Finalists: Racepoint, Lewis PR, ClickPR, Waggener Edstrom
New Consultancy of the Year: SharpeLankester
Founded just under two years ago, SharpeLankester has benefited from a specific approach on the ‘investment arc’ between Asia-Pacific and London, along with a laser-like focus on corporate, financial/IR and crisis/issues management. That mentality is driven by the firm’s founders — Charles Lankester and Andrew Sharpe — each of whom brings specific, complementary experience. Lankester previously held senior roles at Edelman and Weber Shandwick, while Sharpe has worked at UBS and Morgan Stanley.
Already, SharpeLankester has cracked the US$1m barrier, after growth of around 40 percent in 2013, with a client roster that includes sensitive assignments for Johnson & Johnson, Cerebos Pacific, PepsiCo, Kirin, Doosan, Air Asia X and GSK. The firm has also showcased a refreshing approach to product development, resulting in, firstly, a payment model that links agency compensation to results and, secondly, considerable work with Rapture Analytics to develop predictive communications technology. And, SharpeLankester owns 40 percent of highly-rated UK digital outfit Battenhall. It all adds up to a highly impressive rollout from a firm that employs senior talent in Hong Kong, Singapore, Myanmar and London — reflecting, perhaps, the future direction of senior-heavy firms that can provide genuine C-suite counsel across borders and sectors.—AS
Finalists: PRecious, Allison+Partners, DeVries