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Weber Shandwick established itself in China more than two decades ago, but it is only over the past five or six years that it has begun to emerge from the pack of US-based multinationals to become a true market leader. The firm credits its “Lead Forward” strategy, a five-year blueprint for growth that is expanding the boundaries of public relations and positioning Weber Shandwick as a leader in brand engagement across earned, owned and paid platforms, supported by non-traditional hires in creative, digital and social, and data and analytics.
The result is that the firm has been growing faster than any of its peers, up by 40% in 2014 and a similar amount in the first half of this year—despite a tumultuous Chinese economy and the spin-off of significant business to sister agencies Golin and DeVries. The firm continues to work with clients including Agilent (a client for 11 years), MasterCard (11 years), Nike and Pfizer (10 years), American Airlines (nine), Canon and IMG Sports Development (eight), Swatch Group (seven), American Soy Association (five), NetApp and Hyatt (four), and Bacardi (three), but much of its recent success has been with Chinese companies, which today make up 20% of the client base.
Additions in the past year include Amazon (Kindle and Amazon Web Services), Master Kong, Omega, SABIC, Bacardi, Tourism Australia, Walmart, GSK, and Guinness. The firm supported Beijing’s bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and helped Amazon overcome the challenge of changing reading habits in China, resulting in the brand’s Kindle Voyage e-Reader device being sold out within just one month.—PH
BlueDigital (Blue Focus Communications Group)
China’s BlueFocus Communication Group reorganized its public relations operations under the BlueDigital brand in 2013, reflecting the decision by founder and CEO Oscar Zhao to ensure that digital—and in particular a major commitment to data and analytics—is at the center of the firm’s business model. The impressive track record, which has seen a firm founded in 1996 grow to become the world’s 14th largest public relations group, continued apace last year, with fee income up by about 40 percent to around $200 million. From offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Xi’an (now supplemented by strong consumer and digital and social capabilities in the US and Europe following acquisitions such as Citizen Relations and We Are Social), a team of 1,500 serves clients such as Lenovo, Baidu, JD, Cisco, Canon, Haier, TCL, LG, Skyworth, Jaguar Land Rover, Infiniti, MeadJohnson, Pepsi, and SPD Bank, with key additions last year including Volkswagen Audi, Toyota and Microsoft. The work—almost all of which is driven by the firm’s proficiency on channels such as SinaWeibo, Renren, and WeChat as well as its expertise in mobile marketing—included two In2 SABRE-winning campaigns for work in content creation, as well as 14 Asia-Pacific SABRE nominations for work ranging from youth marketing for P&G to corporate reputation work for Lenovo (as it celebrates its 30th anniversary) to CSR work for Baidu.—PH
Ogilvy Public Relations (WPP)
With fee income estimated at around $130 million, Ogilvy Public Relations is still the number one multinational in the Asia-Pacific region, and Asia is still the number one region for the WPP-owned agency. With 29 offices in 23 cities, the firm has the largest footprint across the region, with its greatest strength in the Greater China market, where Ogilvy has offices in Hong Kong, Taipei, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. Revenue was up by about 10 percent last year, with new business from HK Standard Chartered Marathon, Huawei, Jaguar Land Rover, Tourism Australia, Chando, Maysu, Stora Enso, Falcon, BOE, Fotile, SKP, Ucheer, BMS, joining a roster that already includes the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Intel, IBM, Caterpillar, Ford, UPS, HK Science & Technology Park, Swatch Group, Tetra Pak, Mary Kay, and adidas. The firm is a leader in consumer marketing (in part thanks to a close working relationship with its sister agencies), technology, and of course digital and social media. One key is an established leadership team that includes Asia-Pacific president Scott Kronick (who spent 25 years leading the China operations); 20-year Ogilvy veteran Debby Cheung, who is president of Hong Kong and China; Beijing COO (another 20-year veteran) CP Yang. Highlights of the work included a Cannes Lions-winning campaign for Visit Britain, “Great Chinese Names for Great Britain”; marketing work for Kronenbourg 1664 and Tommy Hilfiger; business-to-business programs for Canon; crisis work for Jaguar Land Rover; and corporate positioning for British Airways—all of them nominated for SABRE Awards in various categories.—PH
Ruder Finn (Independent)
Last year was the 25th anniversary of Ruder Finn’s launch in China, and in the intervening quarter century the firm has established itself as a market leader—primarily in the consumer space, where its creativity and a renewed commitment to client service have helped the firm’s consolidate its market leadership position. One major factor is the stability and seniority of the leadership team: Jean-Michel Dumont, chairman of Ruder Finn Asia, has close to 30 years of experience, 14 at Ruder Finn. Elan Shou, senior VP and managing director for Greater China has 15 years of experience, 11 at Ruder Finn. Hong Kong-based senior VP of reputation management Charles Lankester is a relative newcomer—his firm was acquired three years ago—but has just as much regional experience. Ruder Finn's largest clients include Volkswagen Group China, Cartier, Sanofi, Michelin, Hèrmes, Longines, Omron, Bosch and British Columbia, and the average retention rate is around eight years. New clients, meanwhile, included Alibaba, Shanghai Disney Resort, De Beers, Michael Kors, Richemont, Blancpain and Watches and Wonders. The firm’s China operations—offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou—now generate revenues of around $18.25 million, up by 17 percent over the previous year; add in Ruder Finn’s offices in Singapore and India, and the Asia-Pacific operations are contributing about a third of the agency’s global revenues.—PH
Strategic Public Relations Group (Independent)
Now in its 20th year, Strategic Public Relations Group is one of the top five Asia-based PR firms, with 2014 fee income of close to $20 million, and is one of a small handful of indigenous agencies with a genuine multi-market network, having expanded from its Hong Kong headquarters to add offices in China (Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou), Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. And while SPRG is undoubtedly a full-service firm—many of its smaller offices are more consumer-focused—its engine room is still the financial and corporate communications work that was founder Richard Tsang’s area of focus when he worked at Burson-Marsteller. More than half of the firm’s revenues come from its work in IPOs—SPRG completed its 300th new listing in June 2015—and ongoing investor relations (the firm currently advises more than 160 listed companies). Overall, SPRG recorded fee income of $21 million during the 12 months ended July 2015, a modest increase, with major regional clients including P&G, Melco, UC Rusal, 3D Gold, Lenovo, Vanguard, Xtep, K Wah and Nestle, while new business came from Bank of Communications, Great Eastern Life Assurance, Hung Lung Properties, Heineken, Lincoln Motor Company, Panasonic, and more. Under Tsang’s leadership, the management team is remarkable stable, and the firm continues to emphasize a collaborative culture, high staff retention, and an internal commitment to corporate responsibility, expanded during the 20th anniversary year as SPRG provides pro-bono support to charitable groups under its “We Care. We Connect. We Contribute.” banner.—PR
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