Asia-Pacific Corporate PR Consultancies of the Year 2016 | Holmes Report
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2016 Asia-Pacific Corporate/Financial PR Consultancies of the Year

The 2016 Asia-Pacific PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 100 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the region. Consultancy of the Year winners are announced and honoured at the 2016 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards, taking place on 28 September in Hong Kong. Analysis of all Finalists (and Winners from 29 September) can be accessed via the navigation menu or below:

Corporate PR Consultancy of the Year: Allison+Partners (MDC Partners)

Three years since entering Asia via a deal with China’s Wolf Group Asia, Allison+Partners has built a credible regional presence, bolstered by further acquisitions in China (Century PR) and, this year, Japan (Focus PR), along with expansion into Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong, including the high-profile hire of former Upstream Asia co-founder Paul Mottram to lead its All Told content practice.

All of which adds up to topline growth of 40% in 2016, but it is the firm’s corporate capabilities in the region that particularly catch the eye, especially in China, where it has 36 staffers working across such clients as Schneider Electric, Canola Council of Canada and Textron Aviation. Growth in that market reached 36%, driven by the firm’s ability to provide credible senior-level reputation and issues management counsel to C-suite executives. For example, Allison has helped Schneider Electric navigate a range of issues around cybersecurity, a brief that has involved significant work with the company’s business leaders and the Chinese government. And, of course, there is plenty of crisis management work to occupy the time of Allison’s China leaders — David Wolf and Jerry Zhu.

Beyond China, growth has been strong, albeit off a smaller base. In Singapore, corporate work includes assignments for the Singapore EDB, NUS Business School and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.In Japan, the Focus acquisition brings in 10 people handling corporate work for such clients as Nuance. And the company’s All Told content offering is increasingly popular at a corporate level, with revenue expected to reach $5m this year.
In terms of thought leadership, furthermore, Wolf has cemented his reputation as a thought leader in the China market, with his book “Public Relations in China: Building and Defending Your Brand in the PRC,” which argues that “few companies have found the right formula” in China. Allison is helping more and more of them figure out the right way to do that. — AS


Finalists


Ashton Consulting (Independent)

John Sunley founded Ashton Consulting 16 years ago in Japan to provide bilingual strategic counsel across media relations, crisis communications, M&A communications, investor relations and internal communications.

Culturally, the firm’s 23 consultants operate within a relatively flat organization that encourages contributions from across the team while also prioritizing diversity and reasonable work-life balance. This has resulted in low staff turnover (less than 5%) and a workforce split evenly across men and women, as well as between Japanese nationals and those from outside the country. The firm also recently introduced a Management Beat system in which a group of eight senior consultants take responsibility for different aspects of our business in four-month rotations. Fee income grew by 41% last year.

Key clients include Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Mitsui & Co, Kirin, Capital Group, British Airways, Novartis, Tourism New Zealand, Bloomberg, BlackRock, LATAM Airlines, Docusign and Nissan, among others. Notable work includes the Nichi-Iko acquisition of Sagent Pharmaceuticals in which Ashton advised Japan’s largest generics pharma company in the $766 million acquisition, working closely with financial and legal advisors and selecting a PR agency partner in New York.

After helping manage a major global pharma client through a series of complex business-critical crises over two years in Japan, Ashton devised a crucial first step in reputation rebuilding  — having the CEO answer questions in front of more than 80 media, with no podium and no speech notes. The event was a successful turning point for the firm’s reputation.  — AaS

Chase India (Independent)

As India’s economy has strengthened, more policy initiatives have emerged for consideration prompting the founders of Avian Media to launch a separate public policy consultancy. Nikhil Khanna, along with Nitin Mantri and Manash Neog unveiled Chase India in 2012 with its first client being in the education sector. Since then, the firm has expanded into food and beverages, energy infrastructure, technology and security. While its focus continues to be advocating for federal policies, the firm has also invested in building state experts, especially in light of the increasing decentralization of policy.

Growth is up 98% and the firm now employs 16 consultants working on 21 retainer clients and four active projects. These clients include Google, Dell, BP, BMW, Intel Securities, AMD, Airbnb, Amazon, Western Digital and Oracle. The firm’s thought-leadership includes insights and analysis on various policy and economic issues, including a report on Brexit and its potential impact on business.

Notable projects include working with the beverage industry to reduce taxes on beverages with a three-pronged strategy: direct engagement with tax issues, foster advocates for the industry among key decision makers; and map the most important and relevant stakeholders. — AaS


Citadel-Magnus (Independent)

When Citadel and Magnus merged last year, they formed Australia’s largest financial/corporate firm that worked on $8.7bn worth of financial transactions in its first year as a combined entity. Among the 19 M&A deals Citadel-Magnus worked on in 2015 was Ferrovial's successful bid for Broadspectrum. The firm’s advisory work spanned investors, media, government and regulatory bodies over many months.

With the traditional ‘media-led’ financial PR model losing its relevance, Citadel-Magnus pivoted its business into new growth areas of specialised investor relations advisory work and corporate reputation. Both are growth areas being driven by shareholder activism and boards being much more accountable to numerous stakeholder groups. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, fee income was approximately $5.3m AUD.  

Other notable assignments include  Equifax's $2.5bn takeover of Veda Group, Dexus Property's $3.5bn bid for Investa Office Fund and Healthe Care's $938m sale to Luye Medical Group, among others. Citadel’s founding partner Peter Brookes leads the transactions practice and the Sydney office, meanwhile Magnus’ founding partner John Gardner leads the investor relations practice and the Perth office. — AaS


SPRG (Independent)

It is now 21 years since Richard Tsang launched Strategic Public Relations Group in Hong Kong, and while it has expanded into a network of 10 offices across Asia and established capabilities in consumer marketing and corporate social responsibility, it remains best known as a market leader in the financial communications space in what remains one of the world’s most dynamic business centers.
 
SPRG may not have invented the IPO public relations, but there’s a case to be made that it perfected the business. It completed 34 new listings in 2015—including its 300th listing—and 13 so far in 2016. It also expanded into the lobbying business by acquiring AsiaNet Communications in July of this year, adding another component to its broad corporate and public affairs capabilities.
 
If past experience is any guide, many of those IPO clients will turn into retainer business for the firm: it currently advises more than 160 listed clients, including China Mengniu, COFCO, Dynasty, Fairwood, Fortune REIT, Hop Hing, JHC, K Wah, Lenovo, Melco Crown, Sinotrans, SOHO China, Sun Art, Tianjin Port, Tsui Wah Restaurant, Xtep, ZTE. And SPRG’s international client base is just as impressive. It works for P&G, Google, H3C, UC Rusal, Fitbit, and Lenovo and new business in 2016 came from ABN AMRO, AIA, BDO, Capella Hotel, Espirit, Heineken, Scripps networks, Skechers, Wyeth and more.
 
One key to the firm’s success is its ability to attract and retain talent in a market where demand exceeds supply: 15 members of the management team have been with SPRG for 15 years or more, 15%  of the 300 staff have been with the firm for a decade, and 90% agree that the firm provides great opportunity for advancement. Another is the firm’s deep roots in the community, including its CSR and philanthropic endeavors, and Tsang’s role on more than 50 boards and committees across the island and beyond. — PH