Greater China PR Consultancies of the Year 2016 | Holmes Report
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2016 Greater China 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:

Greater China PR Consultancy of the Year: Red Bridge (Independent)

Founded in 2009, Red Bridge has established itself as a relative rarity in the Greater China PR market — an independent agency that has demonstrated an ability to win big business without the sometimes cumbersome scale that is often required of the country’s most successful firms. Now numbering more than 50 people under the leadership of founder and managing partner Penny Burgess, Red Bridge reported eye-catching growth of 44% in 2015, driven by new business from DFS, Value Retail Europe and Revolve. Those accounts join a roster that already includes Melia Hotels & Resorts, Forever 21, Ted Baker, Paramount Farms, Soneva Group, Bloom & Grow and UTS Insearch.


Red Bridge’s work reflects a focus on integration, thanks to a restructuring last year that rolled out specialist planning, creative content, digital and activation units. There is also a content studio that is particularly strong in terms of ‘middleweight’ content, driving an offering that spans brand strategy and ideas to storytelling, multi-channel delivery and activation. There was eye-catching work for Forever 21, using social media platforms and fashion influencers to drive acquisition and ecommerce; Melia Hotels, winning over Chinese travellers; and, Value Retail Europe, delivering high-quality, high-spending tourists to its nine European villages.

Burgess is supported by managing partner and brand strategy specialist Nicky Wang and associate director Maho Saito, who oversees corporate — together the trio appear to building a firm that might yet signal the ability of smaller, boutique players to challenge the market’s dominant heavyweights. — AS

Finalists


BlueFocus Digital
(BlueFocus Communication Group)

Since its launch in 1996 (then known as Blue Focus PR), Oscar Zhao’s company has grown into the largest public relations consultancy in China and one of the top 10 public relations business in the world, with 2015 fee income (per our 2016 Top 250 ranking) of close to $250 million—up by 30% last year.


Today, BlueFocus Digital Marketing Agency is the main subsidiary of the BlueFocus Communication Group, offering a unique blend of digital marketing and public relations services in China (it has offices in Beijing,Shanghai,Guangzhou,Shenzhen, and Xi’an) and around the world. As such, it represents many of China’s largest companies (Lenovo, Baidu, JD.com, Shanghai Jahwa Corporation) and a host of blue-chip multinational brands (Cisco, Chrysler, Canon, Mead Johnson, Toyota). New business over the past 12 months came from Homelink, FAW Volkswagen, Guanyimei, Ejiao, Hanteng Autos, Dongfeng-Nissan, Hualin securities, Ping An Health, Aston Martin and more. 

High-profile work includes “See you again, Katmandu,” Baidu’s campaign to help restore historic monuments destroyed by last year’s earthquake in Nepal, which has won several international awards; employee communications work for Mercedes-Benz; and SABRE winning campaigns for Lenovo, P&G and Dettol, among others.—PH


MSLGroup
(Publicis Groupe)

Having made three very different acquisitions in China—strategic communications consultancy Eastwei, events-driven company Luminous Experiential, and digital marketing and PR firm Genedigi—it has taken a while for MSL’s operations in Asia’s most dynamic market to mesh, but despite the fact that the latter two firms retain their original brands, it is becoming increasingly difficult for competitors to pretend that the Publicis-owned agency is not now a major player in the market, uniquely positioned to provide both top level strategic counsel and local market execution that includes 750 professionals in 11 Greater China offices.
 
Growth over the past 12 months was better than 20%, with much of the new business coming from established brands like AXA, Melco Crown Entertainment, Marriott International, Lego, United Technologies, Audi, and UBS, but perhaps the most exciting development coming from assignments supporting some of the market’s most disruptive companies: Netflix, Alibaba, Tencent, ASOS, and Google among them.
 
The firm’s burgeoning digital capabilities have been at the heart of its success, with digital revenue up by 35% last year. The agency’s i3 methodology starts with insight (there has been a significant investment in data and analytics), proceeds through integration (which means engaging consumers and other stakeholders through a wide range of digital and social content and non-traditional channels), and ends with impact. And the latest innovation is a new platform—Conversation2Commerce—that “harnesses the power of influence to drive brand lift and commerce.” C2C draws upon the integration of paid, owned and shopper media to add scale, measurability and targeting to the firm’s earned media coverage and helps turn conversations into commercial success.
 
The leadership team includes Greater China CEO Faith Brewitt, who previously ran her own China-based consultancy and has 20 years of in-market experience; managing director Daisy Zhu, a 10-year MSL veteran; Luminous managing director Xavier Daurian, who joined last year from Havas; and Dennis Hsu and Terence Yam, who lead the Taiwan and Hong Kong operations respectively.—PH

Ogilvy PR (WPP)

With fee income estimated at almost $150 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 it has long been established as the market leader. Ogilvy PR’s Asia-Pacific CEO Scott Kronick has been based in China for more than two decades now, and he is ably supported by China/Hong Kong president Debby Cheung, who has been with the agency for 26 years, and Beijing COO (another 20-year veteran) CP Yang.

The firm’s Greater China offering includes offices in Hong Kong, Taipei, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. Revenue increasing at a double-digit rate last year, driven in particular by strong digital, social and ecommerce growth.Notable new business included a major global win of Huawei, along with work from the Chengdu government, Ocean Park Hong Kong, Ikea and Google. The firm’s global China outbound practice, meanwhile, is stronger than most, led by VP Helen Ye.

The firm is a leader in consumer marketing (in part thanks to a close working relationship with its sister agencies), technology, public affairs, and of course digital and social media. There was eye-catching integrated work for Nestle, along with the Cannes Lions-winning campaign for Visit Britain, “Great Chinese Names for Great Britain”. — AS

Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)

Weber Shandwick’s Asia-Pacific growth over the past 18 months has been impressive, and mainland China has been the major driver, with revenues up by 33%. Throw in Hong Kong—a more mature market that has nevertheless been posting strong double-digit growth of its own—and the Greater China market accounts for more than 50 percent of the firm’s revenue in the region.
 
There has been new business from some major brands: GM, Mattel, the Beijing 2022 Olympic Committee, Genzon, Uxin, GSK, Turkish Airlines, UPM, Mido, Tory Burch, IFF, and Anbang Insurance. They join a roster that includes a good balance of Chinese and multinational companies: Shenzhen BYD, Nike, Swatch, Amazon, MasterCard, Nestle, Lenovo, and Master Kong.
 
Some of the underlying trends are interesting. For one thing, the percentage of work from China-based businesses is growing (which also means that China is exporting more business to the rest of the global network). For another, about 50% of the firm’s revenue now comes from marketing rather than PR budgets, a trend that is reflected in the amount of work being done in non-traditional areas ranging from e-commerce to film production to media buying and talent management. Digital assignments are, not surprisingly, up by better than 50%, and sports marketing is another area of activity thanks to a good working relationship with sister agency Octagon.
 
As for Hong Kong, it quietly enjoyed its sixth year of double-digit growth, with new business from Google and ongoing work with Abbott, Audi, AXA, Dubai Tourism, Hong Kong Jockey Club, Invesco, and MasterCard.—PH