North Asian PR Consultancies of the Year 2016 | Holmes Report
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2016 North Asia 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:

North Asia PR Consultancy of the Year: Edelman (Independent)

Edelman’s digital capabilities have always remained a notch above most of their rivals, and now account for around 14% of the firm’s revenues in Asia-Pacific, even if that number  is slightly misleading because that’s only the firm’s pure-play digital activity—the content creation, digital design, and community management work delivered by a specialist team.


The real story, instead, lies in the network’s fundamental restructuring of its operating structure to ensure that all aspects of digital — including those more readily associated with advertising agencies — are delivered across Asia-Pacific, a process that is aided by the added scale that its Middle East and Africa operations bring. Edelman has invested significant sums in this initiative, across such areas as search engine marketing, social media optimisation and measurement/analytics, building centralised hubs that features skills and talent that each of its markets can tap into on a local basis.

Accordingly, there have been numerous digital hires and appointments under the leadership of digital president Gavin Coombes, including Stuart Edwards as regional digital COO and Andrew Ryder as to oversee digital strategy in North Asia. In Japan the firm has upped its digital capabilities considerably, bringing in Geoff Dossor as digital CD and Masaki Gunnarson to lead digital, paid and analytics, joining a digital leadership team that also includes Kim Hoang in Southeast Asia, Kunal Arora in India, Janet Dai in China and Andy Lee in Korea.

Edelman APACMEA CEO David Brain believes the investments and restructuring will help his firm expand their “addressable market”, beyond typical PR assignments into the kind of consumer and branding work that more often goes to ad agencies. Already, there are signs that this is happening, with digital driving growth across all local markets, Singapore and Korea in particular. There has also been eye-catching work for Asics Japan,  Airbnb across China, APEC and Tata Tea Fusion. — AS

Finalists

FleishmanHillard
(Omnicom Group)

FleishmanHillard started its business in Japan in 1997 with one desk, one phone and one staff member, according to Shin Tanaka who serves as president of the FleishmanHillard Japan Group—a family of companies that includes not only FH but also BlueCurrent, which started life in Tokyo as a digital and influencer marketing specialist and has expanded both the scope of its operations and its geographic footprint, and public affairs brand Vox Global. All of that is supplemented now by the launch of a new Brand Journalism Center, fulfilling a growing demand for content.
 
Today, the firm is one of the strongest mutlinationals in the market, with expertise in consumer marketing and corporate communications, and vast experience in the technology and healthcare sectors. Honda leads a management team that includes Tetsuya Honda, managing director of Blue Current, and Nojiri Akihiro, managing director of Vox, that understands how to help multinational companies overcome the many cultural, linguistic and logistical hurdles that are still very much a part of doing business in Japan. They were joined in 2016 by Kuniyoshi Mabuchi, formerly of Ogilvy One and Tribal DDB, who will serve as head of digital.
 
The Japanese business grew by 15 percent last year, with Vox turning in a particularly impressive performance, and the Tokyo operations continue to drive more than 30 percent of FleishmanHillard’s overall Asia revenue. New business over the past 12 months included work from Crocs (Blue Current), Hiroyuki Shigemitsu (FH and Vox), Marriott International (FH), and Mitsubishi (FH and Blue Current).
 
While the Korean operations can’t (yet) match the size and scale of the firm’s Japanese business, they are growing at a very healthy 17 percent clip, with public affairs and issues management work on behalf of client such as Reckitt Benckiser, Johnson&Johnson, AugustaWestland and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power leading the way. Other new client additions over the past year included Alibaba, Crocs, and Fidelity Asset Management.—PH


H+K Strategies
(WPP)

Hill+Knowlton founded our Tokyo office in 1958, making it the first international public relations firm to enter the country, but whatever first mover advantage that may have delivered had been squandered in recent years, and until recently H+K was a minor player in the market, with a team of about 15 and a low profile.


But the decision to move Asia president and CEO John Morgan to Tokyo about 18 months ago has had a profound impact on Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ operations in the world’s third largest economy. Morgan has made a number of personnel moves, bringing in Ronan Hand from Japanese mobile games developer Gree as director and handling several local professionals to expand the team. He has also built on the firm’s traditional positioning (as much management consulting as PR, with deep sector expertise in tech, healthcare, automotive and finance, among others) while focusing on next-generation services and skills.
 
H+K’s Asia Pacific chairman Viv Lines makes the point that “clients follow good people,” and the evidence of the past 12 months bears that out. The agency beat out strong local competition for the ANA Airways account, picked up Nikon for issues and crisis management and Nikkon Steel for media and crisis training. Other new retainer relationships include Costa Cruises, Expedia, Johnson Controls, Flextronics, Veam Software, Canadian Standards Association, InterSystems.
 
As a result, H+K Japan is the fastest-growing office in the firm’s Asia network, is back up to more than 20 people, and is on track to double in size over the next couple of years.—PH

MSLGroup (Publicis Groupe)

MSL has been so busy in China and India—making acquisitions and establishing itself as a market leader—that it has been easy to ignore the success story in Japan, where the agency has established itself as a trusted advisor to clients such as P&G, Netflix, Cadillac, Mondelez, Fitbit, and Continental Tires while expanding its digital and social capabilities.
 
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. Increased integration with other Publicis agencies—under the “Power of One” banner—is providing an even broader range of strategic thinking and services and seems to be resonating with Japanese clients. Growth was in the mid-teens in 2015 and has been accelerating in 2016.
 
The more strategic, integrated approach is manifesting itself in the work too, from the “Find Your Fit” campaign—spanning PR, social, and experiential—that helped Fitbit boost sales in Japan to content-led communications for the International Olive Council to helping Mondelez overcome resistance to brands such as Oreo and Ritz being manufactured outside of Japan.
 
Managing director Eric Hess—a 35-year veteran of the Japanese market—and deputy Kiminori Takeuchi have been bringing in new talent too, including director of strategy and research Atsushi Kikugawa and digital consultant Sei Naganuma.—PH


Weber Shandwick
(Interpublic Group)

Weber Shandwick’s Japanese operations can trace their roots back to 1959, when International PR—later acquired by what was then Shandwick—was first established. Its Korean presence is much more recent, with the office founded just six years ago, under the leadership of Edelman veteran Tyler Kim. But both of the North Asia offices have been on a similar trajectory over the past 12 months, enjoying solid growth (8% and 17% respectively) fueled by increasing demand for digital and social media expertise in both markets.
 
In Seoul, which Kim has taken from a one-man office to a team of 50, digital accounts for a little more than 50% of the firm’s business and the addition last year of Lucy Han—formerly of Edelman—as senior VP, digital, has further strengthened its credentials in that area. There was new business from Abbott, AIA, American Airlines, Boeing, Burger King, Dolby, Dole, Facebook, FedEx, Goldman Sachs, Instagram, Master Card, Ocean Spray, Sanpellegrino, SAP, Seagate, and Splunk, while the firm continues to expand its retainer relationships with the likes of Alba Chunguk, California Walnut Commission, Kayak, Pampers, Samsung Notebook, Samsung Pay, and Roche.
 
In Tokyo, the story is more about perseverance and the ability to thrive despite challenging economic conditions. Success has come from expanding digital and social capabilities in the local market, including the creation of an “engagement platforms” team focused on influencer marketing, and by broadening the range of service provided to existing clients: growing the Mattel relationship from one brand to seven, supplementing business-to-business assignments for Facebook and Instagram with new corporate work. One major win saw the firm engaged to help the Tokyo Metropolitan Government prepare for the 2020 Olympics.—PH