Regional Asia-Pacific PR Consultancies of the Year 2016 | Holmes Report
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2016 Asia-Pacific Regional 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:

Regional PR Consultancy of the Year: MSLGroup (Publicis Groupe)

In a little more than a decade, MSLGroup has evolved from a 15-person startup in China to one of the top multinational agencies in the Asia-Pacific, with a network of 1,500 professionals (more than any other agency) in 36 offices across the region. There’s some debate about whether MSL has now overtaken longer-established rivals Ogilvy, Edelman, and Weber Shandwick in terms of regional revenues, but there is no doubt that the Publicis-owned agency can now compete on level footing with any of them in any of the region’s major markets—particularly China and India, where recent acquisitions have turned it into a market leader.

Growth in 2015 was close to 20%, with much of the new business coming from established brands like longtime MSL clients P&G and Coca-Cola, as well as the likes of Mondelez, Cadillac, Adidas, AXA, Volkswagen, Lego, Pfizer, Audi, Panasonic, and UBS. But as befits a challenger brand like MSL, there have been assignments from some of the region’s—and the world’s—most disruptive companies: Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, Alibaba Group, Tencent, WhatsApp, Xiaomi, Google.

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.

Increased integration with other Publicis companies is also helping. MSL incorporated PR teams from the Philippines and Sri Lanka last year (as well as an acquisition in Vietnam) to increase its footprint, and is partnering with advertising and digital sister agencies—often playing a lead role—to provide integrated services to many major clients.—PH

Finalists


Burson-Marsteller
(WPP)

Today’s Burson-Marsteller is not quite unrecognizable from the four or five years ago—it still offers the same steady hand when it comes to high-stakes issues and strategic counsel—but it is quite noticeably more modern, more dynamic, more innovative, and—since the transformation is clearly a work in progress—more optimistic.
 
Margaret Key, a six-year BM veteran, has been regional CEO for a little more than a year now, and early in 2016 made a couple of significant appointments that have helped drive the changes: Barry Wong, formerly with Commonwealth McCann, was named managing director, creative and innovation, a new role, and Judith Ostronic was named managing director, regional communications and operations. Supported by a mix of agency veterans (vice chair Prema Sagar, government and public affairs chief Ian McCabe) and newcomers (China CEO Ruby Fu, regional director of digital Thomas Tang, head of digital strategy for China Joe Peng) they are reshaping the agency.
 
There has been a major investment in the firm’s Studio B offer, which helps clients with everything from analytics through engagement, including robust data capabilities, channel strategy and content creation. And there is a renewed emphasis on talent development, particularly in identifying and growing future leaders.
 
The payoff is most evident so far in the quality of the firm’s work: working with Huawei on a corporate level, as well as with its enterprise, carrier, wireless networks, and fixed networks business groups and launching several new products globally; helping Adidas with a number of hip, youth-oriented projects like Crazy Balloon Attack, ClimaCool, and All in for #MyGirls; and supporting Fitbit with media relations, social influencer engagement, partnerships and events, in China, Japan, India, Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines. — PH

Edelman (Independent)

Edelman’s Asia-Pacific offering retains a dynamic edge in a dynamic region, growing 9% for its most recent fiscal year to reach approximately $104m in overall fee income. Those may not be the heady numbers of years gone by, but they come as Edelman invests in an ambitious restructuring of its operating structure, part of regional CEO David Brain’s plan to increase the firm’s “addressable market”, bringing it into competition with advertising and digital agencies. That approach means there has been considerable investment in skills and capabilities, across such areas as search engine marketing, social media optimisation and measurement/analytics, as Edelman attempts to ensure that it can deliver all aspects of digital at scale across its various Asia-Pacific markets.

And while Brain’s top leadership team — including executive vice chairman Carol Potter; Bob Grove in North Asia; Rob Holdheim in South Asia (and the Middle East and Africa, which also reports to Brain); and, Iain Twine in Southeast Asia and Australia — is stable, the the restructuring has also been accompanied by considerable turnover of senior talent across the region, with many new additions coming from diverse backgrounds. There is new leadership in China (ex-Bates chief Jeffery Yu), Vietnam (former Publicis CEO TT Nguyen); Australia (Steve Spurr); Indonesia (Raymond Siva) and Hong Kong (Adrian Warr), and, unsurprisingly, plenty of investment in senior talent to support the agency’s continued growth in digital, creative and research, notably digital COO Stuart Edwards, North Asia strategy director Andrew Ryder and North Asia CD Pierre Desfretier.

The firm now employs around 1,300 people in the region, working for a client roster that includes  Tata, Samsung, HP, Shell, Mars, Symantec, PayPal and Unilever. Almost all of those major clients are now being served across multiple markets—Shell (13), Samsung (12), HP (11), Samsung (10)—in the region. Many of the new business successes last year were multi-market assignments too, including Dubai Tourism, Lotte, Ontario Government of Canada, APACMed and Airbnb.

The network’s portfolio across practices is well balanced across corporate and consumer, alongside a strong commitment to both professional development (590 training courses across the region) and thought leadership (from the Trust Barometer to the Cultural Connections initiative). And
the creative work remains strong too, highlighted by numerous SABRE nominations and standout work for Asics, Airbnb and Tata. — AS


Ogilvy PR (WPP)

With fee income estimated at around $150m following 13% growth last year, Ogilvy Public Relations is, arguably, the number one multinational in the Asia-Pacific region, and Asia is still the number one region for the WPP-owned agency. The network won Regional Consultancy of the Year honours in 2015 and its performance since then suggests that it continues to fire on all cylinders, functioning as the largest profit contributor to Ogilvy group in many markets.

With 1,200 staff working across 32 offices in 26 cities, the firm has the largest footprint across the region, with its greatest strength in the Greater China market. The firm is also distinguished by a veteran leadership team that includes 30-year China hand Scott Kronick, now regional president and CEO; Debby Cheung, president of the Shanghai market for all of Ogilvy; and Southeast Asia president Andrew Thomas, who also oversees [email protected]

There has been particular attention paid to Ogilvy PR’s integrated offering, which includes a close working relationship with sister agencies Ogilvy & Mather and Ogilvy One, and a formidable digital and social media practice under the [email protected] banner. The client list includes the likes of Amazon, Mary Kay, Dell, Unilever, IBM, Ford, UPS, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Canon, Coca-Cola, while there has been notable new business from Ministry of Tourism Indonesia, Huawei (as part of Team WPP), Netflix, the Chengdu Government, Airbnb, IKEA, Google, Ocean Park Hong Kong, National Arts Council Singapore and CFA Institute.

That performance is not just down to Ogilvy PR’s local market strength in Greater China, Australia and Singapore, but increasing network cohesion, with several clients (Airbnb, Indonesia Tourism Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson) working across multiple markets. The firm has named specific ‘regional connectors’ to improve this process, and has also created seven regional practice leader roles to drive new business and expand client relationships. And there is a significant commitment  to strategic planning (’Ogilvy Brains Community’) and talent management and development.

The work remains cutting-edge, evidenced by Ogilvy PR’s continued success at the SABRE Awards, via such campaigns as ‘Great Chinese Names for Great Britain’; ‘Mining Australia’s digital experience gap for SAP’; Singapore Government’s NSCS #EXGerminator; and, the ‘World’s First Virtual Reality Department Store by eBay. — AS

Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)

After another year of industry-leading growth in 2015 (fees up by 24%), Weber Shandwick now has more than 900 people in the Asia-Pacific region, and can claim to have the most complete capabilities in the key markets of Australia, China, India, North Asia and South East Asia. Other metrics look good too: the firm now has more than 160 multimarket clients, and more than a third of its revenues (37%) comes from Asia-based clients.
 
In the past 12 months, blue-chip multinationals like Abbott, Amazon, ExxonMobil, Facebook, GM, MasterCard, Nike, Pfizer and Unilever—as well as the Asia-based Ocean Park Hong Kong, Samsung and Temasek—have been joined by the likes of Chinese smartphone maker Oppo, Chinese renewable energy pioneer Hanergy, Anbang Insurance Group, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
 
The growth has benefited every practice group, with consumer and corporate each accounting for about a third of regional revenues, strong capabilities in health and technology—and digital leading the growth, with the firm’s Studio content creation arm doubling in size last year and 200 digital specialists embedded in local offices.
 
Meanwhile, a strong and stable regional leadership team—Asia-Pacific CEO Baxter Jolly, regional chairs Tyler Kim, Darren Burns, Ian Rumsby and Vanessa Ho—continue to invest in an employee experience that has helped the firm attract and retain talent and helped the firm with Best Place to Work honors from PR Week.—PH