Asia-Pacific Corporate PR Consultancies of the Year 2017 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2017 Asia-Pacific Corporate PR Consultancies of the Year

The 2017 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 2017 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards, taking place on 14 September in Hong Kong. Analysis of all Finalists (and Winners from 15 September) can be accessed via the navigation menu or below:

SPRG
 (Independent)
It is now 22 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: consistently ranking among the region’s top 20 M&A advisors and dominating the IPO business, with 10 new listings in 2016 (taking it past the 350 mark).
 
Longtime clients include Fitbit, Google, H3C, Hong Kong Deposit Protection Board, Hershey, Lenovo, Microsoft, Melco, P&G and UC Rusal, and there was new business over the past year from the likes of ABM AMRO Bank Hong Kong, Asiaray Media Group, Fox Networks, GuocoLand, Land Transport Authority, Lee Tung Avenue, Merck, Nippon, Puma, World Ventures. In terms of capabilities, SPRG made an acquisition to expand its public affairs offering, delivered environmental and social governance reports for several clients, and has continued to expand its digital and social expertise.
 
The firm now has 300 employees across Asia, generating fee income in excess of $22 million, making it one of the largest independents in the firm—and perhaps the Asia-based agency with a geographic network—there are offices in Hong Kong, China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou), Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia—that can offer coverage to rival the western multinationals. It continues to differentiate itself by its focus on a culture where local staff can flourish (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 on a philosophy of giving back to the community that has seen the agency reap numerous awards for its own corporate social responsibility initiatives. — PH

Finalists

Allison+Partners (MDC Partners)
Four 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, last year, Japan (Focus PR), along with expansion into Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Sydney, including the hire of former Upstream Asia co-founder Paul Mottram to lead its All Told content practice.

All of which added up to topline growth of almost 100% in 2016 to $6.5m in revenue. One year after securing Corporate Consultancy of the Year honours, it is the firm’s B2B capabilities that continue to catch the eye, especially in China, where it has 40 staffers working across such clients as Schneider Electric, Canola Council of Canada, Textron Aviation, Tencent, Baidu and iRobot. Across the region as a whole, there was also new business from Casarte, Avery Dennison, GlobalFoundries and Nu Skin, joining a roster that features Bosch, Cisco, F5 Networks, Home Credit and UL.

Much of that has been driven by the firm’s ability to provide credible senior-level reputation and issues management counsel to C-suite executives, thanks to the tireless efforts of China leaders David Wolf and Jerry Zhu. This has included overseas positioning work for Baidu and Tencent along with plenty of crisis and issues support.  Meanwhile, Mottram’s All Told unit has been the biggest driver of growth, bringing a digital storytelling approach to a range of assignments, including campaigns for UL, Cisco, Carousell, Textron Aviation, Schneider Electric and AIA.

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

APCO Worldwide (Independent)
Initially focused on market entry challenges in the Chinese market, expanding to offer its core public affairs and crisis management capabilities throughout South-East Asia, adding management consulting offerings in India, and working with governments on economic development and internal communications, APCO has brought its unique blend of strategic communications capabilities to Asia over the past decade. Today, about $11.5 million of its $120 million in global revenue and 165 of its 650 global consultants are spread across 11 offices in the region—and if growth has been modest in recent years, there is every reason to believe that the company’s decision to remain independent, coupled with new funding, will boost the Asia-Pacific region in the years ahead.
 
The past 12 months saw a host of new clients, with the Government of Guangzhou retaining the firm in China and for international markets, and major assignments from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Oculus, Marriott International, IKEA, Michelin, Elsevier, Janssen, and WhatsApp. The firm also expanded the scope of its work with the likes of the Rockefeller Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Walmart, Estée Lauder, Mars, Microsoft, Airbnb, Bayer, and MSD. While China continues to account for the majority of regional revenues, there has been good growth in Japan and India too.
 
And the nature of the work continues to set APCO apart from both multinational and local competitors: supporting Microsoft on IP competition guidelines in Korea and on government partnerships in China; facilitating consensus among nine of the world’s largest food companies to help create Common Nutrition Criteria for children in India; leading Mars Petcare's government relations and stakeholder engagement strategy across Southeast Asia; elevating the Rockefeller Foundation’s mission to close the energy access gap. — PH

Citadel-Magnus (Australia/Independent)
According to M&A authority mergermarket, the top five PR advisors on financial transactions in Asia last year included global specialists Brunswick, FTI, and Sard Verbinnen, and full-service multinational Edelman. The fifth firm on the list (beating out Edelman for fourth place, as it happens, and working on 24 deals worth a combined $4 billion) was Australian independent Citadel-Magnus, which despite being a relative minnow with just 20 people across its offices in Sydney and Perth has also worked on 18 IPOs worth $5 billion since 2015 and can credibly claim to be the leading independent corporate and financial specialist in Australia.
 
But Citadel-Magnus is more than just an M&A machine: only about a third of its revenues derive from the deals business, with the remainder coming from retained clients who draw on the firm’s expertise in corporate communications, internal communications and change management, investor relations, crisis and issues management—and increasingly digital and social. Indeed, much of the growth over the past 12 months has come from the increasing need for outsourcing listed companies’ IR operations and helping clients deal with increasing market activism.
 
Major clients include Amcor, The Star Group, CITIC Pacific, Brookfield, APN News & Media, Noble Group, and Aconex, with new business from Wise Tech Global, Vitaco, CYBG, Smart Group, Quick Service Restaurant, and V8 Super Cars contributing to revenues of about $5.4 million (Australian).
 
But the company’s real strength is a senior leadership team that combined entrepreneurial zeal with international experience: chairman Martin Debelle was a media director to the premier of New South Wales; managing directors Peter Brookes and John Gardner worked UK consultancy College Hill and international agencies GCI and Ogilvy respectively; founding partner Helen McCombie is a former journalist who was business editor for Sky News. — PH

Honner (Australia/Independent)

A veteran of respected UK communications agency Fishburn, of Australian institutional investment journal Super Review, and of the banking sector in both the UK and Australia, Philippa Honner launched her own communications firm in 1997 and has built it into the leader in the financial services sector in Australia, with a team of close to 20 in Sydney (there are plans for an additional office in New York) serving a client portfolio that includes big-four bank NAB, $55 billion superannuation fund UniSuper, and the world’s largest listed hedge fund manager Man Group. A wealth of new business from clients such as Franklin Templeton, MoneyTree, Plato, Antipodes, Quantifeed, Bell Direct, PM Capital, bfinance, and Antipodes helped fuel healthy growth last year.
 
Honner was recognized at the Financial Standard MAX Awards as PR Agency of the Year in 2016, having earlier been voted Australia's best agency by financial journalists, and it has built a reputation for thought leadership in the sector—and the media environment in particular—and partnering with international specialists to bring a global perspective to clients. In terms of expanding capabilities, Honner forged a strategic partnership with digital agency Spark Green to build websites and digital platforms to assist in content-led campaigns.
 
Last year, the firm provided Australian communications activity for the global announcement of the proposed merger between Henderson Global Investors and Janus Capital; was engaged by fund manager Antipodes Partners to manage the launch communications for its first listed investment company; and worked with Australian Ethical, the oldest and most successful ethical investment manager in Australia, to support its next phase of growth. — PH