India PR Consultancies of the Year 2017 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2017 India 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:

Genesis Burson-Marsteller (WPP)
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017, it is worth pausing to take stock of Genesis Burson-Marsteller’s progress as one of the pioneers of India’s relatively youthful PR industry. While other firms have fallen by the wayside, GBM remains as relevant as ever, with founder Prema Sagar continuing to oversee a stable leadership team that includes president Nikhil Dey, COO Atul Sharma and CMO Deepshikha Dharmaraj. And while GBM may have parted ways with its PepsiCo client, the firm rebounded in fine style, winning big assignments from Diageo, Microsoft, Zee, Uber, Wrigley/Mars, Star Sports, AmEx, Monsanto and HP. 

All of which added up to 18% topline growth in 2016, with a similar increase forecast for 2017. Those are impressive numbers, and they reflect the evolution of GBM’s work beyond corporate, financial and public affairs into digital, via a thriving content studio and design operation that is built on realtime apps and intelligence, for a client roster that also includes L’Oreal, Ford, GE, Fitbit, Tourism New Zealand and Tetra Pak.

The firm’s focus on training, meanwhile, remains arguably the strongest in the market, a legacy of the Associate Learning Programme which has developed many of India’s PR leaders since it began 13 years ago. And there was considerable disciplinary expansion — of its brand/consumer practice into sports & entertainment; of its telecoms and tech practice into distinct consumer tech and enterprise tech units; and the launch of a specialist government business practice that works for Make In India, MyGov.in and PHFI.

The work bears out the success of GBM’s approach. The firm took top honours at the SABRE Awards South Asia for its inspiring ‘Back to Work’ campaign for Medela, and also notched up a Gold for Colgate Palmolive.—AS

Finalists

Adfactors (Independent)
Long regarded by Indian market watchers as the best corporate and financial specialist in the market (and one of the few local firms to meet western standards of governance), Adfactors was not until recently the first Indian firm that came to mind when the discussion turned to creativity. But the past few years have changed all that: last year, it won five Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards (no agency won more) and this year it racked up 27 nominations in the South Asia competition, twice as many as its nearest competitor, winning trophies for a broad range of work that included assignments for State Bank of India, Mahindra & Mahindra, and online transportation company Ola.
 
Ola was just one of number of big wins in 2016, with others including Café Coffee Day, Bank of Maharashtra, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Honda Motorcyles, M&M Financial Services, Tata Sons, and the Cellular Operators Association of India. The firm also continues to work for energy and infrastructure conglomerate Adani Group, Bombay Stock Exchange, Citibank, ICICI Bank, Infosys, Jet Airways, Mahindra Group, and Vodafone India—a veritable who’s who of Indian market leaders and giant multinationals, to whom is provides public and investor relations services at a high level.
 
With 2016 fee income of close to $25 million—following three years of solid double-digit growth—Adfactors ranks among the top 75 PR agencies in our global ranking of PR firms, and the is the largest Indian firm on the list. It now has 575 people in 13 Indian offices, with overseas outposts in Singapore, Sri Lanka, and the UAE. — PH

Avian Media (Independent)
Avian Media’s rise into one of India’s top PR consultancies over the past 12 years has been a compelling affair, driven by the zeal of owners Nikhil Khanna and Nitin Mantri and supported by a leadership team that includes co-founder Manash Neog and regional head Neha Mehrotra. After growing 27% in 2015, Avian followed that up with stellar revenue expansion of 46% in 2016, underscoring its presence as the firm to beat in a range of competitive pitches, including wins from Amazon, AB InBev, Dell-EMC, McDonald’s, Le Eco, Pernod Ricard, Sony Pictures, Facebook and Vistara, along with a high-profile role advising Tata Trusts through last year’s acrimonious leadership crisis. 

Those new clients join an existing roster that features Qualcomm, Phillips, eBay, Maruti Suzuki, Sony, Airbus, Google, Tourism Australia and Western Digital Technologies. All of which adds up to fee income of around $4.3m in 2016, with more than 150 executives working across six offices. And like all of the best PR firms, Avian’s growth has been driven by a unique culture, which starts with Khanna and Mantri’s focus on values and deliverables. It is no surprise that Avian Media was named one of the Holmes Report’s Best Agencies to Work For in Asia-Pacific last year — the firm has worked hard to cultivate a workplace that is collaborative, entrepreneurial and creative, bolstered by its SEED year-long induction programme. 

Those values continue to drive Avian’s progress into a world-class multidisciplinary firm with strength across consumer, corporate, public affairs and crisis. There is also a market-leading digital and content capability, and a commitment to thought leadership initiatives that has helped underpin its ‘clients for life’ philosophy. Mantri, meanwhile, is a tireless presence on the industry scene, helping to elevate the profile of public relations in India and beyond. 

And Avian’s work has seen a dramatic uplift too, aided by the merger of its digital and content practices with experiential under the EXPD banner. Avian took home four trophies at the recent SABRE Awards South Asia, thanks to standout campaigns for SpiceJet (creating an integrated customer response framework); AB InBev (a responsible alcohol programme, and an internal certification effort for employees; and Qualcomm (the successful #DesignInIndia campaign).— AS

Edelman (Independent)
Six years after its business was the lucrative Tata mandate, Edelman’s expansion in India continues to impress, with the firm now numbering more than 400 people across nine offices, bolstered by particularly strong capabilities in creative and digital. That attitude, built around the network’s ‘communications marketing’ philosophy, was only strengthened over the past 18 months as the firm brought in some heavy-hitters to deepen its creative and brand skills — notably for Reliance Jio exec Himanshu Saxena to lead brand, and former McCann adman Sachin Talwaker as regional ECD in Mumbai.

The work demonstrates that Edelman’s investments are paying off. Mirinda’s ‘Release the Pressure’ campaign was one of the region’s best efforts, nothing up wins at the SABRE Awards and Cannes Lions, while there were also standout campaigns for Western Union (in research and planning) and the Canola Council of Canada. Neither should the focus on creative overlook the firm’s growth, up by more than 15% to around $17m for its most recent fiscal year, from a client roster that includes Tata, Unilever, HP, Shell, PayPal and the World Gold Council. — AS

MSL
(WPP)
Two years after restructuring its leadership under Amit Misra, MSL India’s transformation paid off to impressive effect in 2016, with revenues up 13% and profitability finally reaching the levels required of a Publicis Group agency. The agency, one of India’s largest, has benefited from paring back its headcount to 550 people and focusing on bigger retainers for the likes of major new clients such as Coca-Cola, Mondelez and the Gates Foundation, who join an existing client roster that features Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, Airbnb, Uber, Dell, P&G, UTC, Airtel, Flipkart and Nvidia.

Yet it is not just the business growth that has helped fuel MSL’s turnaround in India. In particular the firm has made good on its promise of developing a more integrated entity, embracing a structured strategic planning approach to help develop some impressive work for the likes of Changi Airport, Dell, Facebook, Coca-Cola, Digital India and Panasonic. With the MSL brand serving as the flagship operation, 20:20 MSL has benefited from a specific focus on technology and unicorns, while Publicis Consultants has developed a credible startup and innovation offering, bolstered by initiatives like Publicis Drugstore, which fosters relationships between large companies and early stage startups.

The diversity of the firm’s talent pool reflects this approach. Amrit Ahuja was named MD of 20:20 MSL, while Viju George took charge of Publicis Consultants. New hires under them include senior executives in strategy, digital, video, data, and content — reflecting Misra’s focus on building a more holistic set of skills. And there has been plenty of mentoring and training to support this shift, helping revenue from integrated business to grow 30% in 2016. — AS