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

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

Prain Global (Independent)
One of the biggest chronic issues facing the people of Korea—let’s ignore the neighboring elephant in the room for now—is the fact that in 2015, South Korea recorded the lowest birth rate in the world. The aging population is the kind of long-term ticking time-bomb problems that democracies don’t often treat with the necessary urgency, so when the Korean Ministry of Health & Welfare decided to devote resources to focus on Korean family culture, including marriages, births, and parenthood, Prain Global needed to pull out all the stops. It didn’t disappoint, coming up with a multi-faceted campaign that won highest honors from the Korean PR Association.
 
It’s no surprise that Prain was the go-to agency for this critical assignment. Since its founding in 2000 by Jason Yeo, the firm has grown to become one of the top 60 PR agencies in the world according to our global ranking, with its $33 million fee income in 2016 making it the six largest Asia-based firms. With 220 employees, Prain is a leader in public sector work, major events, consumer marketing, entertainment, technology and healthcare, while adding digital and publishing capabilities that acknowledge changing client demands.
 
Last year was a strong one, with fee income rising by 15%. There was new business from Grand Hyatt, J Trust, World Vision, Boehringer Ingelheim, the Ministries of Health & Welfare and Culture, Tourism & Sports. The firm continues to work for the Seoul Metropolitan Government, Samsung Electronics, Canon, SK Telecom, GSK, Expedia and HP. While it remains focused on the Korean market, its works across North Asia in partnership with Japanese independent Sunny Side Up, and is also a member of Ogilvy’s global network of affiliates. — PH

Finalists

Denstu PR (Dentsu)
Founded in 1961, Dentsu Public Relations has probably experienced more change in the past five years than it did in its first 50, with the same forces of integration that are roiling the global communications business—the growing importance of digital and social media, the blurring of lines between earned, owned and paid platforms—having an impact in Japan, where PR has often been seen as a “poor relation” to the ad industry. At the same time, there is growing interest in PR from the public sector, thanks to the regional revitalization policies of the Abe administration and preparations for the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
 
As the market leader, Dentsu has been both leading and benefiting from the changes in the Japanese market. It has continued to produce a wealth of thought leadership material, from its invaluable Guide to PR in Japan, to three published books in 2016 (on topics ranging from risk management to inbound tourism), to its new “attractiveness marketing” service, which analyzes products, people and corporate attractiveness across multiple stakeholder groups. Under the leadership of new CEO Kazunori Azeyanagi—a veteran of Dentsu Inc who took on the role last year—the firm also has more than 100 PR Society of Japan “certified” employees and a host of accredited planners.
 
The payoff is that Dentsu PR is flourishing in financial terms: its net sales—preferred to fee income as a metric in Japan—rose 3.5% to about ¥11.5 million last year, and its client list includes Starbucks Coffee Japan; Panasonic; the Japanese Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Finance, and Health; Tokyo Metropolitan Government; and Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau. It has also been flourishing creatively, with 16 industry awards last year—including three SABRE trophies and two In2 SABRE awards. — PH

KPR & Associates (Independent)
With 100 people and fee income of close to $10 million, KPR is not only one of the oldest independent public relations agencies in Korea (it was founded in 1989) but also one of the largest. It has also shown itself to be one of the most innovative in the market, anticipating changing client demands and responding to the decline of print media in Korea and the growing importance of digital and social channels by creating digital communications capabilities and launching the market’s most prominent Social Media Trend Report—now in its fourth year.
 
The past 12 months saw KPR respond to the blurring of media channels with the launch of collabo K, a new integrated marketing communications brand, which has been particularly effective in helping to attract large multidisciplinary assignments from the public sector, including several Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic projects as well as the Ad Stars Festival in Busan and the Busan One Asia Festival.
 
Other new business over the past 12 months has come from Continental Korea, Google Korea, Maserati, Red Cross Korea, Tencent, local financial technology company Webcash, and Banyan Tree. The firm continues to work for a mix of multinational and local clients such as 3M Korea, Airbus, Samsung Electronics, Kia Motors, CA Technologies, the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, Singapore Airlines, and Siemens, providing a full array of public relations services, including corporate and consumer, financial and public affairs. — PH


Sunny Side Up 
(Independent)

Like many Japanese companies, Sunny Side Up is gearing up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. What sets the firm apart is that it has the expertise and heritage in sports marketing to deliver on its offer to “let us be your concierge.” The firm has been the official agency of the Tokyo Marathon since 2011, represents retired soccer star Hidetoshi Nakata and Olympic gold medalist swimmer Kosuke Kitajima, and supports numerous corporate clients in their sponsorship and event management.
 
Perhaps it all comes down to the firm’s refreshingly simple philosophy, “Let’s Have Fun,” because SSU also excels in the entertainment and event management space, working with the local government and other authorities in Shibuya on the “You Make Shibuya” event, brining public and private sectors together in the ward; supporting RockCorps for the fourth consecutive year as it staged a live performance in Fukushima.
 
With a team of close to 160, Sunny Side Up is now established as one of Japan’s leading independent agencies, with a client list that includes the Japanese operations of Coca-Cola, Nestle, Getty Images,
Logitech, LVMH, Shake Shack, and Australian eatery bills. New additions last year included ROLI, Kyobashi Edogrand, and the Shibuya Countdown Events. There was growth in new practice areas too, as video marketing and influencer management become increasingly important to public relations in the Japanese market. — PH

Weber Shandwick
 (IPG)
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 seven years ago, under the leadership of Edelman veteran Tyler Kim. But both of the North Asia offices have been on a similar trajectory in recent years, with Japan (+14%) and Korea (+15%) both submitting impressive performances in 2016 and 2017.

In Tokyo, the story continues to be about Weber Shandwick’s perseverance and ability to thrive despite challenging economic conditions. Success has come from expanding digital and social capabilities in the local market, alongside a restructuring that has shifted the 60-person agency away from practice teams to taskforce units that feature more centralised services. New clients include Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Committee, Expedia/Hotels.com, Visit Finland and Novo Nordisk, joining a client roster that already features Mattel, Facebook/Instagram, Mitsubishi Trust Bank, NTT, J-Power, JRA, Intel, FileMaker JFE and Yamaha. 
 
In Seoul, which Kim has taken from a one-man office to a team of more than 70, growth has been fuelled by integrated marketing and specialist digital work, bolstered by senior hires across consumer, digital and content. New clients included Microsoft, Olympus Medical Equipment, LG Display, POSCO, Adobe, Amazon and Double Star, joining existing clients such as Samsung, Philips, California Walnut Commission, Facebook/Instagram, Goldman Sachs and MBK Partners. The Korean office’s campaign flair also stands out, demonstrated by the Alba Chankuk effort that changed perceptions of the country’s part-time workers. — AS