Regional Asia-Pacific (Large) PR Consultancies of the Year 2017 | Holmes Report
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2017 Asia-Pacific Regional Consultancies of the Year (Large)

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:

Weber Shandwick 
(IPG)

It is easy to forget that, just a decade ago, Weber Shandwick’s Asia-Pacific presence often registered as less than the sum of its parts. Since then a cohesive regional strategy has added considerable geographic breadth and specialist depth across the region, with the agency tripling in size over the past seven years, to around $110m in fee income after another double-digit return in 2016. Much of that is the by-product of a stable leadership team that is overseen by chairman Tim Sutton and CEO Baxter Jolly, supported by operations chair Tyler Kim in Korea; creativity and innovation chair Darren Burns in China; client experience chair Vanessa Ho in Singapore; technology EVP Lydia Lee; and strategy/marketing chair Ian Rumsby in Australia. 

The firm’s local market leadership, overseeing some 900 people across the region, is similarly stable and also reflects Weber’s preference for homegrown leaders, including Ava Lawler in Australia, David Liu in China, Albert Shu in Hong Kong, Valerie Pinto in India, Hitoshi Shioya in Japan and Johnny Sales in Indonesia. Indeed, Weber Shandwick can can claim to have the most complete capabilities in the key markets of Australia, China, India, North Asia and South East Asia. Other metrics are similarly eye-catching: the firm now has 179 multimarket clients, and around 30% of its revenues (30%) comes from Asia-based clients. And growth has been led by India (+23%), Australia (+23%), Korea (+15%), Japan (+14%), Hong Kong (+12%) and Singapore (+12%). 

Much of that is driven by an existing client base that includes several companies that have been with Weber Shandwick for more than decade, including MasterCard, Emirates, NTT Docomo, Intel, American Airlines, Nestle, J&J, GM, GSK, Nike and Pfizer. There was also plenty of new business in 2016 ($16.8m to be exact) from the likes of BYD, Tokyo 2020, Cartier, Netflix, SAP, Victoria’s Secret and Ericsson. 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 expansion.

But the numbers don’t tell the full story of Weber Shandwick’s impressive performance in Asia-Pacific. Jolly has overseen a fundamental expansion of the firm’s integrated capabilities across all of its markets and practices, with a specific focus on establishing a more credible creative offering. That has meant that Weber Shandwick now numbers around 200 digital/studio specialists, supported by 136 content staffers, 109 integrated media specialists, and 34 insight experts. In line with a broader global restructuring, this talent is now placed into ‘value-based communities’, underpinned by significant senior hires in analytics/insights, creative, planning and digital. Digital assignments, for example, grew in all markets — led by Korea (36%), Indonesia (27%), Hong Kong (20%), China (16%) and Malaysia (10%). Florence Ng joined the firm to lead creative in China, while Ali Grayeli came aboard from Uber as regional ECD, while Uff Taufek and Emmanuel Caisse took on senior digital and analytics roles in China and Southeast Asia, respectively. And investment in talent and training has focused on numerous initiatives to help the firm become a more nimble creative player in today’s integrated marketing communications landscape.

The work, unsurprisingly, reflects the level of innovation that has seen Weber Shandwick outstrip all of its global network rivals over the past few years. For Alba Chunkuk, the firm developed an emotive campaign that heightened awareness of the plight of Korea’s part-time workers. For Nescafe Dolce Gusto, it created a WeChat campaign that drove interest and sales. For Ocean Spray, there was influencer activity to ignite awareness and drive ecommerce sales. For Abbott, there was a video series that highlighted how older parents have not lost sight of their dreams. And for Janssen, the firm challenged the standards of mental health across the region, spurring governments to take action. — AS

Finalists

Edelman (Independent)
While Edelman’s Asia-Pacific revenues only grew 1% during its 2017 fiscal year, the firm’s regional offering remains one of the most dynamic in the region, encompassing considerable geographic breadth (1,340 employees across 11 markets) along with service depth in such areas as digital, research and creative. Indeed, the agency has restructured its operations to noticeable effect in the region, a process that continues despite the departure of APACMEA CEO David Brain — with Edelman ‘collapsing’ back into an Asia-Pacific structure that is built around two key practice areas, brand and reputation. 

Edelman remains in safe hands under chief operating officer Bob Grove, who has spent more than a decade with the agency. Grove is supported by vice-chairman (reputation) Iain Twine, another agency veteran; and, vice-chairman (brand) Rupen Desai, one of a number of imports from the advertising industry, as Edelman attempts to elevate its creative capabilities to better compete with advertising and digital agencies for integrated briefs. The regional leadership team also includes global vice-chair of technology, sectors and innovation Jonathan Hargreaves; digital president Gavin Coombes; and, performance EVP Martin Shaw. Meanwhile, it is worth noting just how many of Edelman’s senior figures come from a ‘non-PR’ background — including former Starcom director Joanna Poulton, ex-Saatchi Singapore CEO Celevel Butler; former Dentsu Indonesia CEO Bobby Arthawan; ex-Reliance Jio brand lead Himanshu Saxena; former McCann Mumbai ECD Sachin Talwalkar; and ex-MullenLowe Profero China MD Jackie Xu Rui.

As such, Edelman’s growth in the region (where it is forecasting 10% expansion for the current fiscal year) represents a bet on what it calls ‘communications marketing’, where earned media ideas are brought to life across the full spectrum of marketing communications. It is not a particularly controversial idea, but neither is it especially easy, given the current expectations of PR agencies and the communications directors that they typically work with. Still, the best of Edelman’s work indicates that it has been able to bring this concept to fruition, via campaigns for iRobot (integrated work to launch the brand in China); Pond’s (a global influencer program); Joie (thought leadership built on visual storytelling); Miranda (award-winning creative work around parental pressure); and Samsung (using AR to promote swimming safety). Even on the more traditional reputation side, the work reflects an ability to innovate, for such clients as ASEAN, Janssen, Vinci Airports, and AstraZeneca — and there has also been standout analytics work for Barclays, STB and Stop the Traffic. 

Accordingly, 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). The firm’s client roster remains stronger than most, including multi-market accounts such as Adobe, AstraZeneca, California Almonds, GSK, HP, Mars, PayPal, Samsung, Shell, Symantec, Tata and Unilever while there was significant new business from 3M, Alibaba, Chobani, iRobot, Legoland Malaysia, Nissan, Sabre, Telkom Indonesia and Tink Labs. — AS

H+K Strategies (WPP)
Hill+Knowlton Strategies was one of the first US multinationals to expand into Asia, and over the best part of six decades in the region it has certainly experienced its shares of ups and downs—establishing itself as a go-to firm for corporate reputation work and crises, the suffering disproportionately during the Asian flu and dot-com downturns—but the past couple of years have seen the firm on the upswing again, and with 16 offices across nine countries (Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand), now supplemented by two offices of digital content brand Rice5, it covers the entire region as effectively as anyone.
 
The firm has certainly not abandoned the strategic corporate and public affairs business that has always been its strength, but under the veteran leadership of Viv Lines—who has brought in forward-looking creative and content talent like Felix Fei in China, Thomas Goh in Singapore and Mark Leong in Japan—it has been developing a more integrated, content-driven approach to consumer, technology and digital work.
 
That transformation has been paying off with some big new business successes over the past 12 months, being named global agency of record for Daillan’s Wanda Group, extending its seven-year relationship with LG Electronics, and providing PyeongChang 2018’s with international support. Other additions included Avon, Crocs, Dianrong, Huawei, Haier Electronics, TCL, UnionPay, and WWE, while the firm also managed impressive retention, continuing its work for ANA, Coca-Cola, Ford, HSBC, Microsoft, Nikon, Rolex, Schneider Electric, and Singapore Tourism.
 
The Singapore office enjoyed a particularly strong year under Michelle Tham (up 33% for the year), while the Greater China operation remains the largest regional operation, increasingly exporting work around the world. — PH

MSL Asia (Publicis Communications)
While much of MSL’s recent global development has been dominated by its ongoing integration within the broader Publicis Communications group, the agency’s business performance remains led by Asia-Pacific, the clear standout across its four global regions. Asia-Pacific CEO Glenn Osaki has overseen a remarkable uplift in MSL’s regional fortunes, from a 15-person startup in China in 2005 to more than 1,500 staff working across 41 offices in the region, bolstered by the recent acquisition of the Herd Agency in Australia. That puts MSL (at around €160m) in contention with Ogilvy PR as the region’s biggest PR firm, after growing another 16% in 2016, with 12% forecast for 2017, led by excellent performances by China (+15%), India (+13%), Japan (+28%), and Hong Kong (+61%). 

Much of the growth is being powered by existing clients (+19%) such as P&G, Netflix, Ikea, UT, Hyundai, Tourism Mexico and Volkswagen, while there was also new multi market business AkzoNobel, Alibaba and ABInbev, to go with plenty of new assignments in local markets — including Yili, Allergan, Hfax.com, Madame Tussauds, Anbang Insurance and  BHP Billiton (China); Swisse, Tiger, EA Mobile, Melco Crown and Heineken (Hong Kong); Taitra (Taiwan); SABMiller, Airbnb, Unilever, Mondelez and Coca-Cola (India); Continental, Boston Scientific and Keurig (Japan); Zara and Electrolux (Vietnam); and Downy, MeadJohnson and Disney (Thailand). Increased integration with other Publicis companies is also helping — helping propel 80 new client relationships, including McDonald’s, Philip Morris, Takeda and Bacardi.

The firm’s burgeoning digital capabilities have been at the heart of its success. 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 MSL’s Conversation2Commerce platform — which integrates of paid, owned and shopper media to add scale, measurability and targeting to the firm’s earned media coverage, helping to turn conversations into commercial success — has essentially been adopted across the industry. In Australia, meanwhile, Herd MSL brings the proprietary ROAR measurement system, which should add more heft to the agency’s insights and analytics capabilities.

MSL also makes much of the fact that 60% of its office leaders are female, perhaps a reaction to the abrupt departure and subsequent gender discrimination claim by former Greater China CEO Faith Brewitt. That has since been resolved, and it is worth noting that MSL’s existing leaders include China MD Daisy Zhu, 20:20 MSL MD Amrit Ahuja, Australia CEO Vanessa Liell, Singapore MDs Suya Kim and Fabienne Balleux, Vietnam chair Mai Huong, and Sri Lanka director Caryll Van Dort — comfortably giving the network the highest proportion of female leaders of any of the major firms in Asia-Pacific.  

It is also worth noting that MSL’s footprint extends well beyond the core agency, including China specialist Genedigi; experiential agency Luminous; tech firm 20:20 in India; and corporate agencies Publicis Consultants and CNC. As such, the work reflects a clear flair for integration — it is just a shame that new Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun has decided not to enter any of it into peer-reviewed award competitions for the current 12-month period. — AS

Ogilvy PR (WPP)
With fee income estimated at around $165m following high single-digit growth last year, Ogilvy PR continues to serve as the benchmark by which other regional networks are measured in Asia-Pacific. Indeed the WPP agency’s Asia-Pacific revenue overtook its US earnings some years ago and it also functions as the largest profit contributor to Ogilvy group in many markets, reflected by the number of Ogilvy PR executives that now lead the broader group in such key markets as Shanghai (Debby Cheung), Beijing (Selina Teng), Guangzhou (Frangelica Liang), and Vietnam (Dieucam Nguyen).

Under the leadership of agency veteran Scott Kronick, Ogilvy PR now has more than 1,200 staff working across 32 offices in 15 countries, giving it the largest regional footprint of the MNC firms, led by particular strength in Greater China, Australia, Korea, the Philippines and Southeast Asia. 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 integrated relationships with Nestle, Wonderful Indonesia, IHG, British Airways, Unilever, Amex, Coca-Cola, IBM, Ford, Huawei, UPS and NSCS, while there was also notable new business from the Xian Government, British Council, Kingenta, Sony Music, Adidas, MediaHeal, VipKid, Ziroom, Porsche, China’s Ministry of Culture, Bright Dairy, Chunghwa Telecom, AstraZeneca and Hilton.

Ogilvy’s thought leadership efforts also remain in strong shape, whether sponsoring the first Asian AMEC Summit, leading Chinese outbound investment efforts, or stepping up its behavioural science initiatives. 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 award shows, via such campaigns as UPS United Problem Solvers, Huawei ‘Sing Your Unsent Messages’, changing HK’s ivory laws for the WWF, returning Indonesia’s Bukalapak to relevance, and reviving Intel sales in China.— AS