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

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:
Ruder Finn (Independent)
A perennial contender for Consumer Consultancy of the Year in Asia-Pacific, Ruder Finn’s growth in the region is increasingly propelled by practices beyond its core luxury and automotive strength in China. With regional revenue of more than $30m, the firm can now call on a corporate capability that is increasingly sophisticated, helping it net new business from the likes of Prudential, Faurecia, Kering Group, L’Oréal (CSR), Penta Hotels and Sembcorp. There has also been growth for Chinese municipalities/provinces such as the Guangzhou Municipal Government (for FDI) and Sanya (for tourism), with Ruder Finn continuing to benefit from a China operation that also features the RF Thunder brand consultancy. Meanwhile, the RFI Daylight digital offering is as advanced as any in the region, featuring a particularly impressive range of products and tools in such areas as data analytics, risk management and crisis simulation, fuelling digital growth of 50%.

All of which helps to explain why Ruder Finn has grown even stronger over the past 18 months, with revenues up 10% in 2016 and forecast to grow by 15% in 2017. That makes Asia-Pacific, unsurprisingly, the fastest-growing of Ruder Finn’s global regions, with a formidable mainland China capability (offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou) complemented by a revitalized Hong Kong operation, a burgeoning presence in India, and a healthy pan-Asian network.

Regional chief Jean-Michel Dumont now oversees 450 staffers across the region, with around half of them based in mainland China. Hong Kong is now up to 60 people from 4 in 2015, with Dumont supported by other senior regional leaders such as Charles Lankester, David Ko, Radha Roy, Elan Shou and Kok Wing Tham. To support its growth, Ruder Finn has stepped up investment in its academy training program, and is also set to launch an operation in Malaysia. 

Meanwhile, the firm’s campaign work continues to win plaudits, notably via initiatives for AstraZeneca (via WeChat); Prudential’s Relationship Index; Changi Airport; Visa; Volkswagen; Volvo; Audemars Piguet; Electrolux and Heineken. — AS

Finalists


Cohn & Wolfe (WPP)
After a series of acquisitions in Southeast Asia, Greater China and India, Cohn & Wolfe ended 2015 with regional scale if not stability, thanks to steady turnover of its regional leadership. That turbulence appears to have ended with the arrival of former Burson-Marsteller executive Matt Stafford to lead the region last year. Already Stafford has overseen a dramatic revival in the firm’s regional fortunes, including 11% growth in 2016 and forecast expansion of 22% in 2017, taking Cohn & Wolfe to around $22m in regional revenue. Stafford has also overhauled the leadership team, bringing in several executives who used to work with him at Burson to join Tiffany Bai in China, Zach James and Rishi Seth in India and Adrian Lee in Southeast Asia. 

Around half of that comes from China, where the firm has 100 people and grew 21% in 2016. In India, the acquisition of highly rated agency Six Degrees has helped deliver scale and growth of 12% in 2016. Southeast Asia continues to remain the most mature of Cohn & Wolfe’s markets, with around 90 people spread across offices in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and — most importantly — Singapore, which grew 8% in 2016. And in Hong Kong, a turnaround effort is paying off following years of decline, with the firm expected to double its size in 2017 after Stafford merged its P&L with Singapore.

Powering all of that has been an impressive new business haul, with a specific bent towards Chinese brands going global, given Stafford’s lengthy experience on the Huawei account. The Chinese telecoms giant is just one of Cohn & Wolfe’s major wins in this regard, joining other names such as Midea, ZTE and Tencent. Elsewhere, there was the $2m regional win of Dell/EMC, along with further new business from Golden Agri Resources, Coolpad, IHG China, China Fortune Land, Fila China, Dove China, PepsiCo India, Cambridge International, Watson’s China, GE China, PurCotton China, Volkswagen, Qualcomm and Lamborghini.

And the campaign work also demonstrates considerable evolution. For Dell, Cohn & Wolfe devised a 13-country program across the region covering internal, marketing communications, regional digital, social media and analyst relations. Other multi-market initiatives include work for VMware, APP, LG, InterCall and SalesForce, while specific highlights include social media uplift for Pernod Ricard China, brand promotion for PurCotton, regional thought leadership for Tencent and integrated work for Google. — AS

Golin (IPG)
While the Golin brand has been present in Asia for the better part of two decades, it is only in recent years — under the leadership of global co-CEO Jon Hughes — that the agency has made credible strides in turning itself from a federation of unrelated local offices into a cohesive network that aspires to the same kind of performance demonstrated by Golin’s operations in Western markets. Hughes, having previously led Golin in the UK, was one of the architects of the firm’s widely-imitated G4 model, which restructured its operations around specialist areas of expertise. Since taking charge of Asia-Pacific in 2013, he has brought that same mentality to a much less developed set of markets, and progress is clear. The G4 model has now been deployed across all Asia-Pacific offices, which includes owned operations in Hong Kong, Singapore, China (bolstered by the acquisition of Magic Group), India and Taiwan, up around 9% in 2016 to an estimated $20m in revenue, with a further 15% expansion forecast for 2017.

80% of Golin’s top clients are now multi-market, marking a considerable advance on the situation in 2013. And around 40% of the firm’s business now involves digital/content, also encouraging from a network that was previously defined around fairly traditional corporate activity. Golin’s capabilities now also include genuine strength in consumer and technology, demonstrated by new business from Hyatt, Porsche, Oracle, Qatar Airways, Mattel, and Micron, who join an existing client roster that features Atlantis Sanya, Chinachem Group, Lux, Nestle, Starbucks, Zespri, Boehringer Ingelheim and Heineken. In terms of markets, much of the growth was led by Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, supported by a strong of new hires including Hong Kong MD Jane Morgan and Taiwan MD Terry Chiang. 

Perhaps the clearest sign of Golin’s transformation, though, comes from its work for such clients as Hyatt, Twitter, LinkedIn, Porsche and Ecovacs — all of which showcases the benefits of the G4 approach. For LinkedIn, Golin created a video series highlighting how LinkedIn helps identify the right talent, while for Mattel, the firm developed a parenting platform to encourage mothers to play with their children more. — AS 

Strategic Public Relations Group (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.

Text100 (Next15)
Text100’s 35-year technology heritage has always given it an edge on many of its rivals — particularly in Asia-Pacific, where a 20-year-old presence translates into strategic depth in key markets across India, Australia, Southeast Asia and Greater China. And while the firm’s ‘Vision 2020’ global restructuring has dominated the headlines, a quiet transformation is also underway in Asia under the leadership of new regional chief Lee Nugent.

Overall revenues grew 7% to around $20m in 2016, with profits up 24% to around $3.6m from 313 staffers in the region. There was significant new business (much of it multi-market) from Red Hat, NetApp Rolls Royce, China Telecom, Nvidia, Alibaba, Bosch, Harman, Netsuite and TVS Motors — joining an existing client roster that features IBM, Adobe, Lenovo, Cisco, Four Seasons, DHL, Telenor, Swift, Ikea and Gartner.  

In particular, the firm has invested considerable resources into talent and training, enhancing its leadership across creative, insight/analytics and business development. Always renowned for its culture, former regional director Anne Costello now oversees global people development from Australia, while the regional leadership team also includes Malaysia and mainland China head Meiling Yeow; Rosemary Merz in Hong Kong; and Singapore leader Marc Ha.

Text100’s commitment to innovation continues to stand out across an in-house service offering that features strategy, content, PR, social media, and creative technology. Last year, for example, thefirm  launched a dynamic newsroom that features trackable assets, social sharing, SEO, content retargeting and mobile optimisation. And the firm’s digital capabilities remain a notch above many of its rivals, evidenced by a range of impressive campaigns. For Roam-E, Text100 won a SABRE Award for its work across brand development, content, email, social, paid and influencer management, which helped the flying selfie gadget book more than 250k in indicative orders from 15 countries. Text100 also helps to demystify IBM’s Watson by tackling Australia’s melanoma challenge, directly generating $5.6m in revenue. Finally, for TeamIndus, Text100 developed a storytelling effort that helped raise $70m in a bid to put India’s first spacecraft on the moon in 2018. — AS