Digital PR Consultancies of the Year 2018 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2018 Digital PR Consultancies of the Year

The 2018 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 2018 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards on 11 September in Singapore. Analysis of all Finalists and Winners can be accessed via the navigation menu or below:

Winner: Edelman (DJE Holdings)

Edelman’s digital capabilities have always remained a notch above most of their rivals, and now account for more than 15% of the firm’s revenues in Asia-Pacific, even if that number  is slightly misleading because that’s only the firm’s pure-play digital activity. A broad restructuring has moved those capabilities into a horizontal construct that spans the firm’s brand and reputation practices across all markets. So while there were some key departures (including digital president and MD Gavin Coombes and Martin Shaw, respectively), the restructuring has ensured that all aspects of digital — including those more readily associated with advertising agencies — are delivered across Asia-Pacific, under the remit of returning chief digital officer John Kerr.

Edelman has invested significant sums in this initiative, across such specialist areas as search engine marketing, social media optimisation, paid media and measurement/analytics, building centralised hubs that feature skills and talent that each of its markets can tap into on a local basis.  Edelman’s data and analytics operation, meanwhile, remains one of the sharpest in the region — demonstrated best by the predictive intelligence centre it has formed in conjunction with Singapore’s Economic Development Board. That approach is also illustrated by the SABRE-nominated Shell Emotion Tracking campaign in Malaysia (which has since gone global), an analytics-based initiative that used wearables, chatbots and drive performance technologies to track, measure and correlate driver emotions with driver performance and contextual and environmental factors from personality to diet, music, health, weather and traffic. 

As you would expect, there was also sophisticated digital marketing work in the brand marketing area — notably, a creative technology campaign for HP; an interactive lunchbox for Extra; and, superior digital video for Surf Excel and Johnson & Johnson Vision. Meanwhile, the firm’s digital savvy is also transforming its corporate reputation practice, via work for AstraZeneca and AIAC. And the firm has a new startup offering that helped to launch Japanese app Eight in India, developed global research for China’s Ecovacs Robotics, and drove global ecommerce through social media for Zerotech. — AS


Finalists

BlueFocus Digital (BlueFocus Communication Group)

Since its launch in 1996 (then known as Blue Focus PR), Oscar Zhao’s company has grown into the largest public relations consultancy in China and one of the top 10 public relations businesses in the world, with 2017 fee income (per our 2018 Top 250 ranking) of more than $320 million—up by 12% last year. Today, BlueFocus Digital employs more than 1,500 people offering a unique blend of digital marketing and public relations services in China  across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Xi’an. The firm is led by CEO Richard Jiao, supported by COO Stanley Xiao, chief strategy officer Yorf Guo, VP Bruce Zhu and SVP Donna Li. As such, BlueFocus Digital is the China market leader in many areas — mobile advertising, OTT, and on Google/Facebook.   

Accordingly, it represents many of the country’s largest companies (Tencent, NetEase, JD.com, Alex, FAW-Volkswagen). New business over the past 12 months came from L’Oreal, Air China, Transsion, Great Wall Automobile and Chery Automobile. Since 2017, furthermore, the firm has continued to bolster its market-leading digital capability, rolling out new platforms and products based on data technology, including smart TV advertising (its OTT platform), CRM marketing (Otype), social media management (Colorfull) and situational marketing (BlueMP). 

That capability marks BlueFocus Digital out as a different breed from many of its more traditional PR rivals. Around 87% of group revenues now come from data tech-related business, and more than 20% of the firm’s creative work is developed by intelligent robots designed by the agency itself. Campaign highlights include several SABRE-nominated efforts: AR restoration campaign for nine city gates in old Beijing on behalf of Baidu; the Samsung Note8 ‘Sistine Chapel Dome Moving Project’; influencer marketing work for Pantene; and Winter Olympics efforts for P&G. — AS

Ketchum (Omnicom Group)

Rather than attempting to compete via scale, in a region where its regional footprint is dwarfed by several rivals, Ketchum has smartly repositioned its offering around a digital/social-first model that focuses on using content to drive recommendations and sales. This approach, which the agency dubs ‘tribal commerce’ appears to be reaping dividends, demonstrated by pure social/digital wins that include Mercedes-Benz, SIA, Costa Coffee and Bacardi, along with increasingly integrated work for a client roster that includes P&G, Hyundai, Booking.com and HPE. Underpinning the shift is a focus on new products, best illustrated by the Maestro tool that was developed for P&G in Asia, identifiying tribes and then helping to determine the blend of paid and earned required to drive purchase. 

In Greater China, particularly, a revamped leadership team features CEO (and former IPG Mediabrands chief digital officer) Prince Zhang, along with chief growth officer Eunice Wong, both of whom bring a distinctly digital focus to the agency’s work. That much is demonstrated by B2B work for Booking.com, which leveraged digital analytics to help improve online conversion and searches. For Bacardi, meanwhile, a content-driven campaign deployed digital creative to take consumers from social to commerce. All told, social/digital now accounts for 20% of Greater China work, up from 14% a year ago, as the firm builds stronger partnerships with Baidu and Tencent, and upgrades its talent to develop shortform video for popular platforms as Douyin. — AS


RFI Asia (Independent)

Ruder Finn’s digital capabilities in Asia were transformed by the 2016 acquisition of Daylight Partnership, the firm founded by former WE Communications regional chief David Ko. Combined with Ruder Finn Innovation Studios (RFI), that gives the firm a 50-person digital presence across China, Hong Kong, Singapore and India — with specific strengths in product development and analytics. Unsurprisingly, that has bolstered the firm’s prowess as an integrated marketing consultancy, particularly in China where its ‘digital media centre’ works on behalf of a host of automotive, travel and tourism, beauty and F&B clients — across paid media buying on Weibo and WeChat; digital campaign design, branded content and social media management.

RFI’s product development, meanwhile, demonstrates a clear focus on innovation, via such efforts as immersive storytelling, ‘dark social’, marketing chatbots, WhatsApp for business and interactive content. That is supported by an array of products, including influencer analytics tool Beacon, a risk management app called Riskstat and the Sonar crisis simulation platform. 

All of this adds up to an impressive array of clients, including new business from AmGen, L’Oreal, Subway, JLL, HSBC and some eye-catching campaign work. For example, RFI has served as lead creative agency on campaigns for Audemars Piguet, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and the Peninsula Group, while its work for Porsche China, Shanghai Disney Resort, Singapore Tourism Board, 3M, Midea, BMS and Hennessy demonstrates how digital is driving its integrated marketing capability. — AS


Weber Shandwick
(Interpublic Group)

After several years of sustained investment, Weber Shandwick’s digital operation now stands as one of the region’s strongest, accounting for around 12% of overall regional revenue, although this proportion only includes purely digital activity. Indeed, the firm has seen a major uptick in integrated and digital briefs, accounting for particular growth in Hong Kong (+173%), Korea (+48%) and Singapore (+14%), for a client roster that was bolstered buy the addition of Fidelity, Hotels.com, General Mills, GSK, Inditex Group, Nespresso, ExxonMobil, Victoria’s Secret and American Airlines.

In China, meanwhile, the acquisition of data and insights consultancy Bomoda brings specific expertise into Chinese social media platforms, helping to drive some inspiring work, including a confidential data-driven initiative on behalf of a major beauty player, which helped to reshape its entire social media and CRM story. All told, the agency now employs more than 40+ content specialists in China alone, along with 25 analytics specialists across the region.

And the firm’s product range has proven especially compelling, underpinned by a content to conversion offering that helps to turn mobile and online campaigns into lead-generating ecosystems, on behalf of such clients as AWS and GSMA. The China operation, in particular, serves as global innovation centre for the firm’s new X Practice, developing the C3 and Kloud tools that are now deployed globally by Weber Shandwick. — AS