Financial PR Consultancies of the Year 2018 | Holmes Report
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2018 Financial 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: Newgate Communications (Porta Group)

It wouldn’t be quite right to say that it has all been smooth sailing since Citigate veteran and Porta Group founder David Wright launched Newgate Communications seven years ago—the past few months have seen the departures in quick succession of Porta CEO Steffen Williams and Newgate leader Gavin Devine—but it is reasonable to claim that the Asia-Pacific operations have been perhaps the most consistently successful part of the operation, expanding geographically, rising in the Mergermarket rankings of advisors to M&A transactions, and earning the respect of longer-established competitors in the region.

The firm launched its Hong Kong operations in early 2013, under the leadership of former Kreab Gavin Anderson exec Richard Barton, tapped another KGA veteran Terrence Foo to expand into Singapore a few months later, recruited a team of 20 from Gavin Anderson to launch in Australia the same year, expanded into mainland China with a Beijing office in 2014, and added a Shanghai presence under Asia-Pacific co-founder Grace Zhang earlier this year. Much of that leadership team is still in place—Barton, Australian managing director Brian Tyson, Foo, and Sue Vercoe, who leads the research group out of Sydney—and were joined last year by 25-year veteran Raj Seth as partner in Hong Kong and Clarence Fu, who brings two decades of corporate and financial experience to Singapore.

The Asia-Pacific operation contributed about $23 million of Newgate’s 2017 PR fee income, about half of the $47 million total, and grew by about 37%, with new business coming from Hillhouse (China's largest asset management group), global consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, and e-commerce company Pinduoduo in Greater China; electrical distributor Endeavour Energy, travel company Expedia, and GOLDOC (the Brisbane-hosted Commonwealth Games) in Australia; and IHH Healthcare Berhad, Azalea Asset Management, Cromwell European REIT and Super Group in Singapore.

As is often the case, the financial transaction work—high-value, high-margin assignments in a super-competitive space—were the most eye-catching, with Newgate coming in at number five in Asia (excluding Japan) in terms of the volume of transactions worked (23) last year and number three in terms of the value of those transactions. Other highlights included Newgate Hong Kong's work with AIG and its Director's & Officer's Insurance product, and PR for Pinduoduo's NASDAQ IPO; Newgate Australia’s work with Sydney Metro, Australia's largest public transport project; and Newgate Singapore’s IPO campaign and stakeholder plan for Cromwell European REIT. From M&A to IR to strategic corporate communications, Newgate is now firmly established in the front rank of Asia-Pacific consultancies. — PH


Finalists

Ashton Consulting (Japan/Independent)

The Japanese public relations market in general is dominated by the indigenous agencies with their roots in advertising or events, firms like Dentsu and Vector and Sunny Side Up. But those firms do not show up on the lists of M&A advisors, which are dominated by multinationals like Brunswick, FTI and Edelman—with one notable local exception.

Ashton Consulting was founded in Tokyo by John Sunley in 2000, and added business partner Dan Underwood in 2002. Their goals were twofold: to transform the way Japanese companies communicate with the world and to provide foreign companies with the level of communications sophistication and value they were used to in a market that was still dominated by traditional publicity. It has succeeded to the extent that it was ranked by Mergermarket among the top five firms in Japan in terms of the volume of transactions handled last year and number six in terms of the value of deals worked (it was up to number two on that metric in the first half of 2018).

With a team of 25 consultants, Ashton has a balanced portfolio of Japanese and international clients, including Mitsui & Co., Novartis, MUFG, Caesars Entertainment, Mazda, Fancl, BlackRock, Rolls-Royce, Jetstar Japan, and Kirin. There was new business last year from Chugai Pharma, Cardano Foundation, Japan Renewable Energy, ValueAct Capital, Estee Lauder, Fastbooking, Bayer Yakuhin, Seiko Watch, Pavilion Alternatives Group, and Ruckus Networks.

Beyond its financial transaction work, Ashton handled numerous crisis situations last year, ranging from regulatory issues in the pharmaceutical sector to allegations of human rights abuse to data privacy issues. It has also worked with foreign shareholders on activist campaigns, and helped clients with activist defense. It has also helped several local clients expand their investor relations efforts to deal with different demands on governance in international markets. — PH


Cannings Purple
(Australia/WPP)

The fact that Cannings Purple has its headquarters in Perth provides a clue about its strength in the extractive industry sector, but even with a Sydney office you might not as easily intuit that one of the region’s strongest financial communications firms has emerged from Western Australia, where the economy has been sluggish in recent years.

Nevertheless, Cannings Purple—established in 2004 as Purple Communications, it changed its name after selling a 49% stake to STW (now part of WPP) in 2012—has built a thriving corporate and financial business in a challenging environment, filling a gap in the market that followed the decline of some of Australia’s prominent financial PR pioneers. Mergermarket’s rankings put the firm just outside the top 10 in Asia-Pacific in terms of the volume of M&A work last year (a dozen deals) and it is holding on to a top 20 spot so far this year. But the firm has plenty of expertise beyond the transaction space: in crisis communications (it launched a first-of-its-kind Notifiable Data Breach crisis preparedness product in response to new legislation), public affairs, ongoing investor relations and broad corporate affairs. 

The average growth over the past five years has been better than 25%, and while as part of WPP the firm doesn’t disclose financial information its team of 40 is clearly generating better than average fees per capita given the nature of most of its work. There was new business from Shell Australia, Jupiter Mine, Wesfarmers, global resources company South32, Eastern Field Developments, the York Rizzani Joint Venture (the civil engineers and contractor that delivered the newly opened Matagarup Bridge), Australian Gas Infrastructure Group, and more, while the company continued its work with The Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA, LandCorp, Australian Mines, SAI Global Property, Gold Road Resources, Murdoch University, Kidman Resources, Citic Pacific Mining, and Perth Mint.

Cannings Purple is known for a collaborative, team-first culture, which was undoubtedly a factor in attracting some impressive new talent in recent years: former Deloitte chairman Keith Jones joined to chair the board two years ago, and the past year has seen an emphasis on stakeholder engagement capabilities under associate director Charlie Wilson-Clark and media outreach under the leadership of director of media strategy Peter Klinger. Ruth Callaghan was promoted to the newly created role of chief innovation officer, a new role focused on expanding the firm’s digital and data-driven solutions.—PH


Edelman (DJE Holdings)

While Edelman’s US and UK operations have attracted many plaudits for their financial communications growth, the firm’s Asia-Pacific operations demonstrate that its transformation into a credible capital markets contender is not limited to those two regions alone. Specifically, Edelman has risen to second spot on Mergermarket’s PR Advisors ranking for H1 2018 in Asia-Pacific ex Japan, by value, occupying the same position in Japan by deal count — remarkable progress for a firm that did not possess a regional financial communications capability as recently as three years ago.

And much of the work, meanwhile, combines bread and butter investor relations with the kind of issues management counsel that has long been a hallmark of Edelman’s corporate offering, along with specialist industry expertise in healthcare, F&B, financial services and technology. 

Highlights included supporting Walmart in India’s largest FDI deal, the $16bn acquisition of e-commerce giant Flipkart, in the face of considerable opposition to the transaction from local parties, and ensuring Indonesia’s Traveloka preserved a strong local perception during a $500m investment round from foreign companies. — AS


SPRG 
(Independent)

It is now 23 years since Richard Tsang launched Strategic Public Relations Group in Hong Kong, and while it has expanded into a network of 15 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. The firm’s staff of 310 service 160 long-term clients. SPRG ranked No. 1 in the IPO/IR market last year with 43 IPOs completed in 2017 — bringing the all-time total to 418; IPO/IR and corporate marketing accounted for 45% and 55% of the agency’s yearly revenue respectively, reflecting the strength of the corporate marketing capabilities that SPRG has cultivated since launching as a four-person shop with a focus on IR.  

Longtime clients include Google, P&G, H3C, UC Rusal and 3D Gold, and there was new business over the past year from the likes of Asia Pulp & Paper (SPRG’s first global client), SES World Skies Singapore, S&P Global Asian Holdings and Veritas. Built on a philosophy of giving back to the community, the agency has reaped numerous awards for its own corporate social responsibility initiatives. As the operator of its own CSR platform that links up corporations, NGOs and volunteers to help those in need, SPRG acts as a bridge to encourage its clients and staff and families to donate and participate as volunteers at community events.

With the firm’s headcount expanding across Asia, generating fee income in excess of $23 million, SPRG is one of the largest independents in the region. There are offices in Hong Kong, China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou), Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia that can offer coverage to rival the western multinationals. SPRG continues to differentiate itself by its focus on a culture where local staff can flourish, with its workforce including a number of employees who have been with the organization for more than a decade. — PH/DM