Greater China PR Consultancies of the Year 2018 | Holmes Report
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2018 Greater China 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: Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)

Weber Shandwick has posted impressive regional growth over the past three years and Greater China exerts a compelling influence over that expansion, with the sub-region accounting for 51% of regional revenues. More than a third comes from mainland China, where 2017 growth was flat in line with tougher market conditions, but has already rebounded to 18% growth in 2018, reflecting the investment in capabilities that has resulted in a much clearer focus on digital, data and creative. The firm now has 400 people across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong, bolstered by the 2017 acquisition of data consultancy Bomoda.

We’ll get to mainland China shortly, but first, special mention should probably be made of Weber Shandwick’s stellar Hong Kong office, which under the long-term leadership of Albert Shu continues to defy gravity in impressive fashion, submitting 7.5% growth in 2017, after seven consecutive years of double-digit growth. That takes Hong Kong revenue to an estimated $15m, making Weber Shandwick the market’s largest international agency, with strength across healthcare, corporate and consumer, and a client base that includes AXA, Facebook, HK Jockey Club, MasterCard, Pfizer, Samsung, China Duty Free and Fidelity.

Under the leadership of chairman David Liu and president Darren Burns, meanwhile, China has established itself as a global innovation centre for Weber Shandwick, thanks in large part to the C3 platform that connects content to commerce. The firm has also developed an influencer management tool called Kloud, and has worked hard to make inroads into integrated digital and creative assignments, hiring senior talent across analytics and creative. Indeed, the firm’s China operation now counts 40 content people in China alone, supported by Bomoda’s data analytics capabilities, helping position Shanghai as Weber Shandwick’s fastest-growing major global office, up 42% in 2018.

Accordingly, there was new business from Aldi, General Mills, GE Social, Hyatt, Oppo, Turkish Airlines, Vanguard, Victoria’s Secret, Vivo and Wrigley, to go with growth from existing clients Nike, ExxonMobile, GSK, GE, Microsoft, MasterCard and Nestle. Campaign highlights, meanwhile, included a Hong Kong campaign that changed government policy on mental health; the SABRE-shortlisted ‘Secret Detective’ effort for GSK’s Lamisil that helped the product launch with considerable success; and, a confidential data-driven initiative on behalf of a major beauty player, which helped to reshape its entire social media and CRM story. — 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, CRM marketing and social media management. 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; an AR restoration campaign for nine city gates in old Beijing on behalf of Baidu; the Samsung Note8 ‘renaissance’ influencer campaign and work for OnePlus and Dyson. — AS

FleishmanHillard (Omnicom Group)

Despite a management restructuring that saw the retirement of long-term China leader Li Hong, FleishmanHillard’s Greater China operation continues to motor along in some style, with Greater China president Rachel Catanach supported by a new leadership team that includes COO Lichi Hsueh, GM Judy Wei in Beijing, GM Yisi Liu in Shanghai, and GM Geoff Bilbrough in Hong Kong. That team is supported by new specialist hires as FleishmanHillard rebalances its portfolio towards Shanghai (which grew at a double-digit clip), with Graham Fordyce arriving as China ECD and Helen He joining from @Comms to lead digital as SVP.

Greater China remains the single largest driver of FleishmanHillard’s Asia-Pacific revenue, led by the Hong Kong office that has carved out a specific niche when it comes to helping China brands go global. That portfolio includes major global mandates for Alibaba and Huawei, both of which feature on a Greater China client roster that also includes GM, Hongkong Land, Nike, Corning, Harley Davidson, J&J and Blancpain. There was also new business from BNY Mellon, ICBC, LaSalle Investment, FC Barcelona, Liverpool FC and Tencent’s international business group — underlining FleishmanHillard’s strength across consumer, sports/entertainment, financial services and corporate.

The firm’s thought leadership has brought a specific focus on the critical areas of cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. And Fleishman’s Greater China work continues to impress, including a particularly imaginative SABRE-nominated campaign that positioned Harley-Davidson around the Rap of China reality show, along with similarly creative efforts for Hongkong Land and Beyond Ventures — AS


Ogilvy
(WPP)

With fee income estimated at more than $75m, Ogilvy PR remains the largest international PR consultancy in China, a position it has held with distinction for many years. The firm’s regional CEO Scott Kronick, of course, made his name in the market, and remains based in Beijing, surrounded by a handpicked leadership team that has, for the most part, remained in place for more than a decade. That kind of stability continues to pay off for Ogilvy PR in Greater China, where Kronick and China/Hong Kong president Debby Cheung oversee a network that includes offices in Hong Kong, Taipei, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and a new operation in Shenzhen, adding up to around 650 staffers, a little more than half of the network’s total Asia-Pacific headcount.

Despite tougher market conditions, and the agency’s own shift to the ‘One Ogilvy’ model, Ogilvy’s PR operation remains in fine fettle in Greater China, exemplified by a content to commerce capability that works for Chando, Brita, Elixir, Anissa and Nescafe, and the launch of two new data products — one focused on WeChat and the other a global KOL management system for Huawei from Hong Kong. 

All of which helped drive upper single-digit growth in 2017, bringing in new business from Vivo, Amazon, Xi'an Tourism, Alfa Romeo, Hennessy, Costa, Tencent, Allianz, 3M, Marriott, UOB and Swarovski. The firm’s reputation with large local players and outbound-focused government entities remains second to none, typified by high-level support for the Xi'an Government’s efforts to promote itself as an international investment destination. Those new accounts join an existing client roster that includes Huawei, Tencent, IBM, Dell, Intel, Mercedes-Benz, Nestle, Jala, Shiseido and Ford.

But it is not just the agency’s scale that impresses in China. The work continues to demonstrate the kind of ‘next chapter’ thinking that has been in place for several years now, thanks to a strong creative contingent and one of the strongest digital units in the market. The firm’s ’52 Mayors’ campaign for Wanda, for example, helped rebuild Danzhai village by promoting it through social influences. For Chando, the firm created a Mother’s Day campaign that inspired young Chinese women to appreciate their unique features, driving 118% uplift in ecommerce sales. And for Huawei in Hong Kong, the agency live streamed local hero Rex Tso’s boxing fight, helping the brand move from fifth to third in the market.

Meanwhile, Ogilvy’s focus on upgrading its planning, products and services continues to bear fruit. It is worth noting that, while the broader group grapples with the challenges of becoming one agency, Ogilvy PR is already a central presence at Ogilvy China, evidenced by the senior roles held by Cheung (who oversees Shanghai), Beijing president Selina Teng and Guangzhou MD Frangelica Liang. — AS

Ruder Finn (Independent)

Ruder Finn’s regional revenues were up 8% in 2018 to $30m, and much of that was down to a Mainland China operation that remains one of the market’s strongest, with around 400 people including new Asia-Pacific CEO Elan Shou, who is based in Shanghai. Shou took on the top job when Jean-Michel Dumont returned to Europe to become Ruder Finn’s global strategy director, and her elevation reflects the manner in which the agency’s China operations have outperformed in recent years, thanks to considerable strength across automotive and luxury, along with growing practices in travel & tourism, beauty and digital. 

The agency’s China client base favours these sectors, including such names as Hermes, Longines, Montblanc, De Beers, Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini, Volkswagen, Bentley, Shanghai Disney Resort, Emirates, Four Seasons and L’Oreal. And much of the new business had an integrated flavour, including assignments for Moet Hennessy Diageo, Almond Board of California, 3M, JD.com, VIP-Lux, Amazon and BMS. That reflects the firm’s re-engineering of its integrated capabilities, which now includes digital media buying, campaign design and advertising.

In addition to Shou, key leaders included IMC practice leader Long Xi, new Hong Kong MD Paul Yang, and new group creative and planning directors, in Santi Yan and Paul Wang, respectively. Unsurprisingly, the best of the firm’s work blends consulting with integrated marketing strength, with specific campaign highlights for the Singapore Tourism Board, 3M, Midea, Porsche China, Shanghai Disney Resort and Bristol Myers Squibb. — AS