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

2018 India 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: MSL India (Publicis Groupe)

Three years after a wide-ranging restructuring that consolidated leadership of one of India’s biggest PR operations under Amit Misra, 2017 can probably be viewed as the year when MSL India finally hit its stride across all areas. Another year of double-digit revenue growth (+14%) and impressive profitability confirmed the agency’s stellar operational performance, but it was MSL’s campaign work that finally caught up over the past 12 months, led by the remarkable ‘Touch of Care’ campaign for P&G’s Vicks, which swept the SABRE Awards South Asia and looks set for further global recognition.

The work, also exemplified by campaigns for Airbnb, SBUT and HPCL Roads, reflects how MSL has transformed its operation away from a generalist agency towards a platform with strong pockets of excellence. That focus on specialisation is more challenging in India than most markets, but MSL’s focus on retention and culture has ensured that productivity among its 550-strong workforce is up, while turnover levels remain relatively low. And the firm’s client relationships demonstrate strong net performer score metrics across all categories.

That reflects MSL’s focus on a smaller client roster that delivers more value, with a strong new business haul that included Alibaba, Amazon Web Services, Bacardi India, Instagram, LaLiga, Mercedes Benz, Ola, Puma, Sony Sports and WhatsApp. They join an existing client roster that features Coca-Cola, Dell, Facebook, Mondelez, Netflix, Panasonic, SAB Miller / ABInbev, Star Plus, Volkswagen and Xiaomi.

MSL’s transformation also involves a more integrated entity, embracing a structured strategic planning approach that involves horizontal specialists in video, content, social voice and data. The firm has also realigned its expertise to focus on the energy, healthcare, automotive, manufacturing and F&B sectors, delivering a range of counsel across citizenship, crisis, employee engagement, financial comms, corporate and public affairs.

With the MSL brand serving as the flagship operation, 20:20 MSL has benefited from a specific focus on technology and unicorns, while Publicis Consultants has developed a credible startup and innovation offering. The diversity of the firm’s talent pool reflects this approach. Viju George oversees 20:20 and Publicis Consultants, while new hires included heads of social voice and content. — AS


Finalists

Adfactors (Independent)

Long regarded by Indian market watchers as the best corporate and financial specialist in the market, Adfactors has diversified its offering to a remarkable extent in recent years, helping it to net the $5m Tata mandate from Edelman in the year’s biggest account shift. The firm’s creative prowess has grown commensurate with that expansion, helping Adfactors become one of the most successful PR firms at the South Asian and Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards over the past three years, thanks to assignments for State Bank of India, Mahindra & Mahindra, Vodafone and Godrej.

The mammoth Tata assignment was just one of a number of big wins in 2017, with others including Essar Group, Apollo Hospitals, Samsung India, ACC Ambuja, Bajaj Electricals. The firm also continues to work for energy and infrastructure conglomerate Adani Group, Bombay Stock Exchange, Citibank, ICICI Bank, Infosys, Jet Airways, Mahindra Group, State Bank of India and Vodafone India—a veritable who’s who of Indian market leaders and giant multinationals, to whom it provides public and investor relations services at a high level.

With 2017 fee income of close to $28 million—following 16% growth—Adfactors ranks among the top 75 PR agencies in our global ranking of PR firms, and is the largest Indian firm on the list. It now has 600 people in 13 Indian offices, with overseas outposts in Singapore, Sri Lanka, and the UAE. And its investment in new services is second to none, focusing on training and development, human resources, and digital transformation.

Notable campaign highlights included When Jailbirds Sang, a campaign for Godrej that used former criminals to help sell locking solutions; a tech-fuelled campaign to protect children on behalf of Vodafone; and helping OYO successfully lower the GST on budget hotels. — AS


Avian WE
(WE)

After rising to become one of India’s top PR consultancies over the past 12 years, few were surprised to see Avian Media snapped up by WE Communications in early 2018 following a lengthy courtship. Any agency acquisition carries significant risk, but this one appears to be more considered than most, with the zeal of owners Nikhil Khanna and Nitin Mantri instantly turning WE into a far more credible South Asian force, at the same time giving Avian the kind of global network it has long craved.

Khanna and Mantri remain supported by a leadership team that includes co-founder Manash Neog and regional head Neha Mehrotra. And the firm is in fine fettle — even if revenues were effectively flat at $4.4m after several years of meteoric growth, Avian caught the eye at the South Asian SABRE Awards, topping all agencies with six awards following some stellar work for Fortis, McDonald’s and Philips. 

Avian’s new business engine continues as the one of the sharpest in the market, adding Deloitte, Aviva, MasterCard, Facebook, Pratt and Whitney, Reckitt & Benckiser, Amazon and Tata Trust, to an existing client base that already included Airbus, Coca-Cola, Vistara, Dell, eBay, Google, Maruti Suzuki, Philips and Qualcomm. 

And like all of the best PR firms, Avian’s growth has been driven by a unique culture, which starts with Khanna and Mantri’s focus on values and deliverables — the firm has worked hard to cultivate a workplace that is collaborative, entrepreneurial and creative, bolstered by its SEED year-long induction programme. Those values continue to drive Avian’s progress into a world-class multidisciplinary firm with strength across consumer, corporate, public affairs and crisis. There is also a market-leading digital and content capability, and a commitment to thought leadership initiatives that has helped underpin its ‘clients for life’ philosophy. Mantri, meanwhile, is a tireless presence on the industry scene, helping to elevate the profile of public relations in India and beyond. — AS


Genesis Burson-Marsteller
(WPP)

After celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017, Genesis Burson-Marsteller remains the benchmark for international PR agencies in Asia-Pacific, and will soon become considerably bigger when it merges with the tech-focused prowess of Cohn & Wolfe Six Degrees. 

And while other firms have fallen by the wayside, GBM remains as relevant as ever, with founder Prema Sagar continuing to oversee a stable leadership team that includes president Nikhil Day, COO Atul Sharma and CMO Deepshikha Dharmaraj. After being named India Consultancy of the Year in 2017, GBM has continued to impress, growing by around 10% to more than $10m in fee income, fuelled by new business from a client roster that includes Zee, Diageo, Uber, L’Oréal, Microsoft, Star Sports, HP, GE, Tetra Pak and Ford.    

Those are impressive numbers, and they reflect the evolution of GBM’s work beyond corporate, financial and public affairs into digital, via a thriving content studio and design operation that is built on realtime apps and intelligence, drawn from a headcount of more than 330 executives across six India offices. The firm’s focus on training, meanwhile, remains arguably the strongest in the market, a legacy of the Associate Learning Programme which has developed many of India’s PR leaders since it began 13 years ago. And there was considerable disciplinary expansion — focusing in 2017 on agnostic capabilities such as media relations/intelligence, creativity, social media and content. 

The work bears out the success of GBM’s approach, thanks to SABRE-winning efforts such as ‘Carton Le Aao, Classroom Banao’ for Tetra Pak and ‘Mumbai Life Line 3’ for the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation.  —AS

Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)

Despite keeping something of a low profile since a management shakeup installed Valerie Pinto as India CEO in 2014, Weber Shandwick’s 2017 performance in the market reflects the benefits of being part of the world’s best PR firm over the past five years. Topline India revenue grew 18%, supported by a host of network-friendly metrics that mark Weber Shandwick out as a slightly different beast from its rivals in the market. There was a rise of 70% in revenue per client, while business from the agency’s top 20 clients grew by 38%, with digital assignments up 58% and integrated briefs accounting for 40% of total business wins.

All of which added up to client retention of almost 90%, with a roster that features Amazon, Boeing, Canon, Experian, Goldman Sachs, Hyatt Hotels, Hero Motor Corp, Honeywell, JK Tyres, Merck for Mothers, MSD, Pernod Ricard, Toyota, The Oberoi Group, Twitter and Zippo. And there was plenty of new business too, including Adani, Bausch & Lomb, Disney, Huawei, HDFC Ergo, Jet Privilege, LA Tourism, Mattel, Mashreq Bank, Nestle, Quest Global, Shire, Tata Motors, Tinder, Turkish Airlines, TVF and Vivo.

Meanwhile, the firm’s work continues to demonstrate the kind of creative flair that has turned Weber Shandwick into an awards factory in recent years. In particular, the #DontForgetMoms campaign for MSD for Mothers helped to raise awareness and instigate action to ensure the wellbeing of mothers during childbirth. There was also the second phase of the highly successful Daughters of Mother India effort, along with SABRE-nominated work for Marvel India. — AS