North Asia PR Consultancies of the Year 2018 | Holmes Report
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2018 North Asia 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: Dentsu PR (Dentsu Inc)

Founded in 1961, Dentsu has been a leader in the Japanese public relations market for five decades. But for much of that time, foreign competitors in particular complained that the firm was a leader largely by virtue of the power wielded by its ad agency parent company—in a market where PR was until recently seen as a poor cousin of advertising—and suggested that the firm was focused on old-fashioned media relations and events rather than more sophisticated reputation management or more modern digital and social capabilities.

That was always an over-simplification, but today any such criticism is absurd. Like marketing communications businesses across the world, Dentsu has seen clients looking for more integration and more earned-first ideas, and the advertising and PR businesses have converged in ways that have brought out more creativity and originality—and elevated Dentsu to new heights in international awards competitions such as SABRE (its 31 nominations in our Asia-Pacific competition are more than any other agency) and the Cannes Lions.

It was particularly interesting to see how much of the firm’s work over the past 12 months targeted women in ways that would surprise those who still think of Japan as a society in which traditional roles are rigid and unchanging: the firm’s work on the “Nameless Chores” campaign for Daiwa or the “Changing Housework from a Job to Joy” for Procter & Gamble challenged stereotypes in the home, while its “Hiring Campaign for Housewives” for McDonald’s highlighted the ways in which women are moving into the workforce. In another campaign focused on changes in Japanese attitudes, the “Great Failure” program for Froebel-Kan focused on the excessive pressure to succeed placed on young students. In almost all these instances, the line between PR and digital and social and advertising was blurred but the results were undeniable.

In a more traditional realm, the firm continues to produce its invaluable Guide to PR in Japan, to focus on professional development (120 certified PR planners through the Public Relations Society of Japan), and to highlight corporate citizenship (ISO certificates for environmental management and information security). While financial metrics for the Japanese industry remain opaque, Dentsu is one of the two largest PR firms in the market, and its account list, spanning both multinational and Japanese clients (Starbucks Coffee Japan, Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux, Cabinet Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Ministry of Finance Japan, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Ministry of Defense, Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau) is unparalleled.—PH


Finalists

PR One (Independent)

With fee income in excess of $19 million (up by more than 14% last year) and a team of 150, PR One is the largest Korea-based agency in our global ranking, finding itself just outside the top 100 but clearly knocking on that particular door. But it is not just its size that makes it a leader in the Korean public relations market: PR One has broad capabilities that span consumer and corporate, financial and public affairs, digital and creative; sector expertise in financial services, healthcare and tech; and supplemental services that are far from ubiquitous in South Korea, including a focus on employee communications and culture change.

With PR in Korea undergoing a “fourth industrial revolution,” PR One has been keeping pace with—and in some cases leading—changing client demands. Its digital and social media capabilities are formidable, including content creation designed to reach consumers in immediate and interactive ways, and a dedicated influencer marketing capability. At the same time, the firm has not neglected increasing demand for more sophisticated corporate reputation management capabilities, bringing in experts from the fields of risk management and culture change to enhance its offering to the C-suite.

So highlights of the firm’s work over the past 12 months showcase a wide range of expertise. PR One has conducted a comprehensive integrated campaign—including television advertising—for the Ministry of Health & Welfare to improve awareness of low fertility and potential solutions. For IKEA Korea, meanwhile, the firm’s PR work has helped enhance the retailer’s positive brand awareness in the Korean market. And the firm has developed corporate social responsibility programming for Standard Chartered Bank Korea and won awards for its work on infectious disease prevention for the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other notable clients include LOTTE-Nestlé Korea, Nikon Imaging Korea, Qatar Airways, Korea Health Supplements Association, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, and UnionPay International, while new business successes include Amway Korea, Epson Korea, IKEA Korea, P&G Febreze, and the SJA Jeju school.—PH


Sunny Side Up 
(Independent)

A top three player in the Japanese public relations market, which continues to be dominated by domestic agencies—generally regarded as better connected to the Japanese media and better attuned to the Japanese consumer—Sunny Side Up is perhaps best known for its work in the events space, and in sports marketing in particular (the firm represents the Tokyo Marathon, several Japanese Olympians, and numerous corporate sponsors), something that should stand the firm in good stead over the next 18 months, during the build-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But Sunny Side Up reported fee income of more than $120 million for 2017, up by 6% and enough for it to rank among the top 20 firms in the world according to The Holmes Report’s annual ranking. To achieve that, it has expanded into broader consumer and corporate PR activities, adding digital expertise to its experiential core. (It also operates several other businesses, in areas as diverse as human resource management, athlete management, and restaurant management.)

While untangling all of that can be a challenge, there’s no doubt that SSU is a serious player in the PR business, with a client list that includes Japanese market leaders such as convenience store chain Family Mart, Japan Tobacco, Happinet (toys, games, videos), Yucho Bank (Japan Post), and Fuji Creative Corporation, and overseas multinationals including Nestle Japan, Moet Hennessy Diageo, and Lotte. New business last year came from Conrad Osaka, Okinawa Prefecture, Domino’s Pizza Japan, the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and the French Open Junior Wildcard Tournament.

Highlights including the work the firm has implemented for the Shibuya Countdown Organizing Committee in preparation for the impending Games; support for the fourth year of the RockCorps live music event, which relocated from Fukushima to Tokyo; and a massive media event for the opening of Ginza Six, a new multi-function facility in the heart of the Ginza district. In addition to its Japanese headquarters, Sunny Side Up has additional operations in South Korea and Hawaii. — PH


Synergy H+K Strategies
(WPP)

Like many international players in North Asia, H+K Strategies’ operations are weighted towards one market in particular — in this case Korea, where Synergy H+K Korea’s 60-plus team continues to outperform despite a difficult political and economic environment. Revenues were up 14%, profits increased 67% and headcount grew by a healthy 10% — driven in part by the firm’s impressive work for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, for which it served as global AOR.

Under the long-term leadership of HS Chung, Synergy H+K’s client roster has performed particularly strongly in terms of technology (up more than 50%), while the overall client roster includes such names as Singapore Tourism Board, LG Electronics, Hanwha, P&G, Allianz Life, UFC and Chanel. In addition to bagging the Olympics remit, meanwhile, there was also significant new business from Computer, Crocs and Korean Air. 

All of which explains why WPP chose to consolidate Ogilvy’s PR operations in Korea under H+K (a similar move took place in the opposite direction in Japan) in 2018. Chung has built a stable leadership team that has ensured the highest staff retention rate (88%) of any H+K operation in the region. — AS


Weber Shandwick
(IPG)

Weber Shandwick’s Japanese operations can trace their roots back to 1959, when International PR—later acquired by what was then Shandwick—was first established. Its Korean presence is much more recent, with the office founded eight years ago, under the leadership of Tyler Kim, who also serves as the firm’s regional operations chair. But both of the North Asia offices have been on a similar trajectory in recent years, with Japan (+5%) and Korea (+5%) both submitting solid performances in 2017.

In Tokyo, the story continues to be about Weber Shandwick’s perseverance and ability to thrive despite challenging economic conditions. Success has come from expanding digital and social capabilities in the local market, alongside a restructuring that has shifted the 60-person agency away from practice teams to taskforce units that feature more centralised services. New clients include Las Vegas Sands, Netflix, Turkish Airlines, JFOODO (Japanese Tea) and Manuka Honey, joining a client roster that already features Amazon, Facebook, Intel, JETRO, MasterCard, Tokyo 2020,TEPCO and VMware. And, notably, the firm is starting to export work from Japan to global markets.

In Seoul, which Kim has taken from a one-man office to a team of more than 100, growth has been fuelled by integrated marketing and specialist digital work, bolstered by senior hires across consumer, digital and content. Also helping matters was the merger with McCann Health, which turned Weber Shandwick into one of the market’s largest digital and healthcare marketing firms, with more than 20% of its staff specialised in such areas as digital production and creative services.

New Korean clients included Acuon, GM (Chevrolet), Hanwha Group, Hyperconnect, Nestle, Netflix Consumer and Zinus, joining existing clients such as Adobe, Boeing, Goldman Sachs, KAYAK, LG Display, MBK Partners, MasterCard, Netflix Corp., Samsung Electronics, SAP and TetraPack. The Korean office’s campaign flair also stands out, demonstrated by the Alba Chankuk effort that changed perceptions of the country’s part-time workers.—AS