Midsize PR Consultancies of the Year 2018 | Holmes Report
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2018 Regional PR Consultancies of the Year (Midsize)

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: Cohn & Wolfe (WPP)

The headline remains the dramatic takeover of Burson-Marsteller, but any analysis of Cohn & Wolfe in Asia-Pacific should judge the agency on its merits alone, ahead of the formal integration that will only complete at the start of 2019. And, on those terms at least, there is plenty to applaud, from an agency that, less than three years ago, was most notable for a series of acquisitions that added regional scale if not stability, thanks to steady turnover of its regional leadership. 

The turbulence soon subsided with the arrival of former Burson-Marsteller executive Matt Stafford to lead the region in 2016. Indeed, Stafford has overseen a dramatic revival in the firm’s regional fortunes, including 11% growth in 2016 and 21% growth in 2017, with another 24% forecast for this year. That will take Cohn & Wolfe to around $30m in regional revenue, generated by 350 people across operations in Greater China, India and Southeast Asia.

Hong Kong has been a key driver of this growth, up 53% last year and positioned to more than double in 2018. And the office’s integration with a new Shenzhen operation, along with a much stronger China business (accounting for almost 150 people) under Tiffany Bai, means that Cohn & Wolfe is regularly winning major mandates across the sub-region, many of which reflect Stafford’s own technology sector strength. Over the past 18 months there has been new business from Tencent, Huawei Honor, Oppo, Vivo, Converse, Haier, Infinitus, Bosch and Siemens — much of which involves the full range of integrated marketing capabilities. 

In India meanwhile, Cohn & Wolfe Six Degrees grew 53% in 2017 to more than $3m, with another 24% forecast for 2018, as market leaders Zach James and Rish Seth broaden the focus of the 85-person agency beyond technology into corporate, public affairs and content — demonstrated by the high-profile Ikea and PepsiCo wins, along with new business from Tata Sky, Bosch, Scania, Alcon, Regus and Diageo.

Southeast Asia continues to remain the most mature of Cohn & Wolfe’s markets, with around 90 people spread across offices in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Singapore, although revenues were flat in 2017. And the firm has quietly opened an Australian office, leveraging Stafford’s political background to land several public affairs mandates, notably including Huawei. 

And the campaign work now reflects Cohn & Wolfe’s evolution into a genuine regional contender, with SABRE-nominated efforts for BlueAir and Tencent. Clearly, more change is coming to Cohn & Wolfe, as the markets integrate with Burson-Marsteller to form an agency that will become one of the region’s largest. But most of those mergers will be complementary and Stafford has moved quickly to finalise leadership.— AS


Finalists

Allison+Partners (MDC Partners)

Five years since entering Asia, Allison+Partners has not only built a credible regional presence, but has demonstrated that scale need not be a barrier to providing a broad range of strategic services. At around $7m in regional revenue, after 45% annual growth, the agency might seem on the small side for a network, but its geographic footprint and depth in specific areas marks it out as a different beast from other firms in its weight class. 

Indeed, with 80 people across offices in China, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Australia and India, the region now accounts for 25% of Allison’s global headcount, up from just 12 executives four years ago. Much of that expansion has been driven by digital, creative, measurement and content, under the leadership of China MD Jerry Zhu, Singapore GM Serina Tan and Paul Mottram, who oversees the All Told content operation. There was multi-market new business from BSA, UL and ClassPass along with the extension of assignments from ThoughtWorks, Schneider Electric and Kimpton. And there was plenty of local new business, including Cloud Foundry Foundation, Thales, Ingersoll Rand and GE Healthcare (China); ClassPass, Waze, SAP/Concur, Unilever Foundry (Singapore), Pinterest in Australia and Music.ly in India. 

Underpinning Allison’s expansion, furthermore, is the kind of integrated work that brings a particular focus on harnessing influence, in line with the firm’s broader thought leadership platform. That includes a series of films designed to promote engineering for Singapore’s EDB; increasing sales for Listerine across various Asia-Pacific markets; influencer marketing activity for Kimpton and thought leadership for UL and BSA.  — AS

Ketchum (Omnicom Group)

Ketchum’s regional footprint already looks more cohesive under new global CEO Barri Rafferty, who appears less willing to accept the meandering pace of progress that has characterised the firm’s Asia-Pacific performance over the past decade. Already, there has been a significant leadership reshuffle, even if the new Asia-Pacific head — agency veteran Esty Pujadas — remains based some 8,000 miles away in New York. Simeon Mellalieu oversees regional client development while the agency also overhauled its Greater China leadership, bringing in IPG executives Prince Zhang as CEO and Eunice Wong as chief growth officer, to oversee its 100 staffers across offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

In India, Girish Huria arrived as president to support partner/MD NS Rajan at the Ketchum Sampark operation which counts 140 people across Mumbai and Delhi. The firm remains one of the market’s largest, growing 13% last year and expanding its portfolio beyond financial communications and corporate into healthcare and digital with new business from Essar Oil, Max Life and DHL. Elsewhere, Ketchum’s Singapore operation became part of Omnicom PR Group, while its 25-person Korean office under Yonnie Woo had a strong year thanks to Olympic work (always a strong suit for Ketchum) for Samsung and P&G. And, the firm’s Daggerwing consulting unit gives it credible employee engagement skills.

In particular, 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 under regional client director Jon Chin in Singapore, identifiying tribes and then helping to determine the blend of paid and earned required to drive purchase. 

In Greater China, meanwhile, Zhang and Wong both 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. This momentum was furthered by the eye-catching #LoveOverBias Olympics effort for P&G, along with regional new business from New Development Bank, Hyundai, P&G, NEC, Johnson Controls, Takeda, TransUnion, Whirlpool and General Mills. — AS


Ruder Finn
(Independent)

Last year’s Midsize winner continues to impress, amid a seamless leadership switch that saw China chief Elan Shou named Asia-Pacific CEO when long-term leader Jean-Michel Dumont returned to Europe to become Ruder Finn’s global strategy director. Regional revenues were up 8% in 2018 to $30m, and much of that was down to Shou’s Mainland China operation, which remains one of the market’s strongest, thanks to considerable depth 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, underpinned by the RFI Asia digital offering that is as advanced as any in the region, featuring a particularly impressive range of products and tools in such areas as data analytics, risk management and crisis simulation.

The mainland China operation is complemented by operations in Southeast Asia and India, both of which will soon be under new leadership with aggressive growth targets. All told, there are 465 staffers across the region, with around half of them based in mainland China. And there were a slew of new leadership appointments, including new MDs in Hong Kong and Beijing, and new heads of creative and planning, to join a leadership team that features Shu, Charles Lankester and David Ko.

Meanwhile, the firm’s campaign work has experienced a noticeable uptick, illustrated by no fewer than 17 SABRE finalists, including campaigns for Moet Hennessy Diageo, Wrigley, Four Seasons Hotel, Porsche, Macy’s, Visa and Midea.  — AS


WE Communications
(Independent)

Best-known for its technology credentials, WE has undergone a rapid transformation since Alan VanderMolen took charge of the region two years ago and embarked on an ambitious acquisition spree, buying top-rated outfits in China (Red Bridge), India (Avian Media) and Singapore (Watatawa). The net effect of this expansion, along with the earlier deal for Australian agency Buchan, is that WE now possesses an offering that extends beyond technology through consumer, B2B, corporate and healthcare. And, it should be noted, it also possesses a leadership team that is stronger than most, featuring Penny Burgess in China, Nitin Mantri (India), Simon Pangrazio (Singapore), and Rebecca Wilson (Australia).

Acquisitions helped swell growth to 60% in 2017, but even without their impact WE still expanded by 20% during the calendar year, and is on track to reach $25m in revenue this year. The Singapore operation focuses largely on technology and healthcare, while Mainland China is largely consumer and healthcare-oriented and Hong Kong veers towards corporate. In India, meanwhile Avian brings considerable strength across consumer, corporate and public affairs, while WE Buchan in Australia is best known for its corporate capabilities. All of which adds up to a regional offering in which technology now accounts for just a third of revenue, with consumer/corporate making up half, and healthcare accounting for the rest.

Over the past year, growth was fuelled by new business from Lenovo, which has expanded considerably, along with Shiseido, Intel, Lululemon, Olam, APRIL, Swire Properties and Metlife. Campaign highlights, meanwhile, included a SABRE-nominated virtual reality campaign for ‘Zero Latency’ in Australia, along with standout efforts for Honeywell and La Liga. In India, furthermore, Avian WE topped all agencies with six South Asia SABRE Awards, including highly impressive campaigns for Fortis Healthcare and McDonald’s. — AS