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

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:

Ogilvy (WPP) 

The PR suffix might be gone, but Ogilvy continues to serve as the benchmark by which other regional public relations networks are measured in Asia-Pacific, with estimated fee income at around $170m following another year's upper single-digit growth last year. Those numbers would be healthy enough during a year when many of its rivals failed to record significant growth, but coming from Ogilvy’s base they deserve even greater respect — the WPP agency’s Asia-Pacific revenue overtook its US earnings some years ago and its ‘PR & influence’ domain, as we must now call it, functions as the largest profit contributor to Ogilvy group in many markets. Indeed, while Ogilvy’s ‘refounding’ makes much of breaking down barriers between silos, it is easy to view Asia-Pacific as the template for this thinking, given the number of Ogilvy PR executives that now lead the broader group in such key markets as Shanghai (Debby Cheung), Beijing (Selina Teng), Guangzhou (Frangelica Liang), Singapore (EeRong Cheng), Vietnam (Dieucam Nguyen) and Australia (Kieran Moore).

Under the leadership of agency veteran Scott Kronick, Ogilvy PR now has more than 1,000 staff working across 26 offices in 15 countries, giving it the largest regional footprint of the MNC firms, led by particular strength in Greater China, Australia, Japan, the Philippines and Southeast Asia. There has been particular attention paid to Ogilvy PR’s integrated offering, which includes a formidable digital and social media practice, along with strategic depth in such areas as public sector and public affairs, technology, consumer marketing and financial communications. It is worth noting that, after 35 years in the region, Ogilvy’s PR operation continues to either be the largest, or within the top three, in a slew of markets, including China, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Growth was fuelled by a strong new business haul, including Vivo, the Xi'an City government, Hennessy, Tencent, Off and Cigna in China; Amazon at a regional level; and the National Arts Council and Changi Airport in Singapore. Half of those engagements were worth more than US$1m, joining a client roster that already features Intel, Huawei, Mercedes-Benz, Dell, Nestle, Sharp, Shiseido and Ford. And notable assignments include winning the Beijing Olympic Committee’s Winter Olympics assignment; helping to sell Xi'an as an investment destination; positioning Singapore as an arts and culture hub in ASEAN; developing Huawei’s market-leading KOL program; and helping build Coca-Cola’s social intelligence centre.

The high-profile ‘refounding’ effort, meanwhile, only underlines the strength of Ogilvy’s integrated offer, bolstered by a strong commitment to training and development, and a commitment to thought leadership that reflects the firm’s view that PR remains central, rather than peripheral to Ogilvy Asia-Pacific. And, as usual, the work remains impressive, with Ogilvy scoring no fewer than 22 SABRE nominations, including cutting-edge campaigns for Huawei with Rex Tso, Tiger Global, Intel, Ofo, Coca-Cola Foundation, Heineken, CIF, Shell and Rakuten Kobo — from a much broader range of markets than its rivals, including Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. — AS


Finalists

Edelman (Independent)

While Edelman’s Asia-Pacific revenues declined 1.6% for their 2018 fiscal year to $103m (thanks in large part to the loss of its $5m Tata mandate), there is no mistaking the ambition that underpins the firm’s regional offering, which continues to encompass considerable geographic breadth (1,400 employees across 11 markets) along with service depth in such areas as digital, research, corporate and creative. Indeed, the agency has restructured its operations to noticeable effect in the region, a process that continues under the leadership of new Asia-Pacific CEO Jesse Lin, who oversees a regional structure that is built around two key practice areas, brand and reputation. 

Lin is supported by chief operating officer Bob Grove, who has spent more than a decade with the agency, and a leadership team that includes vice-chairman (reputation) Iain Twine; and, vice-chairman (brand) Rupen Desai, one of a number of imports from the advertising industry, as Edelman attempts to elevate its creative capabilities to better compete with advertising and digital agencies for integrated briefs. While there were some notable digital departures, Edelman replaced their ranks with several senior hires, including Ranjit Jathanna as chief regional strategy officer and several creative/strategy appointments in Tokyo, Southeast Asia, Beijing, Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong.  

As such, Edelman’s growth in the region (where it is forecasting 7% expansion for the current fiscal year) represents a bet on what it calls ‘communications marketing’, where earned media ideas are brought to life across the full spectrum of marketing communications. It is not a particularly controversial idea, but it relies in particular on a superior digital capability, something that Edelman has invested in to impressive effect. Indeed, the best of Edelman’s work indicates that it has been able to bring this concept to fruition, via campaigns for HP (making the brand cool in Australia); Extra (an interactive lunchbox ); Surf Excel (helping kids cope with failure); Shell (the impressive ‘emotion tracking’ effort in Malaysia); and AIAC (lead creative for a wide-ranging rebrand). And while the firm’s digital and data capabilities continue to stand out, Edelman’s rise into one of the region’s top financial communications players should not be underestimated, either. 

Accordingly, the network’s portfolio across practices is well balanced across corporate and consumer, alongside a strong commitment to both professional development (22,000 training hours across the region) and thought leadership (from the Trust Barometer to the Cultural Connections initiative). The firm’s client roster remains stronger than most, including multi-market accounts such as Adobe, AstraZeneca, California Almonds, HP, Mars, Nissan, PayPal, Samsung, Shell and Unilever while there was significant new business from Adidas, Ajinomoto, Arla, Arvind, Infosys, Mitsubishi, Principal, Eight and Vivo. — AS


FleishmanHillard (Omnicom)

FleishmanHillard’s 23-year history in the Asia-Pacific region can be divided into two halves. During the first decade or so, it would be generous to describe the firm’s market position as a challenger brand to its fellow multinationals. It’s only over the past 15 years, under the leadership of Lynne-Anne Davis, that FH has established itself as a powerhouse in the region, more than capable of competing with larger, longer-established competitors in the region.

There are plenty of metrics that demonstrate the firm’s strength in the region. Last year, 17 of its top 20 clients were served by more than one owned office, with a couple of them drawing on the resources of 10 offices. More than 50 clients expanded to additional offices in the region. That has been driving growth in some significant markets, with Thailand up 30%, India and the Vox Japan operation up by better than 20%, and the Philippines, Singapore and Korea all recording double-digit growth. Greater China, united two years ago under the leadership of Rachel Catanach, continues to be the largest market.

Major clients include both Asia-based and western multinationals, such as Alibaba Group, General Motors, HongKong Land, J&J, Bose, Corning, Reckitt Benckiser, SAP, P&G, Huawei, Philips—the average tenure of those clients is more than eight years. New clients added in 2017 include McDonalds, Hyundai, ICBC International, Nike, BNY Mellon, Liverpool Football Club, Mondelez, Amgen, Seagate, Wynn Resorts, Amadeus, Beiersdorf, Norwegian Seafood Council, BASF, JoongAng Ilbo, HiteJinro, Money 20/20 Asia, Medidata Solutions, Herbalife, JP Holdings, Nipsea, and Mixi. Healthcare, financial services, and public affairs have seen particularly strong growth.

High-profile work includes the “School for Justice” campaign, an education program in India that helps take survivors of sex trafficking out of prostitution and to prosecute the perpetrators. It is aimed at getting taboo topics around child prostitution discussed openly in Indian society and by the media. On the corporate front, the firm has been working with Harley-Davidson in China, drawing on the new generation’s love of hip-hop. And in Singapore, the firm created “They Built This City: Revealing the Sacrifices by Migrant Workers” campaign, telling the stories of migrant workers in the country, for Paya Lebar Quarter development by Lendlease. — PH


H+K Strategies (WPP)

Following a relatively quiet period in the region, H+K Strategies marked its 60th anniversary in Asia-Pacific by underlining its return to growth mode, with overall revenue expansion (up around 3% to $50m) led by particularly strong performances from its operations in Southeast Asia and Korea. Greater China accounts for around half of the firm’s regional headcount, and grew around 5% last year, thanks to a renewed focus on creativity that has brought new business from Alibaba, Avon, China Fortune Land Development, Crocs, MSC Cruises, Prevail, Rio Tinto, Red Bull and Zespri, along with the global AOR remit for Dalian Wanda. 

In Korea, Synergy H+K Korea’s 60-plus team continues to outperform despite a difficult political and economic environment, with revenues up 14%, profits increasing 67% and headcount growing 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. And, in Southeast Asia, 100 staffers work across offices in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, accounting for 15% of the WPP network’s Asia-Pacific revenue. The 46-person Bangkok office must rank as the country’s largest international PR firm, and has grown at a double-digit rate for each of the past 15 years. In Singapore, meanwhile, a resurgent 28-person office grew topline (+12%) and bottomline (+18%) in some style. 

Those performances helped to outweigh less stellar returns from other markets, notably Japan, India (now under new leadership) and Australia. The regional leadership team under long-term CEO Viv Lines has a more settled look about it, working for a client roster that features such names as Canon, Coca-Cola, Ford, HSBC, Huawei, LG, Microsoft, Schneider Electric and Singapore Tourism Board. Technology remains H+K’s biggest sector (around 30% of regional revenue), showcasing new business from Spotify, Huawei, Unisys and Nvidia, but there is also strategic depth in most areas, notably its Shanghai Creative hub and a strong offering around purpose consultancy, particularly for Chinese clients going global, including Dalian Wanda, Suning and Ofo.

A transformed content, digital strategy and production capability, furthermore, is resulting in some impressive work, including the Dreamlab campaign for Vodafone Foundation and Granny’s Secret for Prevail. — AS

Weber Shandwick (IPG)

Last year’s winners continued their impressive progress in Asia-Pacific, even if growth was only 2% in 2017 after several years of turbo-charged expansion. A cohesive regional strategy means that Weber Shandwick has added considerable geographic breadth and specialist depth across the region, with the agency tripling in size over the past eight years, to around $110m in fee income. Much of that is the by-product of a stable leadership team that is overseen by chairman Tim Sutton and CEO Baxter Jolly, supported by operations chair Tyler Kim in Korea; creativity and innovation chair Darren Burns in China; client experience chair Vanessa Ho in Singapore; global technology co-head Lydia Lee; and strategy/marketing chair Ian Rumsby in Australia. 

The firm’s local market leadership, overseeing some 900 people across 10 markets, is similarly stable and also reflects Weber’s preference for homegrown leaders, including David Liu in China, Albert Shu in Hong Kong and Valerie Pinto in India. Growth was led by India (+18%), Indonesia (+17%), Hong Kong (+7.5% to more than $15m), Korea (+5.5% including a merger with McCann Healthcare) and Japan (+5%).  

Much of that is driven by a top 20 client base that accounts for 40% of revenue, with 21 Weber Shandwick clients now bringing in revenue of more than $1m, a considerable uptick on previous years. There was significant new business from Turkish Airlines, Tencent, LG Home Appliances, Jfoodo, Ardent, Gardasil, LG Mobile, Fidelity, Hyatt, AusGold, and Gionee. They join an existing client roster that features Mercedes-Benz, Nike, Mattel, MasterCard, GM, Axa, Vanguard, Pfizer, Abbott, J&J, ExxonMobil, NetApp and Philips — reflecting Weber Shandwick’s strength across corporate/PA (which accounts for 33% of regional revenue), consumer (28%), technology (18%), digital (12%) and healthcare (9%).

But the numbers don’t tell the full story of Weber Shandwick’s impressive performance in Asia-Pacific. Jolly has overseen a fundamental expansion of the firm’s integrated capabilities across all of its markets and practices, with a specific focus on establishing a more credible creative offering. Weber Shandwick’s digital operation now stands as one of the region’s strongest. Indeed, the firm has seen a major uptick in integrated and digital briefs, accounting for particular growth in Hong Kong (+173%), Korea (+48%) and Singapore (+14%). In China, meanwhile, the acquisition of data and insights consultancy Bomoda brings specific expertise into Chinese social media platforms, helping to drive some inspiring work, including a confidential data-driven initiative on behalf of a major beauty player, which helped to reshape its entire social media and CRM story. All told, the agency now employs more than 40+ content specialists in China alone, along with 25 analytics specialists across the region, part of the firm’s 220-strong digital/studio headcount.

The work, unsurprisingly, reflects this level of innovation, with Weber Shandwick scoring 11 SABRE nominations — including impressive campaigns for the Hong Kong Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitation, Philips, Hotels.com and GSK. — AS