Australasian PR Consultancies of the Year 2019 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2019 Australasian PR Consultancies of the Year

The 2019 Asia-Pacific PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 125 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the region. 

Consultancy of the Year winners are announced and honoured at the 2019 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards, which take place on 12 September in Singapore. Analysis of all Finalists and Winners can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below:

Winner: OPR Agency (WPP AUNZ)

Since 2001, Ogilvy PR has built what is probably Australia’s largest PR business, thanks to the acquisitions of Howorth (B2B/tech), Parker & Partners (public affairs/corporate), Impact (employee engagement) and Savage & Horrigan (now known as Cannings). And the 18 years since have seen it deepen its capabilities considerably, adding consumer brand agency Pulse Communications, specialist health agency Our Health — all adding up to 120 professionals across offices in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, with specialist teams in government, brand, B2B, technology, healthcare and corporate.

The kind of specialist sector expertise helps to differentiate OPR from its rivals, and ensures a broad base that delivered record-breaking growth despite its size. Fee income was up by 13% to A$27m in 2018, thanks to 85% pitch conversion and particular growth from brand marketing, healthcare, issues management and creative/content. New business included CabCharge, Intuit, Telstra, KitchenAid, Sport Australia, Star Entertainment Group, XBox Asia, Australian Rail and Track Corporation, joining a client roster that includes Microsoft, Ford, Amex, Australian Government, Netflix, AstraZeneca, NAB, KFC, Canon, SAP.

Under CEO Richard Brett, OPR has developed an impressively integrated offering, featuring strategy and planning lead Kaz Scott, chief growth officer Jacquie Potter, ECD Bridget Jung and digital/social head Daniel Young. The firm is as comfortable handling major issues management projects as it is developing sophisticated digital content and influencer marketing work, with more than 40% of clients working across businesses, fuelled by collaborative units that cover such areas as media training, storytelling, issues/crisis, content/editorial and strategic planning. 

And that focus on integration has paid off with some eye-catching work, including four finalists nods at the Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards. The firm’s Cabcharge campaign stands out, delivering an ambitious rebranding that underpinned more than 2,000 new business leads, while there were also notable initiatives for Xbox, KFC and Visit Victoria. 

Mention should also be made of the agency’s employee engagement focus, a critical element for such a large player. A best-in-class employee benefits program includes an agile culture and above average parental leave policy, which has helped improve staff engagement and lower turnover. Meanwhile, the firm’s thought leadership and product development efforts also reflect its deep expertise, notably via its Believability Index and Futures Report, along such tools as the Impact4 measurement app and Envoy influencer platform. — AS


Finalists

History Will Be Kind (Independent)

There is plenty to like about History Will Be Kind (HWBK), which launched in 2014 under the leadership of former Weber Shandwick head E-J Granleese to deliver “great work that creates moments in history.” The firm demonstrates the kind of legacy-free thinking that is the hallmark of the best entrepreneurial players, with Granleese overseeing the growth of an integrated 16-person consumer agency in just four years — featuring strength in traditional areas such as media relations and content, but bolstered by impressive breadth across strategy, analytics, video and voice. 

All of which added up to something of a watershed year in 2018, when the firm grew by more than 40% to crack the A$2m mark, underpinned by 15 client wins including Amaysim, Etihad, Marine Stewardship Council, Market City Precinct and Navitas — which join an existing client roster that features Nestle brands Allen’s and KitKat, Brown-Forman, Google and YouTube, ICC Sydney, Marriott,Maille and Optiver.

Like many boutiques, HWBK is able to offer a better employee experience than most — developing programs that focus on knowledge sharing, performance management, employee benefits, training and CSR. And the firm’s profile is a notch above many firms of its size, thanks to a slew of awards in Australia and globally, along with its support of the Positive Ambiguity Index in collaboration with sister firm How To and the UNSW Science and Innovation Lab.

Much of which has been driven by some standout client work, including consumer engagement and sales for Nestle, voice activation for Google, and spearheading ICC Sydney’s reputation as a world leading conference and entertainment venue. Notable efforts included the Kitkat Gold launch and Allen’s Lolly Vote, both of which exceeded sales targets. — AS

Red Agency (Havas)

Launched in 2002, Red has become the star performer in the Havas Australia group, now numbering more than 90 people across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and exporting its model across the wider Havas network. Much of that is down to the leadership of James Wright, who joined Red in 2011 and has since been named global CEO for Havas PR. Wright’s Australian CEO role was taken on last year by Sarah Trombetta who arrived from Grey Hong Kong to oversee a leadership team that also includes executive directors Jackie Crossman and Dav Ghiassi, the latter of whom runs the firm’s social media team, which has grown considerably to cover creative, strategy, paid, insights and optimisation, community management and content production.

Despite the leadership transition, Red’s eye-catching expansion continued unabated in Australia, up by around 40% in 2018 after growing 70% in 2017, underpinned by a string of major new business wins (many from 2017), including Toyota, Aspen Pharmacare, Vivid, Lexus, Moet-Hennessy, Booking.com and Menulog. Existing clients include South Australia Tourism Commission, Kellogg’s/Pringles, WEX, Amazon Web Services, Heineken, Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Destination NSW, Origin Energy, Qatar Airways, Capgemini and Yahoo7.

Red’s impressive momentum, though, is hardly limited to numbers and new business alone. The firm’s work is highly impressive, led by the Palau Pledge global campaign, and also including standout efforts for the Sydney Beer Co and Instructure. All of these campaigns demonstrated the kind of cultural intelligence that underscores Red’s desire to ‘be the change’, helping it land awards across the globe, and underpinned by a thought leadership approach that is also sharper than most. — AS


SenateSHJ
(Independent)

SenateSHJ, founded in 2002, has become one of Australasia's largest consultancies and, through its membership of the PROI network, also services clients worldwide, including an increasing amount of healthcare work across Asia-Pacific. The firm bills itself as working on “projects that matter for organisations we respect” and its expertise at the gritty end of PR: complex, high-end strategic communication services: reputation management, crisis and issues, change communications, ethical healthcare, digital services and social, public affairs and social marketing.

More than 80% of annual new business is directly through referral, and the agency made a concerted effort in 2018 to focus on larger clients and project assignments. This saw revenue reduce slightly, but pre-tax profits increased. Strong growth in Australia will see the agency expand its healthcare and digital teams – SenateSHJ expects to add 10% to its 54-strong team by the end of this year.

Clients include the Australian Federal government, Fuji Xerox, and Bayer. Its social marketing and social change practice is growing rapidly, including ground-breaking community engagement work for the NZ Transport Agency that transformed the way road risk and road safety were seen in New Zealand. The Transport Agency’s crash data shows Southland and Otago, where the programme was active, are the only regions in New Zealand where road deaths have reduced in 2018, and the NZ police have directly attributed this reduction to the Any Number Is Too Many campaign. – MPS


WE Buchan
 (WE Communications)

Acquired by global agency WE in 2016, WE Buchan has revved up its performance to impressive effect under the leadership of Rebecca Wilson, who recently added Singapore oversight to her remit. And much of that is down the firm’s impressive expansion beyond its corporate and financial heartland, into consumer, technology and healthcare. Wilson is supported by Gemma Hudson, CEO of WE Buchan, and new hire Nat Bradford, who is GM and head of technology, along with investor & corporate communication and digital/creative/strategy heads, Kyahn Williamson and Nichole Provatas, respectively. 

That expansion helps to explain WE Buchan’s impressive rate of growth, up 34% in 2018 to US$5.5m from 42 employees. There was new business from Alcidion, Jenny Craig and Marley Spoon, joining a client roster that features Adobe, Akamai, Alcidion, Allianz, Australian Government, Bayer, Salmat and Viiv.

The firm’s Adobe work continues to stand out, including a digital campaign targeting SMBs for the company’s Creative Cloud suite, which delivered eye-catching increases in terms of both web traffic and store conversions. — AS