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

2019 India 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: AvianWE (WE)

After rising to become one of India’s top PR consultancies over the past 13 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 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 are supported by a leadership team that includes co-founder & EVP Manash Neog running public affairs (Chase), Neha Mehrotra co-founder & EVP heading PR nationally apart from Client Centricity and recent hire Girish Huria as EVP for new initiatives. And, the early returns suggest that the firm has only benefited from the WE deal — with revenues up by a remarkable 35% to $6.5m, delivered by 162 employees across the Avian and Chase (public affairs) brands. In line with WE’s key growth priorities, the firm’s new pharma practice has already seen a strong start, while its social impact division has developed a string of laudable campaigns that effectively align purpose, public policy and stakeholder engagement. And its market-leading digital division continues to expand its offering.  

Avian’s new business engine remains the one of the sharpest in the market with significant new business from Samsung (the firm’s biggest ever win), Amazon, Honda, Danone, Viacom18, Bayer, J&J, Lockheed Martin, Piramal Realty, Sony Entertainment and Mylan — all helping to offset the exit of Airbus. Key existing clients include Qualcomm, VMware, Airbnb, Facebook, RB, Google, McDonald’s, Mastercard, Philips and Vistara. 

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, and by a very active thought leadership programme.  Mantri, meanwhile, is a tireless presence on the industry scene, helping to elevate the profile of public relations in India and beyond. 

Unsurprisingly, the campaign work continues to impress, with campaigns for Mastercard, McDonald’s, ABInbev, Tourism Australia, RB, Dettol and PVR Cinemas all catching the attention of SABRE judges. — AS


Finalists

Adfactors (Independent)

Long regarded as the best corporate and financial specialist in the market, Adfactors has diversified its offering to a significant extent in recent years, helping it to net no fewer than 32 SABRE nominations this year, a remarkable tally when you consider the firm only services India. But such is the depth of its offering, and indeed the breadth of its thinking across numerous industries, that Adfactors has clearly established itself as one of Asia’s most creative consultancies.   

All of which helps to underpin the firm’s consistently impressive growth, up 19% in 2018 to $34m despite the effect of a weaker local currency, also helping it crack the top 70 of the world’s biggest PR firms. As the undisputed market leader in India, Adfactors employs 720 employees, with particular depth in corporate, financial and crisis communications. After digesting the mammoth Tata win in 2018, Adfactors could have been excused a lean year in new business terms. But while there were some notable exits (Vodafone and Samsung), the firm continued to haul in new assignments, adding Aditya Birla Group, DBS Bank, HDFC Mutual Fund, Air Asia, Burger King, General Atlantic, Hershey, Mars, Piramal Group, Sun Pharma, Total Oil and TVS Group to an existing client roster that already features  heavyweight brands such as Tata, Mahindra, Hinduja, Apollo Hospitals, Bombay Stock Exchange, Citibank, ICICI Bank, Jet Airways, Larsen & Toubro, and State Bank of India.

Of note, Adfactors leverages its independent status to bring a much stronger focus on internal investment than many of its rivals — resulting in comprehensive programmes covering recruitment, account executive training and digital certification. And that approach has paid handsomely when it comes to the firm’s campaign work, which included the South Asia Best in Show SABRE for Mahindra’s ‘Wings for our Girls’ campaign; along with awards for the Confederation of ATM Industry and Godrej; and regionally shortlisted work for KSCF, Senco Gold and Diamonds, Mother Dairy, Embassy Office Parks, Piramal Enterprises Limited, All India Agarbathi Manufacturers’ Association and more. — AS

BCW (WPP)

While many Asian markets benefited from complementary Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe capabilities following their high-profile merger, India was always going to be the toughest nut to crack, thanks to the presence of two leading (and highly competitive) players in Genesis BCW and 6 Degrees BCW. Genesis, of course, is an Indian heavyweight that remains the benchmark for international PR firms in the country, while the tech-focused prowess of 6 Degrees offers a useful roadmap for anyone looking to chart the progress of challenger agency brands.

Unsurprisingly, the two firms remain distinct entities in the market, even as plans take shape for an eventual merger. At 27 years old, Genesis remains as relevant as ever, with founder Prema Sagar overseeing a revamped leadership team that features MD Deepshikha Dharmaraj, who was elevated following the departures of president Nikhil Dey and COO Atul Sharma. Meanwhile, 6 Degrees remains under the leadership of Zach James and Rishi Seth.

Despite the exits at Genesis, the combined operations of both firms grew by 12% in 2018. Genesis now numbers 360 people across six offices, including 25 in digital, 25 in creative and 30 at conflict brand PPR. Six Degrees, meanwhile, counts 100 staff across three locations, including content marketing arm Alphabet Consulting.

Genesis’ depth in digital, content and creative — via a thriving content studio — continues to hold the firm in good stead, underpinning growth in its brand, sports and entertainment, and enterprise tech practices. Key clients include Zee, Diageo, Uber, L’Oréal, Microsoft, Star Sports, HP, GE, Tetra Pak and Ford. Meanwhile, the firm’s focus on training is as formidable as ever. 6 Degrees’ growth has largely been powered by its superior technology and corporate capabilities, with a client roster that includes Google, Ikea, Maersk, Booking.com, PepsiCo, Amex, IWG Group and Nokia.

And the campaign work reflects both firms’ flair for modern communications, highlighted by SABRE-recognised work for Honor, Ikea, GSK, Punjab National Bank, Education New Zealand and Brittania New Zealand. — AS


MSL India
 (Publicis Groupe)

Last year’s Indian Consultancy of the Year showed no signs of a hangover in 2018, building on the strong foundations that CEO Amit Misra has developed at one of India’s biggest PR operations, and recording a fourth consecutive year of robust double-digit growth (+16%) to take it to towards the $15m mark in fee income, delivered by 430 staff across 8 offices. 

Coupled with impressive profitability and highly creative campaign work, MSL India now looks like an operation that is firing on all cylinders, a far cry from the situation when Misra inherited the MSL, 20:20 and PCA brands. There is particular strength across integrated communications, which now accounts for 44% of revenue, underpinned by strong digital/social capabilities and depth in consumer, corporate, financial, healthcare and technology.

Indeed, integrated work has been prioritised when it comes to new business — leading to assignments from Lixil, Amazon, Adobe, Bacardi, Hilton, Suzuki, Amway, NatGeo, Cipla, VFS Global and Budweiser. They join an existing client roster that features the Gates Foundation, Coca-Cola, Ola, Dell, Airbnb, Netflix, Mondelez, Marico, Panasonic, AbinBev, Facebook and Marico. 

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. 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 PCA, while other key leaders include Parveez Modak, Schubert Fernandes and Tushar Bajaj.

The work, exemplified by a string of South Asia SABRE Awards for such clients as Grofers, Economic Development Board of Mauritius, Marico and P&G, reflects how MSL has transformed its operation away from a generalist agency towards a platform with strong pockets of excellence. — AS


Value 360
(Independent)

India’s Value 360 made big gains over the last 12 months, with its fee income growing to $3.5m from $2.5m in 2018 — a 38% year-over-year lift. The firm’s 145 employees work across an array of practices and specialty areas  — consumer, corporate, financial, healthcare, public affairs and technology among them. Among India’s fastest-growing PR firms, Value 360 in its 11-year history already has become one of the market's largest. The agency has made its name on notable work, which the industry has been keen on recognizing. Value 360’s campaigns for Staqu Technologies earned SABRE Award nominations in the consumer electronics and hardware categories, while its campaign to arm police with AI to find India’s missing children is a finalist in the category recognizing work for not-for-profit organizations.

Launched in midst of the global economic meltdown, Value 360 built its success by serving the specific needs of the startups and entrepreneurs emerging in India at that time, delivering communications that boosted their visibility and brand awareness. The firm capitalized on the need for PR expertise, and practitioners, that could grew with the burgeoning companies, through an integrated and measurable approach to communications. Although India weathered financial instability over the last few years, Value 360 emerged ahead by focusing its efforts on clients in underserved categories with an eye on growth. The firm partnered with companies from tech startups to big tech services companies in India, as well as expanding its service offering in research, digital, public affairs among others. All of which has led to a healthy client roster including the likes of Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, Oriflame, Mindtree, F-Secure, Paytm, Cleartrip.com, Jio-Saavn, Qlik, Limelight Network, MG Motors, Droom.in, Brainly, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Udacity, DTDC, TCI, iRobot and TiE. — DM