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

2019 North Asia 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: 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 65-person staff continues to outperform despite a difficult political and economic environment. Over the last 12 months, the firm experienced double digit lifts in key indicators: Revenue rose 20%, profits rose 34% and headcount increased 15%.

That was driven, in large part, by the firm signing on an impressive list of new clients; 2018 business wins included Microsoft, BASF, Hanwha Techwin, Essilor, KIA Motors, AB InBev. and Marriott International. Yet those numbers also reflect ongoing, and growing, relationships with existing clients. 60% Synergy H+K’s top clients have worked with the agency for three years or more including LG Electronics, Han Sung Motor, Singapore Tourism Board, P&G, Computex, Northrop Grumman, Australian Meat & Livestock,  and Outback Steakhouse.

Under the long the long-term leadership of HS Chung, Synergy H+K’s has expanded into new areas over the last year. New offerings include FlightSchool+, an online crisis simulation programme designed by H+K’s crisis experts, with Asia offices being among the first in the global network to secure and run immersive client simulations on the new system. The agency also invested in strengthening creative and digital capabilities and services and strategically focused on winning more new clients and businesses in need of a digital solution.

In 2018, Synergy H+K expanded the global influencer campaign it launched in 2016 for LG Electronics Home Appliance Division to nearly 30 countries, promoting 11 products and collaborating with over 2000 influencers across the world — earning it a spot among the finalists in this year’s APAC SABRE Awards multi-cultural category. Other noteworthy initiatives centered around positioning Microsoft as the leader of ‘Trusted AI’ and managing Han Sung Motor’s “Dream Gream” scholarship that supports artistically talented students who don’t have the financial means to pursue their passions. — DM


Finalists

Dentsu (Dentsu Inc)

The Holmes Report’s 2018 North Asia PR Consultancy of the Year, 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 and the Cannes Lions. Not only does Dentsu have a lock on this year’s Asia-Pacific SABRE Japan category, but its work 25 finalists spans numerous categories including business-to-business, automotive, fashion and beauty, cause-related marketing and employee branding among others.

Over the 12 months, Dentsu initiated significant change, promoting both its public image and employees’ well-being. In early 2018, the firm rebranded itself to reflect its position as an advocate of social innovation. The identity is captured in a new formal corporate philosophy and tagline, “Advocates for Social Innovation.”  That it is working is reflected in the agency’s impressive client roster, populated by the likes of Tokyo’s metropolitan government, Japan’s ministries of foreign affairs and defense, Philip Morris and P&G. Dentsu PR has also been focusing on employees as a means of improving efficiency and output. The firm recently started offering flextime and is diversifying its workforce in accordance with government initiatives, reaching the legal employment quota for workers with disabilities and, in January, naming Motoko Kunita as its first female executive officer. — PH/DM


PR One
 (Independent)

With fee income in excess of $21 million (up by roughly 10% from last year) and a team of 150, PR One is the largest Korea-based agencies in our global ranking. 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.

Notable work over the past 12 months showcase a wide range of expertise. In honor of LEGO’s 60th anniversary, PR One rolled out a LEGO building challenge online and in real-life, encouraging kids creativity while also promoting family participation and peer group activities. The agency’s campaigns for Lotte Nestlé Purina’s pet food brands, Pro Plan and Purina One, included holding promotional events for the very companion animals the product targets. To boost awareness of Epson as a B2B brand, PR One orchestrated the company improving small and medium-size business’ office environment and business conferences with leaders from seven different industries; Epson’s B2B business was up 105% during the first half of 2018.

Other notable clients include Samsung Electronics, Union Pay International, P&G, IKEA Korea, Ministry of National Defense, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, Nikon Imaging Korea, KT, Oakley, SC First Bank Korea, etc. Over the past year, PR One added the French Tourism Board, Hawaiian Airlines, Cargill Korea, LG Hausys, Nu Skin Korea and Lotte Rental to its client roster. — PH/DM


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.

Sunny Side Up reported fee income of more than $128 million for 2018, up 16% from the year before. That reflects Sunny Side Up’s recent expansion 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.) Last December, the company earned a spot among first-tier companies on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Founded by Etsuko Tsugihara more than 30 years ago, Sunny Side Up is one of the 1% of the 3,700 companies listed on the exchange led by women.

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, Seven Net Shopping (e-commerce), Coca Cola Japan, Moet Hennessy Diageo, Unilever Japan, Nestle Japan and Beaute du Sae (aromatics, health). New business last year came from Hasbro Japan, Loreal Japan, House Foods and social network mixi. In addition to its Japanese headquarters, Sunny Side Up also has offices in South Korea and Hawaii. — PH/DM


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 a decade 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 and Korea both submitting solid performances in 2018. 

In Tokyo, the office has emerged as Weber Shandwick’s fastest-growing operation in 2019, with double-digit growth following several years of single-digit expansion as the 2020 Olympics beckon. The office named a new GM earlier this year in Campbell Hanley, and celebrated its 60th anniversary, by winning a slew of new business from Netflix, JETRO, TEPCO and Panasonic, who join an existing client roster that features Amazon, Facebook, Intel, Novartis, TEPCO, Mastercard and Hotels.com. Much of the new work has a sponsorship or nation branding flavour, in line next year’s Olympics, but there is also broad strength across corporate, healthcare, public affairs and digital/social. 

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 including new joint GMs Juny Lee and Seikyu Hong. The merger with McCann Health has turned Weber Shandwick into one of the market’s largest digital and healthcare marketing firms, evidenced by global digital marketing assignments for Hanwha Group and Samsung Electronics. There was also new business from CJ Logistics, Green Climate Fund, GM, Hotels.com, IBM, Lilly, Medtronic and Samsung Health, joining an existing list that includes Adobe System, MBK Partners and Netflix.

The campaign work from Korea, in particular, catches the eye — resulting in SABRE nominations for Hanwha Group’s employee engagement program and Eisai Korea’s highly creative dementia campaign. — AS