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

2019 Regional PR Consultancies of the Year (Midsize)

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: WE (Independent)

Best-known for its technology credentials, WE has undergone a rapid transformation in Asia-Pacific, begun by Alan VanderMolen and now under the leadership of Kass Sells. An ambitious acquisition spree added 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 a 380-person 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 (Watatawa), and Rebecca Wilson (Australia and Singapore).

Revenue grew by a remarkable 41% in 2018 to $24.9m, powered by double-digit expansion from WE Buchan in Australia, WE Red Bridge in China, AvianWE in India, and corporate heavyweight Watatawa in Singapore. There was a significant new business haul, including Adobe, Alcidion, Butterfield, Coca-Cola, Fila, Lego Education, NTUC Income Rosewood, Samsung, Tencent and Viacom18, adding to an existing client roster that features Aruba, Bayer, F5, GSK, Honeywell, iRobot and Lenovo. The upgrading of its regional network means that eight of WE’s top 10 global clients now work with the firm across the region, bolstered by increasing investment in content, digital and analytics (31 hires that take the headcount for these services to 74), and the firm’s popular Brands in Motion study.

Australia, which grew 34%, has successfully expanded beyond its corporate heartland into consumer and healthcare, while China grew 22% on the back of increasing creative capabilities and such new mandates as developing the purpose narrative for Coca-Cola’s brand portfolio. And Avian WE grew by 35% in 2018, with the firm’s technology, consumer and public affairs practices extended by new offerings in pharma and social impact, that have already secured numerous new clients and developed a slew of impressive campaigns. 

Indeed, many of the firm’s campaign highlights include SABRE winners and finalists from India, such as campaigns for Mastercard, McDonald’s, ABInbev, Tourism Australia, RB, Dettol and PVR Cinemas. — AS


Finalists


Allison+Partners
(MDC Partners)

Six 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 more than $14m in regional revenue, after 34% annual growth, the agency is growing into an increasingly credible network, even if its geographic footprint and depth in specific areas marks it out it as a different beast from other firms in its weight class. 

Indeed, with 140 people across offices in China, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, India, and most recent addition Korea, the region now accounts for 20% of Allison’s global revenue. While much of that expansion has been driven by digital, creative, measurement and content, Allison+Partners received a considerable boost when it merged three local agencies under its banner in Korea, adding 50 professionals with depth in B2B technology, healthcare and consumer. 

Allison is led in Asia-Pacific by Serina Tan in Singapore and Jerry Zhu in China, supported by Paul Mottram, who oversees the All Told content operation. Singapore has seen particularly strong growth, including regional assignments from such clients as TikTok, BSA, Pinterest, ThoughtWorks and Waze. And there was plenty of new business across Allison’s other markets, including Tableau, Excedo, Decathlon, Gemalto, Nespresso, Samsung, Campaign Monitor, Deep Instinct, Teradata, Cargill, AIA and Wall Street English.  

Meanwhile’s All Told’s expansion points to Allison’s considerable expertise in integrated marketing and digital content, much of which is focused on internal audiences. The latter trend was demonstrated by a new mandate for DBS Bank, while there was also new business from FWD Insurance, a global mandate from Baidu, and B2B assignments for Emerson, Cloud Foundry Foundation and GE Healthcare. And All Told’s capabilities give Allison an edge when it comes do driving organic growth from existing media relations clients.  

Underpinning Allison’s expansion, 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 SABRE-nominated influencer work for Bosch and experiential activity for Shilin, and the regional consumer launch of ClassPass. — AS


Ketchum
(Omnicom Group)

Rather than attempting to compete via scale, in a region where its regional footprint is dwarfed by several rivals, Ketchum has smartly repositioned its offering around a digital/social-first model that focuses on audience marketing and social commerce. And this approach appears to be paying off, driving significant digital growth in the firm’s key markets of China and India, reflected in the fact that more than 50% of its new hires are digital-focused, and demonstrated by numerous digital-led new business wins.

These assignments have included web development for Dupont and AVG, integrated work for Aptamil, Marshall and Haier, and digital-only mandates for Continental China, Motilal Oswal and Skoda. The firm’s SABRE nominations comfortably confirms this transformation too, perhaps best exemplified by the Conti Cities visual storytelling and social commerce campaign in China, which not only build awareness but also saw a considerable spike in sales growth. There was also sophisticated ‘hyper-local’ influencer work for Livat Beijing Shopping Complex, and social commerce activity for ThinkVision, the latter a particular focus in China where it has also completed similar assignments for Bacardi, P&G and AIG.

In Greater China, CEO (and former IPG Mediabrands chief digital officer) Prince Zhang is supported by chief growth officer Eunice Wong, both of whom bring a distinctly digital focus to the agency’s work. In India meanwhile, the firm attempting a more ambitious transformation from a traditional corporate/financial firm, but has stepped up hiring and delivered some eye-catching work for the Hockey World Cup and AVG Investments, the last of which included website development, social media work, digital brand ID, programmatic, SEO and paid digital activity..

All of which is underpinned by Ketchum’s focus on developing tools and products. The firm’s in-house Ketchum Analytics offering, includes the Maestro influencer and amplification tool that was built in Singapore, while there are plans to develop further social commerce and influencer focused platforms in China.  — AS


Ruder Finn
(Independent)

2017’s Midsize winner continues to impress, with regional chief Elan Shou bringing considerable energy and verve to Ruder Finn’s efforts to build a credible offering outside China, which continues to account for 90% of its regional revenue of $37m. Growth of 23% in 2018 was again driven by 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. China accounts for 400 of Ruder Finn’s regional headcount, with the remaining 80-odd split across offices in Singapore and India. 

The firm’s digital operations, which include the RFI hub in Hong Kong that is led by David Ko, continue to impress — completing a range of assignments for such clients as HSBC, McDonald’s, HKMA and DBS Asia — and bolstered by a strong willingness to invest in new tools and research. These include the Sonar Crisis Simulation programme; the AI-driven Influenpedia resource that is already being used by Burberry, Longines and Chaumet; and the Beacon influencer heatmap. And the firm has invested to upgrade its research capabilities, resulting in new work for Orbis, CLP, Manulife, Prudential and HSBC. 

The agency’s China client base favours includes such names as Google, Moet Hennessy Diageo, HSBC, L’Oréal, Sanofi, Montblanc, Longines, Almond Board of California, Mercedes Benz and Disney. And, in keeping with the content to commerce revolution sweeping the market, much of the work is integrated, including new assignments for STB, Changi Airport, Tencent, CLP Power, Australian Open, the UK Department of International Trade, Marriott and VIP Lux. All of which reflects the firm’s re-engineering of its integrated capabilities, which now spans the full range of marketing services including influencer management, digital media buying, campaign design, social video and advertising, reflected in its win of the Almond Board of California’s $1.1m integrated marketing tender, in which it competed against advertising, digital and PR firms.

Elsewhere, there was new business for the firm’s corporate practice under Charles Lankester, including Heineken Asia, Marriott, L’Oreal, WISE and MTR, bolstered by an upgraded research capability. And both Singapore and India are under new leadership, in the shape of Martin Alintuck and Atul Sharma, respectively, with the latter operation doubling its headcount and adding new business from Google and Movista.  

Meanwhile, the firm’s campaign work continues to impress, illustrated by no fewer than nine SABRE finalists, including campaigns for Hennessy, McDonald’s, CITIC Bank and Visa. — AS


SPRG (Independent)

It is now 24 years since Richard Tsang launched Strategic Public Relations Group in Hong Kong, and while it has expanded into a network of 15 offices across Asia and established capabilities in consumer marketing and corporate social responsibility, it remains best known as a market leader in the financial communications space.

SPRG ranked number one in the IPO/IR market last year with 45 IPOs completed in 2018 — bringing the all-time total to 444. SPRG, however, continued to build out both its offering and its geographical reach over the last 12 months. The firm acquired a 20% interest in the Australian IR/PR firm FCR. And while that move cemented SPRG’s stature as a truly APAC-based firm, the agency still managed to pick up its first global client, Asia Pulp & Paper, in 2018. There are offices in Hong Kong, China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou), Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia that can offer coverage to rival the western multinationals, and the firm grew 6% in 2018 to almost $25m in fee income.

Longtime clients include Deloitte, Fox Network, Google, KFC, Lenovo, Merck, and Volkswagen, and here were new business wins over the past year from the likes of  PP, Bestinet, China Resources Land, GE Healthcare, Giga, Israel Ministry of Economy & Trade and the International Summit on Human Genome Editing. Built on a philosophy of giving back to the community, the agency has reaped numerous awards for its own corporate social responsibility initiatives. As the operator of its own CSR platform that links up corporations, NGOs and volunteers to help those in need, SPRG acts as a bridge to encourage its clients and staff and families to donate and participate as volunteers at community events.

Last year, SPRG also launched SPRG Healthcare, a hub for family members and caregivers of individuals suffering from chronic conditions to exchange information and experiences and to offer support. SPRG continues to differentiate itself by its focus on a culture where local staff can flourish, with its workforce including a number of employees who have been with the organization for more than a decade. — PH/DM