By Arun Sudhaman

SINGAPORE: Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL), one of the largest paper producers in Asia, has selected Watatawa – the consulting firm headed by former Burson Marsteller CEO Bill Rylance – to oversee its global stakeholder engagement.

The decision follows a review that was revealed earlier this year by the Holmes Report. The RFP came shortly after APRIL had its green certification suspended, and it is understood that Watatawa will play a key role in helping the company rebuild its international relationships with NGOs.

Watatawa clinches the business ahead of several bigger global agencies, which will come as welcome vindication for a firm that has pointedly rejected the traditional network business model. Watatawa features six senior-level founding partners and combines a consulting arm with an investment arm. It will collaborate with specialist resources to service the business in Asian, European and American markets.

APRIL head of communications Ee Poh Luan told the Holmes Report that Watatawa will counsel the company on “how to manage its intangible assets through actions as well as words.”

“We believe this appointment and the activity which stems from it reinforces our commitment to engaging with all key stakeholders in a direct, transparent and credible manner,” added Luan.

“What I can say is that we will not be a layer or a filter between APRIL and NGOs, the media or any other stakeholder,” said Rylance, who founded the new firm earlier this year. “APRIL is committed to engaging openly and constructively so it will be their voice and their outreach without an intermediary. We will be a strategic sounding board and a communications reality-check in the C-suite.”

“I’d say it’s very smart of APRIL to introduce third party objectivity at this level of strategic decision-making,” added Rylance. “It reinforces their commitment to engage directly and credibly.”

Earlier this year, the Rainforest Alliance suspended Forestry Stewardship Council Controlled Wood certification  for APRIL’s operations in Indonesia, where the company runs one of the world’s largest paper mills. A joint statement from Rainforest Alliance and APRIL pointed to ‘environmental and social issues’ that needed to be addressed.

The certification exists to prove that companies are not using wood sourcing illegally or from high conservation value forests. It is a key requirement for market access to European public procurement departments.

According to a Hoovers report, APRIL is one of the world’s biggest producers of paper, and owns flagship brand PaperOne. The company also owns operations in China, and is part of the Raju Garuda Mas Group.

The development comes after Asia Pulp and Paper shifted its global PR business to Cohn & Wolfe.