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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:
23 years ago, Hoffman became the first US tech consultancy to set up shop in Asia. By 2017, that long tenure served to reinforce the perception that the agency was stagnating in the region, with revenue barely growing in the five years since it crossed $5.5m in 2012. But, in line with a broader global reshaping of its business, Asia-Pacific has seen a profound transformation under a new leadership team overseen by ex-Google veteran Caroline Hsu, who joined as regional MD in mid-2017. Hsu has helped steer rapid growth in what is not only Hoffman’s largest geographic region but, as founder Lou Hoffman puts it, their “center of gravity,” thanks 110 people across Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan.
After 19% growth in 2017, Hoffman expanded by another 20% in 2018 and is on course to reach $11m in fee income by the end of this year, thanks to an even higher growth rate in 2019. Hsu wasted little time in disrupting Hoffman’s regional leadership team, hiring Jason Cao as China GM, Miranda Lee as GM of Korea, Marc Sparrow as GM of Hong Kong and promoting Maureen Tseng to GM of Singapore. That quartet has joined North Asia head Shingo Nomura and global operations VP Lydia Lu in overhauling Hoffman’s approach in the region, bolstered even further by the hire of digital head Nicolas Chan.
Chan’s arrival supports Hoffman’s increased focus on content marketing and digital commerce, with the firm developing numerous digital campaigns that drive sales leads, underpinned by programmatic advertising, analytics and multi-channel content. There was significant new business from Blackberry, Amazon Web Services, Airbnb, CES Asia, Uber, Shopline, JOS, Microchip, Intel and McAfee — joining an existing client roster that features Nutanix, Adobe Systems, Johnson Controls, Crypto.com, AppAnnie, Lam Research, FireEye, Niantic Labs and Avast. Significantly, much of the business is now multi-market, with nine client now supported in three or more markets, compared to two in 2017.
A stronger focus on employee culture, training and retention is also paying off, as Hoffman looks to wield its network as a positive influence. And there were several campaign highlights, including a SABRE-nominated campaign for MoneySmart in Hong Kong. — AS
No longer the new kid on the block after eight years of remarkable growth, IN.FOM continues to bring plenty of energy to an offering that has already been won multiple Agency of the Year Awards from the Holmes Report. And while the headline story of the past 12 months was the firm’s decision to part ways with anchor client Microsoft, there is little to suggest that its independent status and entrepreneurial hunger cannot overcome this particular obstacle. Already, the firm has added new business from Grab, Poly and the Trade Desk, and grew by 15% in 2018 to S$5.7m, another year of rapid topline expansion.
Other key clients include Ruckus Networks, Expedia, SGInnovate, UnionPay, Engie, CA Technologies, Herbalife, Intralinks, Intel and Nokia — with IN.FOM increasingly taking on regional duties from its Singapore hub.
Despite its growth to date, IN.FOM continues to eschew the scale and bureaucracy of established firms in favour of an approach that prizes sustainable employee and client relationships. The leadership team includes managing partners Wong Voal Voal and Mike Liew, who bring impressive pedigrees with global agencies H+K and Burson-Marsteller, respectively, and who understand the transformation of marketing and technology. And there continues to be considerable investment in talent and training, including twice-yearly pay adjustments and bonuses to convince the market’s best talent that IN.FOM is the best place to build their careers. An up and coming generation of leaders suggests that this approach is paying off, with non-traditional PR revenue also growing in commensurate with a broader skill base.
Campaign highlights including a SABRE-nominated effort for UnionPay. — AS
Founded 24 years ago, Chris Lewis’ technology agency has grown to become one of the largest independent agencies in the world. Today, it has 29 offices – wholly-owned by employees – including in Melbourne, Sydney, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and has the ambitious goal of doubling its footprint in Asia-Pacific by 2020.
In 2018, the agency overall saw single digit-growth. B2B clients account for most of its portfolio, but Lewis also saw strong growth from FMCG clients. Growth in the region also came from more integrated work and retainer clients, with new accounts including BMW Singapore and Epson Southeast Asia.
The agency may be growing fast, but it places a huge emphasis on workplace culture and professional development. Flexible working, team-building activities and celebrations, training and certification programmes and awards all help to engage and motivate its 100-strong team, and keep staff turnover low. The APAC 2020 plan is being spearheaded by APAC SVP Emma Jenkins, who has been with the firm for nine years, including leading the Hong Kong office. She is supported by a team included a new talent manager to help recruit for the plan in a competitive market.
Around a third of new hires now come from digital backgrounds, and Lewis has also bolstered its digital offer by hiring a consumer insights and SEO manager, and digital engagement directors in Singapore and Shanghai. The agency formed a cross-disciplinary team to focus on data analytics and mobile services and launched Lewis Analytics, cloud-based dashboards to provide clients with a deeper level of reporting, insights, business outcome measurement and campaign management.
Thought leadership over the year included Bay to Bay, a platform for entrepreneurs, media, academics and business leaders from the Bay Areas in China and the US to come together and share experiences and views, explore global innovation, entrepreneurialism and leadership culture. Inaugural events were held in Hong Kong and San Francisco in 2018, with Shenzhen this year. And the ‘Chatbot China: The Rise of Conversational Commerce’ white paper looked at the how the way Chinese consumers are interacting with brands is changing. – MPS
Established in Singapore in 2009, Rice is now in its 10th year of growth, flourishing from a boutique tech agency of three to a team of 44 in three offices, having expanded into Myanmar in 2014 and Hong Kong in 2017. Last year, the firm’s fee income grew by 21% to $3.9 million.
It was a big year for Rice, which rebranded, opened a bigger office in Singapore, and introduced a suite of new offers, including more content creation services, and partnerships with social listening platform Circus 20/20 and AI-powered influencer discovery platform Affable. New hires and promotions included experienced editor Winnie Leung joining as content strategist, Agung S. Ongko being elevated to senior strategy manager, and Neil Mirano joining the growing senior management team.
Throughout 2018, the agency continued to extend its experience and capabilities beyond B2B, working with brands such as Marks & Spencer, Core Concepts (one of Singapore’s largest physiotherapy and functional wellness groups), Antler (Singapore’s first talent incubator and startup generator) and Gogreen (launching Singapore’s first dockless scooter with Jackie Chan). Rice also maintained long-term relationships with clients including Digital Realty and Inmarsat, both of which it has worked with for nine years, as well as Hilton Worldwide, LinkedIn and Thales.
Stand-out work that went beyond traditional PR included the “Voices for Momos” campaign with World Wildlife Fund Myanmar, which ranged from logo development to media assets and on-ground activation, and resulted in two key markets committing to end the illegal wildlife trade. For the launch of Yale-NUS College’s The Future Of Our Pasts festival in support of the Singapore Bicentennial, the team acted as editorial consultant, and developed and managed digital and social strategy and offline activations. Rice also developed LinkedIn’s Opportunity Index Asia Pacific, from strategy and project management to insights and execution. The campaign was such a success that LinkedIn global has also decided to adopt it for EMEA and the US.
Rice introduced a number of employee engagement initiatives, including revamping its onboarding, upgrading skills and training, and introducing Extra Miles, an exchange programme between its offices. It was also the second year of the agency’s Rice Talent Programme, a fully-sponsored 12-month course that aims to help develop the fledgling communications industry in Myanmar by nurturing young professionals; there were 16 graduates last year.
Founder and CEO Vuki Vujasinovic started Australian firm Sling & Stone eight years ago with just one client and a compelling position as the agency for “the world’s best challengers, disrupters and entrepreneurs.” It turns out there were plenty of those potential clients in the Australian market, and Sling & Stone doubled in size through each of its first five years, and it’s still growing by impressive double-digits while maintaining its focus on ambitious, future-focused brands and startups.
It was a year of change for the agency, with Vujasinovic relocated to LA to build the agency’s American operation, winning nine clients and hiring six LA teammates in year one. The agency also relocated its NZ office from Wellington to Auckland to hire the best talent and grow its local stronghold and made a series of senior promotions. These included Kya de Rome as Global General Manager, Kasi Reynolds as Global Head of Consumer and James Hutchinson as Global Head of Business – adding government relations to the agency’s offer – and Brad Tubb stepping into a newly-created Head of Client Services role. In addition, Callan Green joined from L'Oreal New York, relocating to Sydney to launch Sling & Stone’s social and content arm.
In the past year it has added names like Halo Top ice cream, Slack and Shutterstock, and retained clients including Uber/Uber Eats, Stripe, Twitter and Kogan. Outstanding work by the Golin-affiliated agency included its SABRE-shortlisted campaign for next-generation insurance provider Huddle, an example of how PR strategy can inform new product design, in this case, a new type of insurance specifically to cover drivers whose cars are damaged in collisions with kangaroos. Tactics included the ‘Roo Report’ white paper and partnerships with The Kangaroo Protection Co-operative, and the campaign led to a 100% increase in website visits. –—MPS
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