Consumer PR Consultancies of the Year 2020 | PRovoke Media

2020 Consumer PR Consultancies of the Year

The 2020 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 2020 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards, which takes place virtually on 24 September. Analysis of all Finalists and Winners can be accessed via the navigation menu or below:

Winner: DeVries Global (Golin/Interpublic Group)

Interpublic agency DeVries Global launched its Asia-Pacific operations in 2012, carving out P&G business from sister firm Weber Shandwick to help fuel its initial expansion in China and Singapore. Now under the leadership of Darren Burns, who took over from Andres Vejarano, the firm has transformed its offering to notable effect in recent years — diversifying its client base to move into such areas to automotive, travel, retail, technology and healthcare. Those efforts have been bolstered by the establishment of a social commerce and marketing innovation hub at its Shanghai office, alongside a creative studio in Singapore, which together underpin an offering that focuses on ‘cultural communications.’

DeVries remains well placed for this shift, thanks to its midsize footprint and focus on consumer marketing. The firm numbers 100 people in Asia-Pacific, with revenues up 11% in 2019 to to more than $13m, accounting for a third of its global revenue. There are 70 staffers in China (+10% in 2019), along with 15 in Taiwan (+8%) and 20 in Singapore (+14%). 

While DeVries’ US operation has suffered from the loss of P&G, the FMCG giant remains a key client in Asia, but there was also an impressive new business haul in 2019 — including Lamborghini, ABInBev, Roche, IHG, Tiger, Coca-Cola, Pokemon and Midea — joining a roster that features New Balance, Audi, Remy Cointreau, J&J, Hasbro and Zippo. Much of DeVries growth reflects its investment in data, search and social commerce experts under China lead Lydia Shen in Shanghai, along with creative, content and cultural insights talent under Southeast Asia lead Rafidah Rashid in Singapore, where the firm also launched a consumer incubator targeting Gen Z. In Taiwan, meanwhile, Vivian Liu oversees an offering with that focuses on social, digital and KOL management. 

And DeVries’ transformation is also borne out by the firm’s campaign work, which builds on its efforts to inculcate a more experimental mindset among its consultants. Notable efforts included successful initiatives for SK-II, Boxing Cat Beer, Olay and Acuvue. — AS


AKA Asia (Independent)

AKA Asia celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019, but showed little sign of slowing down. Indeed, under the leadership of founders and Kate O’Shea and Amy Wright, the consultancy has seen sustained growth in recent years, underlined by winning this category for the past two years, along with landing Best Agency to Work For honours in 2020. Neither is the firm resting on its laurels; AKA submitted a record-breaking year in 2019, growing revenue by 34% to reach S$7.3m, with headcount up 29% to 40 staffers. 

Luckily, AKA’s focus on growth has not outpaced its enviable employee culture. Amid this year's unique challenges, that has meant a renewed focus on listening, transparency and mentorship, along with increased flexibility and investment in training and development, particularly as it relates to creativity. In addition, it brought on added senior-level heft in the form of Julia Wei, who took on the newly-created role of managing partner after previously working at Lazada and TSLA. 

AKA’s portfolio spans several sectors, with a formidable brand communications practice bolstered by an in-house design and production team that has created everything cinema ads to website design to social content. That kind of creativity, across digital, social and traditional, helped the firm land 10 awards across four shows in 2019, with particularly successful work including Tiger Beer and Manulife. And AKA makes a virtue of generalism, bringing a creative mindset and applying its team members across different practice areas and sectors. 

All of which added up to another impressive new business haul, including Impossible Foods, GoBear, Shopee, Science Centre Singapore and JCB, which join a roster that features Jetstar, EDB, British Council, Manulife, Discovery Networks APAC, Nike, Deliveroo and Electrolux SEA. There were also new integrated assignments for Facebook, WhatsApp and NooTrees while, for the third consecutive year, AKA was awarded the entire scope (digital, PR and social) for the Singapore Science Festival. — AS

Forward (Australia/Independent)

Over the last year, Forward has seen its founding goal — challenging the perceptions of a traditional consumer PR agency — come to fruition, capping a three-year growth trajectory that has resulted in the firm today being a major player in multiple sectors, and in new parts of the world. Thanks to new business from companies in previously untapped sectors including automotive, internet services and health & wellness, Forward’s fee income rose an impressive 26% to US$2.4 million over the year. The Australian agency employs 15 people across its offices in Sydney and Melbourne as well as Auckland, where it launched in 2018 after establishing a joint venture with European food and beverage PR network Sopexa.

As an agency built on the idea of changing the art of PR, Forward remains true to the long-time hallmarks of the craft: authentic storytelling and using innovative ways to help clients reach consumers in ways that resonate, supported by robust measurement of results. To thwart turnover, Forward puts people at a premium, building and maintaining a culture designed to foster innovation, curiosity, support, integrity, respect, diversity, service and achievement. Founder and managing director Fergus Kibble has five mentees on both client and agency side and supports industry initiatives such as Legends and Leaders.

Forward grew its expertise and capabilities over the year with key hires including social media manager Lizi Oldham, video content producer Amanda Shaw and senior account director Lara Doundoulakis. New clients in new sectors include Genesis Motors, Bayer, Bumble and Metro Trains Sydney, as well as those in proven practice areas such as  Fonterra (Perfect Italiano), and Clorox. The firm retained all its core clients: Nestle (Nescafe, Maggi, Purina), Cereal Partners Worldwide (Uncle Tobys, Plus), Beiersdorf (Nivea, Nivea Men, Elastoplast), SunRice, Thermos, and Dry July Foundation. The year’s hallmark work included an influencer campaign boosting the launch of Starbucks Nespresso capsules in Australia and driving millennial support of the Dry July Foundation, which encourages people to raises money for people living with cancer while giving up alcohol for the month. — DM

Poem (Australia/Independent)

Launched five years ago by former Freuds and One Green Bean alumni Rob Lowe and Matt Holmes, Poem’s rise is hardly surprising, given its founding duo’s pedigree, the appeal of its hybrid creative/PR approach in Australia’s fiercely competitive consumer market. Lowe and Holmes set out to overcome big agency fatigue by building an agency that strived to “be more human”, creating campaigns that move people enough that they're willing to invest time, money and attention in one brand over another, through a mix of strategy, insight and creativity, using the 15-strong team’s expertise in publicity, social, content, influencer, events and paid media amplification.

While the agency name reflects Poem’s channel-agnostic offering across paid, owned and earned media, it is the firm’s focus on earned creative backed by insights that stands out, and which undoubtedly led to its continued, robust double-digit growth in 2019. The agency launched its Poem Studio creative and production offering – run by Katie Raleigh, who was promoted from content business director – to prevent a significant portion of content and production revenue going straight out of the building, which has helped it win new business. As the industry grows, it has also implemented cultural and training initiatives, which have helped to maintain a 100% staff retention record.

The firm kept the enviable Sony Playstation account for a third year, as well as Krispy Kreme, and one of the industry’s largest retainers, health supplement brand Blackmores. New clients included Vodafone and Pernod Ricard, Beats by Dre and Seedlip. Outstanding work included launching a range of plat-based products for The Alternative Meat Co – featuring Chris Hemsworth and catapulting the brand past its nearest competitor’s sales – and refreshing Blackmores’ 15-year sponsorship of the Sydney Running Festival. – MPS

Sinclair (Independent)

Kiri Sinclair founded the eponymous firm in 2009 to deliver integrated campaigns from its office in Hong Kong. Today, the firm has operations in Shanghai, Beijing and, as of last year, Singapore as well as its Hong Kong HQ, which operate as a unified business true to its core tenet — impacting business through storytelling — with the added benefit of local expertise and regional presence across Greater China and Southeast Asia. And Sinclair's 10th anniversary reflected the impressive progress that the firm has made, a continuation of the upward trajectory that has seen revenue rise nearly 30% and staff grow to 50 over the past two years.

Growth was fueled by new business from companies including Avo Insurance, BioRevive, Duolingo, Dream Cruises, FWD Insurance, K11 ARTUS, Longines Masters of Hong Kong, Moet Hennessy Diageo, Smile Direct Club and V&A Museum, which joined a roster of existing clients like Häagen-Dazs, ifc Mall, Plaza Premium Group, Pret a Manger the Singapore and Australia tourism organizations and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

All of which is a testament to Sinclair’s commitment to having in-depth knowledge of its clients and working to bring together digital, social, marketing and media to protect reputations and keep business flourishing amid challenges, which in 2019 mounted with the China-US trade war and Hong Kong protests. Sinclair proved its wherewithal under such circumstances through agility, adapting output to fast-changing conditions as well as its workplace, which shifted to a work-from-home model during the height of the Hong Kong unrest. Sinclair also pushed into new sectors, winning clients in new industries such as recruitment and banking and insurance; the firm kicked off the year with the launch of Sinclair Arts, an arts and culture team that has grown in revenue each month since.

Sinclair’s work last year included boosting the French beer Kronenbourg’s image among sophisticates, which included working with Michelin-starred restaurant Épure on a six-course pairing menu. When Covid-19 shut down schools in China, suspending English-language testing with it, the firm helped Duolingo maximize the business opportunity by promoting the learning platform’s own English test, efforts that led to 100% year-over-year growth in users. — DM