Corporate/Financial PR Consultancies of the Year 2020 | PRovoke Media
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2020 Corporate/Financial 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: Honner (Australia/Independent)

A veteran of UK corporate specialist Fishburn and Australian institutional investment journal Super Review, and of the banking sector in both the UK and Australia, Philippa Honner launched her consultancy in 1997 and has built it into Australia’s leading financial services specialists, working with companies from fintech start-ups to listed investment firms and major funds, combining deep sector expertise with strong media and stakeholder relationships. Today, Honner is a $4.5 million (AUS) firm that grew by an impressive 12% last year and was recognized as Asia Pacific Public Relations Agency of the Year at the Rainmaker MAX Awards and as the PR Institute of Australia’s Medium Agency of the Year.

Honner manages about 50 retainer and project clients including two of Australia’s “big-four” high street banks (National Australia Bank and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia), Tasmania-based MyState Bank, leading superannuation fund UniSuper, the world’s largest listed hedge fund Man Group, activist investor Elliott Management, and leading global fund managers such as Franklin Templeton, Janus Henderson and AXA Investment Managers. A major win last year was Australia’s top professional body for financial advisers, the Financial Planning Association, while additional new business came from global investment firm Russell Investments, leading Australian fund manager Perennial Investment Management, listed financial advice firm Centrepoint Alliance, commercial lending fintech Moneytech, and global asset servicing firm BNP Paribas.

The biggest challenge was advising Australia’s financial services sector through significant transformation, with a number of enquiries into conduct and practices leading to extensive regulatory change. Honner helped clients respond with both reputation management work and policy input. For Momentum Intelligence, for example, the firm released a borrower survey of 6,000 consumers, providing independent insight into consumer sentiment towards mortgage brokers and raising awareness among policymakers ahead of a Royal Commission Report, while for CreditSmart Honner worked to educate consumers about their credit health and credit report changes.

The second biggest challenge, as ever, was talent, and there too Honner is in a strong position, having been named one of the region’s five best midsize agencies to work for last year.

Finalists

APCO Worldwide (Independent)

APCO’s Asia-Pacific presence includes operations across Greater China, India and Southeast Asia, bringing its typically sophisticated corporate and public affairs expertise to a range of clients in ‘issues-rich’ environments. There are 50 employees led by industry veteran James MacGregor in Greater China, where the firm has operated since 1989, but it is in Southeast Asia where the firm has seen a specific turnaround under the leadership of James Yi, who joined from GlobalHealthPR in 2018 after previously leading Burson-Marsteller in Korea. Since Yi’s arrival, APCO’s Southeast Asian revenue has increased by 42%, with 28 people in Singapore supplemented by a further six across Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta and Manila.

The firm’s Southeast Asian revenue is evenly split between corporate, public affairs and government relations, but there has been specific growth in the healthcare sector, which accounts for the bulk of assignments alongside trade associations, FMCG and technology, particularly biotech.  Accordingly, new business over the past 12 months included the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Emirates Airlines, SP Group, I-Mab, Hummingbird, Microchip, GE Steam Power, Grab and Adani Group — joining a client roster that also features Gilead, Mars, Microsoft, PTTEP, Rockefeller Foundation, World Bank, AdvaMed, Expedia, ASTM and Lockheed Martin.

Yi has also transformed the leadership team, bringing in healthcare lead Stephanie Tan, policy specialist JJ Lee as chief client officer and Rasheed Abu Bakar as technology director. And while healthcare has become a critical focus for the firm, the work in general reflects APCO’s deep expertise in helping clients navigate a world of rising geopolitical tensions. For China’s I-Mab, for example, APCO handles a range of global duties that include intelligence monitoring, business counsel, digital media and executive leadership support. For the RSPO, APCO serves as lead global agency for a nonprofit that is backed by some of the world’s biggest companies. And for Grab, APCO provides public affairs, policy communications and intelligence counsel for one of the region’s biggest unicorns. 

There is also notable work for Gilead (the Rainbow Grant program that focuses on people living with HIV) and PTTEP Indonesia, which builds collaborations between NGOs and local government to help the country achieve sustainable development goals. — AS

Cannings Purple (Australia/WPP)

Last year’s Corporate and Financial Consultancy of the Year, WPP-owned Cannings Purple has enjoyed sustained growth in recent years, and the 40-person firm is now established as one of the country’s largest corporate consultancies. Focusing largely on investor relations and public affairs in Western Australia from its Perth headquarters, the firm added a Brisbane office two years ago, underscoring its expansionary ambitions by developing multiple new service offerings including a new content hub, adding a chief innovation officer and overhauling its data insights and community engagement teams. 

The firm remains by chaired by experienced Australian businessman Keith Jones, a former chairman of Deloitte Australia, while managing Director Warrick Hazeldine was a co-founder and Annette Ellis is into her 12th year with the company and third as CEO. Among the senior additions last year are Jenn Morris, a former partner at Deloitte who joined as national director strategy and Brianna Kent, the firm’s first-ever people and culture manager, who will continue to build on the firm’s family-focused and flexible work practices.

While financial communications and government affairs remain the core strengths, the firm has continued to innovate, adding a stakeholder engagement team, with special skills in Indigenous engagement, reflecting the growing importance of the social license to operate. Cannings Purple also grew its media intelligence and content creation capabilities, and established a digital team to focus on website design and maintenance. New business came from Future Batteries Institute, Baker Tilly International, Magmatic Resources, Newcrest Mining, Adelaide Brighton, and Serco Asia Pacific, while the firm continues it work with DevelopmentWA (formerly LandCorp), Rio Tinto, Noongar Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Northern Minerals, and the Committee for Economic Development Australia—all contributing to healthy 10% growth last year. — PH

Redhill (Independent)

While many new firms measure themselves against bigger, more established players, Redhill CEO Jacob Puthenparambil likes to use a different template to explain the rapid growth that has characterised his firm since it launched in 2014. Namely, the Jesuit Order, which created a multinational organisation for 500 years — and is now a surprising source of inspiration for business schools. Redhill may not quite inspire the same religious fervour among its clients, but its focus on creating a shared mission for its entrepreneurial expansion that has seen it develop a network of 55  professionals across offices throughout Asia as well as the US and Europe.

Redhill’s business surged last year, registering fee income of $3.4 million — up from $2.9 million  in 2018. Despite the painful exit of co-founder and partner Surekha Yadav due to illness, the firm rallied, adding offices in Australia, Japan and the US to its existing operations in Singapore, Yangon, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Kuala Lumpur, Colombo, Jakarta, Tokyo, Hong Kong, New Delhi, San Francisco, Berlin and London. All of which reflects the tenet around which Redhill was created — that brand communications should be generated by local teams who understand their markets best. 97% of the company’s 55-person team is below the age of 30, a young team encouraged to experiment with new PR strategies and tactics to stay ahead of the curve.

Before launching Redhill in 2014, Puthenparambil had held communications positions with Government of India’s Ministry for External Affairs, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller in the Middle East, and the UN’s MUrgency global response network in San Francisco. Yadav, meanwhile, brought a background that spans software development and finance. Their expertise, compounded with those of key including deputy managing directors Marienelle Castelino and Pranav Rastogi, have made Redhill a leader in the venture capital industry with seven of the largest funds and investment firms as retained clients. The firm’s roster is also populated by high-profile clients such as the airline Emirates, Nokia, Idemia, Carro, Cisco, East Ventures, Jungle Ventures, SoCash, Vickers Venture Partners and Builder.ai. — AS/DM 

SenateSHJ (Independent)

SenateSHJ, founded in 2002, has become one of Australasia's largest consultancies and, through its membership of the PROI network, also services clients worldwide, including an increasing amount of healthcare work across Asia-Pacific. The firm bills itself as working on “projects that matter for organisations we respect” and its expertise in complex, high-end strategic communication services such as reputation management, crisis and issues, change communications, ethical healthcare, digital services and social, public affairs and social marketing helps it stand apart from others in the New Zealand and Australian markets.

Talent has long been a key differentiator for SenateSHJ—its founders were veterans of the well-respected Porter Novelli partner Turnbull—with founding partner Neil Green supported newly-appointed group managing director Brendon O'Conner, previously a director at PwC Consulting in New Zealand; managing partners in Melbourne and Wellington; and eight additional partners. The firm also earned a place on our Best Consultancies to Work For list last year, an indication of its ability to attract, retain, and develop a new generation of talent.

Revenue was essentially flat in 2019, at around $8.5 million (US), as was headcount, at slightly more than 50. The firm maintains its leadership position in the healthcare sector, and as a change management and reputational risk consultancy, while its digital operation, Kamber & Kamber Video, has been expanding. The firm continues working with major clients such as Transdev, Centreport, Bluescope, the Department of Education & Training, Bayer, Janssen, Fuji Xerox, and Campus Living Villages, while new business came from a mix of governmental and private sector clients, many of them confidential in nature. Highlights ranged from communications support for the acquisition of Vodafone NZ by Infratil and Brookfield and sale of Westland Milk Products to Yili, as well as pro bono work for the Missing Persons Advocacy Network in Australia.

— PH