Greater China PR Consultancies of the Year 2020 | PRovoke Media
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2020 Greater China 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: FleishmanHillard (Omnicom PR Group)

FleishmanHillard’s global mission statement — ‘be bold, stay true’ — was born in China, reflecting the relevance its operations in the subregion have for its overall brand. As one of the first international PR firms to launch in China, FleishmanHillard continues to motor along in some style, with Greater China president Rachel Catanach supported by a leadership team that includes client service MD Lichi Hsueh, overseeing an offering that focuses on data-driven reputation and innovation across corporate reputation, brand marketing. public affairs, employee engagement, crisis and issues management. The firm’s combined Greater China headcount is 200 people across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Shenzhen, with revenues increasing 11% in 2019. 

Much of that was again led by Shanghai, which grew sharply by 30% in 2019 (and 87% over the past three years) and is up double-digits even amid this year’s pandemic. under the leadership of GM Yisi Liu. Shanghai’s expansion has seen it overtake the Beijing as the firm’s biggest China operation, which also reflects the growth in creative, digital and social capabilities that have powered this performance. A trio of senior figures in Shanghai — ECD Graham Fordyce,  SVP Daniel Koh and GM Helena He — oversees a pure digital team of 10 people, helping deliver significantly expanded capabilities in design, paid media, ecommerce and influencer management. In Beijing, meanwhile, new corporate affairs head Shijun Ma has helped to land such clients as FedEx, AIIB and Cisco, while Hong Kong benefits from its financial services focus under GM Patrick Yu, which has grown from 34% to 46% of the overall portfolio.

There was also notable expansion of Fleishman’s senior bench over the past 18 months in Greater China. In addition to Shijun Ma, the firm brought on Bruce Wilson and Christina Lai as corporate SVPs in Hong Kong, while also expanding the Shanghai digital team, helping it to land increasing data-driven work from WeChat, for example. Indeed, the firm’s campaign work reflects its increasingly sophisticated digital capabilities. This includes eye-catching efforts for AIA, Nike, Pernod Ricard and TDAmeritrade. And mention should also be made of FleishmanHillard’s thought leadership profile. The firm regularly delivers the best China-focused sessions at the Cannes Lions festival, and has also developed a local version of its in-depth Authenticity Gap research, alongside specific studies into public affairs, AI and technology trends. — AS

Finalists

BCW (WPP)

The merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe has not been without issues, but in Greater China the whole appears to exceed the sum of the parts, given the complementary nature of the agencies. Burson has brought corporate and public affairs heft, particularly in Beijing, allied to Cohn & Wolfe’s consumer and digital capabilities in Shanghai. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the merged entity benefits from an industry-leading focus on technology, which has helped it land a number of major assignments that reflect the technology focus of the Greater Bay Area.

Indeed, Greater China now serves as the engine for BCW’s regional growth, accounting from 50% of revenue, and numbering almost 500 people across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Shenzhen. And Hong Kong was 30% up, with 100 people in the office focused on Chinese tech companies with global operations — including the likes of Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo, Vivo, Aliexpress, Skyworth, Ping An, ByteDance, H3C, DJI and Tencent — accounting for 70% of the operation’s fee income. 

The firm’s leadership team features China CEO Qu Hong in Beijing, Jeffrey Yu in Shanghai and Veeco Tang in Shenzhen, while regional president Matt Stafford also oversees Hong Kong. The firm’s mainland China operations grew 18% in 2019 and are also up 9% in 2020, despite the adverse economic climate, reflecting BCW’s impressive growth story in the subregion. In addition, the firm also houses much of its regional leadership in Greater China, including ECD Rick Kwan, digital/innovation head Joe Peng and integrated comms lead Polka Yu. Of note, the firm’s digital practice has more than doubled since the 2018 merger, while campaign highlights include efforts for Lenzing, Huawei and Popeye’s Chicken. — AS


Ogilvy
 (WPP)

With fee income estimated at more than $80m, Ogilvy’s PR and influence division retains its place as the largest international PR firm in China, a position it has held with distinction for many years. The firm’s regional CEO Scott Kronick, of course, made his name in the market, and is usually based in Beijing, surrounded by a handpicked leadership team that has, for the most part, stayed in place for more than a decade. The firm’s PR leaders continue to ascend to broader group management roles, evidenced most notably by Selina Teng in Beijing and Frangelica Liang in Guangzhou, while Joe Yu has taken on the PR leadership remit in China. 

So while Ogilvy dispenses with its agency brand architecture, the PR ‘domain’ continues to punch above its weight in Greater China, with more than 650 staffers across offices in Hong Kong, Taipei, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing, accounting for a little more than half of the network’s total Asia-Pacific headcount and revenue. And its expertise, particularly across social but also encompassing public affairs and crisis management, remains second to none — evidenced not only by the IBM AI Vision unit in Beijing, but by an impressive ability to provide issues-driven counsel to such names as Huawei, Tencent and HSBC.

New business over the past year included the Abu Dhabi Government Media Office, Universal Beijing Resorts, Vivo, Tencent, Huawei, Intel and Ubras, who join an existing client roster that features Nestle, Shiseido, Unilever, Amazon, Dell, Yum and HSBC. The firm’s reputation with large local players and outbound-focused government entities remains in strong shape, typified by support for the Xian Government’s efforts to promote itself as an international investment destination, and for a range of high-level economic and political events across China. 

But it is not just the agency’s scale that impresses in China. The work continues to demonstrate the kind of ‘next chapter’ thinking that has been in place for several years now, thanks to a strong creative contingent and one of the strongest digital units in the market. That much was reflected by such eye-catching campaigns as coordinating Huawei’s ‘reputation defence’ via its proprietary influencer management technology. — AS 


Ruder Finn
(Independent)

Ruder Finn’s regional revenues were up 3% in 2019 to $39m, with China again serving as the firm’s standout operation, accounting for 87% of its revenue and growing around 7% to $34m. The firm boasts more than 400 people across offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, and its Greater China presence has expanded at a double-digit clip for most of the past decade under Asia-Pacific CEO Elan Shou, who is based in Shanghai.  

In Greater China, there is considerable strength across automotive and luxury, along with fast-growing capabilities in travel & tourism, beauty and digital, with the latter now accounting for more than 40% of Ruder Finn’s China revenue, up from around 25% in 2017. The agency’s China client base favours these sectors, including such names as Moet Hennessy Diageo, Estee Lauder, HSBC, Ikea, Marriott International, Shanghai Disney Resort, Singapore Tourism Board, Audi, Tencent and Visa. And, in keeping with the content to commerce revolution sweeping the market, much of the work is integrated, particularly for a booming lifestyle division that included new assignments for Twitter, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, along with consolidating all of Marriott’s digital work. 

The firm’s digital operations, which include the RFI hub in Hong Kong, 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. 

In addition to Shou, key leaders included luxury head Gao Ming, RFI Asia MD David Ko and global head of risk Charles Lankester. Unsurprisingly, the best of the firm’s work blends consulting with integrated marketing strength, including executive skills coaching, Asia-led global marketing campaigns, a fast-growing research arm and a product suite that includes crisis simulation, litigation comms and ecommerce development. — AS


Weber Shandwick
 (Interpublic Group)

Greater China remains a critical driver of Weber Shandwick’s regional presence, accounting for around half of its regional revenues. More than a third comes from mainland China, where the firm was effectively flat in 2019, with more than 400 people across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong, overseen by chairman David Liu and CEO Lydia Lee. After establishing itself as a global innovation centre for Weber Shandwick in recent years, Lee has worked to reimagine the firm’s offering since taking charge in 2018 — via a ‘Constellation’ internal model that aims to break down silos and drive a more agile response to complex client problems. That approach is supported by such tools as C3X (content to commerce) and Kloud+ (influencer management), part of the firm’s strong data intelligence platform which was accelerated by the 2017 acquisition of data consultancy Bomoda. 

Last year, the firm also brought on Megan Zaroda to lead its Shenzhen operations, specifically focusing on taking Chinese brands global. That has paid with Chinese client growth, most notably Oppo, which has become one of the firm’s top global clients in just nine months, along with new assignments from DeRucci, FuChuang JNBY, Kaluga Queen and MiniSo. Other new business includes Bicester Village, Bioderma, Blacksea Exporters Associations, Bridgestone, Infor, Messika, Micron and Pernod Ricard — joining a client roster that features Aldi, Amorepacific, Ericsson, GM, IBM, Mastercard, Mercedes, Nestle, Nike, Roca and Swatch. 

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the firm remains the largest international PR firm under the leadership of Albert Shu, relying in large part on its key healthcare practice to help it navigate a very difficult business environment over the past two years. Weber Shandwick’s Hong Kong healthcare business grew in the double-digits, while there was new business from ExxonMobil, HKU Medical School, Ikea, University Grants Committee and Walton — alongside an existing client list that features Amgen, Hong Kong Jockey Club, HSBC, Pfizer, Samsung, Tencent, the University of Chicago and Wynn Resorts.  

And while Weber Shandwick’s expansion into data and social commerce is impressive, the firm’s elevated creative capabilities give it a distinct edge against many rivals, evidenced in particular by work for Oppo and the HKU Medical School.  — AS