India PR Consultancies of the Year 2020 | PRovoke Media
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2020 India 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: Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)

Under CEO Valerie Pinto, Weber Shandwick has transformed its Indian operation to an impressive extent, moving from a traditional PR player towards a highly creative, integrated powerhouse that is responsible for some of the country’s most memorable campaigns. That has included the highly successful Daughters of Mother India initiative in conjunction with Vibha Bakshi, which was followed last year by Son Rise, another documentary that addresses the crucial issue of gender equality. 

Last year, meanwhile, Pinto was joined by Nikhil Dey, who added considerable senior-level heft as the firm’s new vice chair. The firm also added notable hires to lead its creative, social impact, data analytics and media strategy functions — reflecting the growth mode that delivered double-digit expansion not only in 2019, but also to date in 2020 despite the difficult economic environment. That was further exemplified by the firm’s work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, collaborating with youth rappers from Dharavi to build a movement championing social distancing in the country. 

In addition to the Gates Foundation, new business also included Tata Trusts, Discovery Communications, LinkedIn, the Dell Foundation, Microsoft, National Skill Development Corp, Omidyar Network, Oyo, Sabic, Snap Group and Tata Steel, joining an existing client roster that features Abbott, Amazon, Ericsson, Hero Motor, IBM, Merck for Mothers, Pernod Ricard, Toyota, Twitter and Vedanta. Recent years have also seen an uptick in the kind of network-friendly metrics that make India a favoured market among Weber Shandwick’s global leadership — including revenue per client, business from the agency’s top 20, digital assignments and integrated briefs. — AS 


Finalists

Adfactors (Independent)

Long regarded as the best corporate and financial specialist in the market, Adfactors has diversified its offering to a significant extent in recent years, helping it to net no fewer than 32 SABRE nominations last year, a remarkable tally when you consider the firm is focused on one (albeit significant) Asian market. But such is the depth of its offering, and the breadth of its thinking across numerous industry sectors—from financial services, where it has an established reputation, to emerging technologies, a new focus this year—that Adfactors has clearly established itself as one of Asia’s most creative consultancies.   

All of which helps to underpin the firm’s consistent growth, up 5% in 2019 to $35 million, enough to hold on to its place among the world’s 70 largest PR firms. There was new business from the likes of TVS Group, Sun Pharma, KKR, Raymond, Aditya Birla Capital Group, Johnson & Johnson, Helo, Huawei Telecommunications, NTPC, and the International Copper Association India, while the firm continues working for some of the biggest names in India: Tata Group, Mahindra Group, Godrej Group, Hinduja Group, Apollo Hospitals, ACC Ambuja, State Bank of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange, Citibank, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, and Larsen & Toubro.

Highlights of the client work over the past year range from the “Wake up to freshness” campaign for Godrej Cinthol Lime, using colorful designs on taxi cab exteriors to generate social media base and help the brand grow its market share—and expand into new markets—to a campaign for insurance company ICICI Lombard that reached out to women pilgrims ahead of Maha Kumbh at Prayagraj and introduced them to a simple healthcare solution for rheumatism and coronary diseases. But the Adfactors story is not just one of exceptional growth and surprising creativity—the firm is one of the best managed in Asia, with a particular focus on a formal professional development process that has been a key factor in helping it stay ahead of a whole host of trends, from digital and social media growth to the importance of purpose. — PH


Avian WE
(WE)

After rising to become one of India’s top PR consultancies over the past 13 years, few were surprised to see Avian Media snapped up by WE Communications in early 2018 following a lengthy courtship. Any agency acquisition carries significant risk, but this one appears to be more considered than most, with the the zeal of owners Nikhil Khanna and Nitin Mantri instantly turning WE into a far more credible South Asian force, at the same time giving Avian the kind of global network it has long craved.

With Avian WE landing India Consultancy of the Year honours in 2019, it appears that the acquisition is already bringing benefits to a leadership team that also includes co-founder Manash Neog, client servicing head Neha Mehrotra and EVP Girish Huria. Revenues were up 20% in 2019 to $7.4m, delivered by 260 employees across the Avian and Chase (public affairs) brands. In line with WE’s key growth priorities, the firm’s new pharma practice continues to advance, while its social impact division has developed a string of laudable campaigns that effectively align purpose, public policy and stakeholder engagement. And its market-leading digital division continues to expand its offering.  

Avian’s new business engine remains in strong shape, with significant new business from Stripe, Avon, ByteDance, EBay, Danone, Dolby and Honda, while the global Intel win helped explain the exit of Qualcomm. Key existing clients include Samsung, J&J, Deloitte, Intuit, Mastercard, Amazon, Fortis, VMware and Reckitt Benckiser. 

And like all of the best PR firms, Avian’s growth has been driven by a unique culture, which starts with Khanna and Mantri’s focus on values and deliverables — the firm has worked hard to cultivate a workplace that is collaborative, entrepreneurial and creative, bolstered by its SEED year-long induction programme, and by a very active thought leadership programme.  Mantri, meanwhile, is a tireless presence on the industry scene, helping to elevate the profile of public relations in India and beyond. 

Unsurprisingly, the campaign work continues to impress, with campaigns for FIND, Avon and VMware all delivering successful returns for the relevant clients. — AS

BCW (WPP)

While many Asian markets benefited from complementary Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe capabilities following their high-profile merger, India was always going to be the toughest nut to crack, thanks to the presence of two leading (and highly competitive) players in Genesis BCW and 6 Degrees BCW. Genesis, of course, is an Indian heavyweight that remains the benchmark for international PR firms in the country, while the tech-focused prowess of 6 Degrees offers a useful roadmap for anyone looking to chart the progress of challenger agency brands.

Accordingly, it took the two firms until the start of 2020 to integrate as BCW India, although in practice the two firms still retain a degree of separation. Genesis founder Prema Sagar moved into the role of non-executive chairperson, while Deepshikha Dharmaraj became CEO of Genesis BCW. Six Degrees founder Zach James was named chief strategy officer of BCW Asia-Pacific and executive sponsor of BCW India, while co-founder and co-CEO Rishi Seth became CEO of Six Degrees BCW. Longterm Genesis leader Nikhil Dey exited for Weber Shandwick. 

With Genesis serving as the bigger player, by some distance, the firm’s combined operations number 460 people, while fee income grew by an overall 2.5% in 2019. Genesis, notably, saw specific growth from Maruti Suzuki (after parting ways with Ford), MasterCard and Huawei, along with new business from Hotstar, Western Digital, Canon, Logitech and Ebay, joining a client roster that features ZeeTV, Diageo, Star, Uber, L’Oreal, Interglobe, Oppo, HP and Nasscom. Six Degrees, meanwhile, benefited from expansion beyond its technology comfort zone, bringing in such clients as American Express, Unilever and TetraPak. 

In addition, BCW has also turned Genesis’ successful digital ‘Hub’ into a regional offering that houses creative, digital and analytics — for such clients as Lenzing, Friso, LVMH, Plus.ai, Philip Morris and Walgreen Boots. The firm’s training approach remains one of the sharpest in the market, and the campaign work — particularly from Genesis — remains in strong shape, illustrated by initiatives for Gillette, Indigo and NBA. — AS


MSL India
(Publicis Groupe)

Despite the lower profile adopted by MSL in Asia, the firm’s Indian operation continues to go from strength to strength, recording a fifth consecutive year of double-digit growth in 2019. CEO Amit Misra oversees one of the country’s biggest PR operations, numbering more than 450+ people across eight offices. delivering revenue in excess of $15m. Coupled with impressive profitability and strong campaign work, MSL India now looks like an operation that is firing on all cylinders, a far cry from the situation when Misra inherited the MSL, 20:20 and PCA brands. There is particular strength across digital (+20%), public affairs (+28%) and integrated solutions, which accounted for 70% of 75+ new client wins in 2019. 

Indeed, integration and diversity have been prioritised when it comes to the firm’s business. In terms of clients, this has meant increasing investment in data-led, integrated planning, helping it land new assignments from Amazon (corporate), Audible, Adobe, WeWork, Empire State Building, Mayo Clinic, Royal Enfield, VietJet, Almond Board of California, KIA Motors, Tourism Australia, JCB, and McDonalds (North, East). That haul joins an existing client roster that features the Gates Foundation, Coca-Cola, Ola, Dell, Netflix, Mondelez, Marico, Panasonic, AbinBev, Facebook, Honor, JCA and Lixil. 

MSL’s transformation also involves a more integrated entity, embracing a structured strategic planning approach that involves horizontal specialists in video, content, social voice and data. Of note, the digital team now includes more than 77 people across three hub offices, with expertise in digital planning, graphic design, multimedia content and coding, supported by the MSL Fluency influencer management platform. The firm’s progressive mindset also involves considerable investment in professional development, training and national mobility — along with a specific focus on mental wellness and physical fitness. In addition, the firm has also sought to elevate its thought leadership, via new research into social activism and career planning, along with industry partnerships and specific Covid-19 initiatives. 

The diversity of MSL’s talent pool further reflects this approach. Viju George oversees 20:20 and PCA, while other key leaders include Parveez Modak, Schubert Fernandes, Tushar Bajaj and Vaishnavi Murali. The work, exemplified by a string of SABRE Awards in recent years also reinforces MSL’s transformation — highlighted by recent efforts such as Vicks’ One in a Million, Olay’s #FaceAnything and Breezer’s Live Life in Colour. — AS