Large Regional PR Consultancies of the Year 2020 | PRovoke Media
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2020 Regional PR Consultancies of the Year (Large)

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:

Finalists

BCW (WPP)

The reverse takeover of Burson-Marsteller by Cohn & Wolfe has not been without challenges in Asia-Pacific. Yet, for the most part, the complementary nature of the two operations has ensured a rather more productive union that some might have anticipated. Under the continued leadership of Asia-Pacific president Matt Stafford, BCW submitted its best annual performance since Burson’s Bill Rylance era, growing revenue by 13% to almost $100m, fuelled by the firm’s Greater China operation, which accounts for around half of its regional fee income. All told, there are 1,150 people across the region, including almost 500 in Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong) and another 460 in India, across the Genesis and Six Degrees brands — along with smaller operations in Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia), Australia and Japan. 

Greater China serves as the engine for BCW’s regional growth, with Burson bringing 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. 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, Alibaba, Skyworth, Ping An, ByteDance, H3C, DJI and Tencent — accounting for 70% of the operation’s fee income. The firm’s mainland China operations grew 18% in 2019 and are also up 9% in 2020, despite the adverse economic climate. In addition to Stafford and market leader Qu Hong,  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. 

India was always going to be the toughest nut for the BCW merger to crack, thanks to the presence of two leading (and highly competitive) players in Genesis BCW and 6 Degrees BCW. It took the two firms until the start of 2020 to integrate as BCW India, although in practice they 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. 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. 

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. That is part of an overhauled digital practice that has grown by some 150% since 2018, underpinned by an innovation offering that spans artificial intelligence, data analysis, and digital content for a range of clients across the region. The campaign work reflects this transformation, with standout campaigns fro Huawei, Alibaba, Lenzing, LinkedIn, Gillette, NBA and Popeyes. And Stafford has paid particular attention to the firm’s workplace culture and policies, significantly reducing attrition and improving employee satisfaction.  — AS


FleishmanHillard
 (Omnicom PR Group)

FleishmanHillard celebrated its 25th anniversary in Asia-Pacific last year, now encompassing 17 owned offices across the region after launching in Beijing in 1994. Today, the firm’s presence includes two additional brands (BlueCurrent and Vox) across Japan, Greater China, Korea, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Australia — under the long-term leadership of regional president Lynne Anne Davis, who also added Asia-Pacific leadership duties for parent entity Omnicom PR Group (OPRG) in 2019. And 2019 saw a welcome return to growth for the Omnicom PR network, with revenues up 3.6% — a performance that is bolstered by further growth in 2020 despite the ongoing crisis. 

Significantly, Davis oversees a leadership team that features local nationals overseeing almost all of its offices, and also reflects an equal male/female split among not only its top 20 leaders, but its senior partners and SVPs too. Other long-term leaders include Japan president Shin Tanaka, Greater China head Rachel Catanach, India president Yusuf Hatia, Korea chief Yvonne Park, Vox Japan president Nojiri Akihiro, and Hong Kong GM Patrick Yu, Shanghai GM Yisi Liu, and Beijing GM Judy Wei have all been in place for longer than 12 years, while global crisis chair Brian West has held his role since 2012. There were several senior hires over the past year, including Winnie Leung, who returned as Asia-Pacific chief of staff and partner, Shijun Ma as SVP and head of corporate affairs in China, Jessica Lee as stakeholder engagement SVP in Seoul, Aries Nugruho as Jakarta Gm and Yosuke Tanno to lead BlueCurrent Japan.

Fleishman’s Asia-Pacific presence has always been weighted towards Greater China and North Asia, which together account for more than 330 people. And Greater China remains a key growth engine — there are 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. Shanghai’s expansion has seen it overtake Beijing as the firm’s biggest China operation, which also reflects the growth in creative, digital and social capabilities that have powered this performance.

Other key growth markets included Korea (up 10% thanks to Park’s focus on stakeholder engagement), Tokyo (+3% and still the firm’s largest single market by revenue), Philippines (+38%) and Thailand (+5%).  87% of growth came from an existing client roster that features Bose, Corning, Japan Office of the Prime Minister, J&J, Norwegian Seafood Council, Philips, P&G, Reckitt Benckiser, Samsung and Swatch Group — a top 10 list that on average retained six Fleishman offices in 2019. That network strength and cohesion helped underpin a string of new business wins, including Swiss Re (HK, Singapore, China, India, Sydney), Google (Japan), Olympus (Japan, HK), US Soybean Council (India, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea), Grab (Thailand, Singapore, HK), Pertamina (Indonesia), CNN (HK, Japan, Korea, Philippines), Allianz (HK, Singapore, China, Australia, India, Taiwan), Haitong (HK), TD Ameritrade (HK), Refinitiv (HK, Singapore, Taiwan, China, US) and FedEx (China).

Sector growth is being led by Fleishman’s digital capabilities, particularly notable in its China work for such clients as AIA, Nike, Pernod Ricard and TDAmeritrade, and work for such clients as Aflac, Ajinomoto, Kao, NTT Solmare, Riceforce and Built Heritage. But mention should also be made of Fleishman’s corporate strength and thought leadership capabilities, which have come to the fore during Covid-19, driving significant expansion of public affairs, healthcare and technology.  — AS


H+K Strategies
 (WPP)

After yet another restructuring, H+K Strategies has emerged from a relatively quiet period in Asia that included the departure of longtime leader Viv Lines. The WPP firm now splits its regional operations into three segments — HS Chung oversees an Asia cluster that includes Southeast Asia and her native Korea, QC Liang leads Greater China, while India is part of the MENA region that is led by EMEA chief Bashir AlKadhi. And while the structure might hark back to a previous iteration of H+K’s model, there is plenty to suggest that the firm is focused firmly on the future as new global CEO AnnaMaria DeSalva attempts to kickstart growth in a region that it once dominated. 

The 2019 elevation of Chung has brought significant energy to that endeavour, following the growth of her Synergy operation in Korea towards the 100-person mark. Liang oversees 200 in Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen), while there are 60 in Thailand under Kanpirom, 40 in India (led by Abishek Gulyani), 35 in Malaysia (where the firm merged with local outfit Lumos under Justin Then), 30 in Singapore (overseen by new MD Matthew Briant) and 15 in Australia (under Mandy Galmes). Taking into account a new office in Jakarta this year, that adds up to 425 people for H+K across the region. 

The firm’s growth has been led by Korea, Thailand and Malaysia — each of which submitted double-digit expansion last year — thanks to a new business haul that included Huawei, Honor, Tencent, Netflix, Spotify, LG, Unilever, Nestle and Salesforce. They join a roster that features LG, Ford, Huawei, Li-Ning, Han Sung Motor, SK, Schneider Electric, Microsoft, HSBC and Ping An — reflecting H+K’s breadth across FMCG, energy/industrial, financial services, government/public sector and technology, which is supplemented by depth in such areas as creative strategy, data/analytics, M&A consulting, behavioural science, purpose and issues/crisis. 

Indeed, the firm has benefited from the adoption of many of the tools that have made its EMEA operation so successful, particularly in such areas as creativity, content/publishing, purpose and digital planning. There are creative hubs in Shanghai and Singapore (supplemented by a data and digital studio), financial depth in Hong Kong, C-suite counsel in Australia and increased investment in purpose and CSR across the region, including a new hire to lead the latter practice in Singapore. All of which is reflected in the quality of the campaign work, which includes global influencer marketing for LG, supporting Asia’s largest M&A deal, promoting the Rugby World Cup in India, launching LG’s PuriCare, helping introduce Marriott Bonvoy at Seoul Fashion Week and Shell Rimula’s ‘Real Hero’ campaign in Bangkok. The restructuring has also seen a considerable elevation of H+K’s professional development efforts, which include training programmes, inclusion and bias training, scholarships, virtual mentoring and more. — AS 


Ogilvy
(WPP)

The PR suffix might be gone (to the chagrin of some of the firm’s senior leaders) but Ogilvy continues to serve as the benchmark by which other regional public relations networks are measured in Asia-Pacific, with estimated fee income at around $190m following another year of upper single-digit growth (+8%) last year. Coming from Ogilvy’s base, those numbers they deserve even greater respect — the WPP agency’s Asia-Pacific revenue overtook its US earnings some years ago and its ‘PR & influence’ domain, as we must now call it, functions as the largest profit contributor to Ogilvy group in many markets. Indeed, while Ogilvy’s ‘refounding’ makes much of breaking down barriers between silos, it is easy to view Asia-Pacific as the template for this thinking, given the number of Ogilvy PR executives that now lead the broader group in such markets as Beijing (Selina Teng), Guangzhou (Frangelica Liang), and Vietnam (Dieucam Nguyen).

Veteran leader Scott Kronick oversees a largely stable senior team. Ogilvy’s PR unit now has more than 1,000 staff working across 26 offices in 15 countries, giving it the largest regional footprint of the MNC firms, led by particular strength in Greater China, Australia, Japan, the Philippines and Southeast Asia. There has been particular attention paid to Ogilvy PR’s integrated offering, which includes a formidable digital and social media practice (numbering 400 executives and up 12.5% last year as the group’s best-performing unit), along with strategic depth in such areas as public sector and public affairs, technology, consumer marketing and financial communications. It is worth noting that, after 35 years in the region, Ogilvy’s PR operation continues to either be the largest, or within the top three, in a slew of markets, including China, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Growth was fuelled by Ogilvy’s social practice, fuelled by continued innovation in such areas as IRM, social commerce and dynamic content. Meanwhile, the firm also refined its focus on ‘making brands matter’, building on its ability to provide a range of services to companies that are facing dramatic political, economic and social challenges. For example, Ogilvy advises a range of clients on diversity and inclusion (CrossFit, L’Oreal, Beijing 2022), security/privacy (Facebook), economic nationalism (Renault), geopolitical tensions (HSBC, Huawei), AI/jobs (Amazon) and sustainability (Nestle). That thinking also helped underpin a new business haul that included the UNHCR, Viu, Abu Dhabi Government Media Office, Vivo, Universal Beijing Resort, AIA, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Tencent, the National Gallery Singapore, and AIA. They join a roster that already features such names as Huawei, KFC, Pizza Hut, Nestle, Shiseido, Tencent, Unilever, Dell, OCBC Bank, HSBC and Mondelez. 

 And, as usual, the work remains impressive, including the latest phase of the powerful DNA/Save the Evidence initiative to support rape victims in India; global reputation defence work for Huawei; ‘Mazu on Holiday’ for Hotel Royal Chiaohsi;  Kotex’s Limited Edition Batik; Wyeth Illuma’s Voice Doodler; and, Volkswagen’s IQ Drive campaign — AS


Weber Shandwick
(Interpublic Group)

A new era is underway at Weber Shandwick under the leadership of global CEO Gail Heimann, but the firm’s Asia-Pacific operations continue to benefit from the stability and steady focus that helped it land Asia-Pacific Consultancy of the Year honours in 2019, capping off a decade of impressive progress. While revenue last year was effectively flat at $120m, Weber Shandwick’s cohesive regional strategy under CEO Baxter Jolly means that the whole often adds up to more than the sum of its parts, thanks to considerable geographic breadth and specialist depth. Admittedly, there were some notable departures in 2020 (chairman Tim Sutton, vice-chair Darren Burns, chief strategy officer Ian Rumsby, ECD Ali Grayeli), but Jolly can still call on a leadership team that is more settled than most — featuring vice-chair and North Asia MD Tyler Kim in Korea, client experience chair Vanessa Ho Nikolovski and corporate head Carolyn Devanayagam in Singapore; and China president Lydia Lee in Shanghai. 

The firm’s local market leadership, overseeing some 900 people across 10 markets, is similarly stable and also reflects Weber’s preference for homegrown leaders, including David Liu in China, Albert Shu in Hong Kong, Valerie Pinto in India, and Takeo Nishitani in Japan. There were significant new appointments in India (Nikhil Dey as vice chair), Australia ( Helen Graney as MD), Japan (Campbell Hanley as GM), Korea (Seiku Hong as Juny Lee as GMs) and Indonesia (Henry Cahyono as GM) while Naomi Mermod arrived to oversee healthcare for the region. 

In 2019, there was high single-digit growth from several of Weber Shandwick’s key markets, including India, Japan, Korea and Singapore. Greater China continues to account for around half of its regional revenues, with more than 400 people across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Under CEO Valerie Pinto, meanwhile, 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. In North Asia, Kim oversees two markets (Japan and Korea) that have emerged as the firm’s most reliable sources of growth in recent years. And, in Singapore, Ho Nikolovski is responsible for an office that serves as the key hub for Weber Shandwick’s impressive regional client roster, which now includes 18 assignments worth more than $1m, including GM, Nestle, IBM, Nike, Mastercard, Pfizer, Oppo, Swatch Group and ExxonMobil. 

As ever, numbers don’t tell the full story of Weber Shandwick’s impressive performance in Asia-Pacific. There has been sustained transformation of the firm’s digital and creative capabilities, including an expanded analytics practice under Emmanuel Caisse that has underpinned growth across consumer and corporate. Meanwhile, healthcare has emerged as the firm’s fastest-growing practice area in several markets, delivering eye-catching work for such clients as HKUMed and Nestle. And technology is a particularly strong point when it comes to Weber Shandwick’s focus on Asia-domiciled clients, which include Hanwha, NTT Docomo, Oppo, Tencent, Samsung and Alibaba. 

The work continues to reflect Weber Shandwick’s ability to fuse digital, creative and classic storytelling, including the Son Rise documentary with Vibha Bakshi in India, and notable efforts for Twitter, the University of Melbourne and Hotels.com. — AS