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

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: Archetype (Next 15)

A lesser firm might have struggled with the challenges facing Archetype over the past 18 months, which included a globally-mandated rebranding and the loss of key global clients IBM and Lenovo. Luckily, the enduring strength of Text100’s leadership team and culture in Asia-Pacific helped the agency navigate the turbulence in impressive fashion, underpinning its selection as Best Large Agency to Work For in 2020 and providing a signal example of how an agency can not only manage change, but actually capitalise from it. Archetype’s revenues grew 5% to £14m in 2019, with operating profits also up — all while replacing £1.5m in IBM/Lenovo revenue. 

Text100’s heritage in the region continues to underpin its resilience. It was one of the first firms to succeed in India, where it employs 115 fee earners under market lead Sunayna Malik. There are also 68 people in Southeast Asia, where Southeast Asia MD Yeow Mei Ling in Kuala Lumpur oversaw 17% revenue growth to $5.6m across Singapore and Malaysia. A 24-person Australian team, meanwhile, grew revenue by 18% to US$3.4m, thanks to a stronger focus on strategy and creative, supported by the hires of director Nigel Malone and strategist Bec Madden. And, in Greater China, Archetype counts 61 people across Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, with revenues up 6% to £3.9m. 

There was a strong new business haul, particularly across Australia and Southeast Asia, which included Vodafone, Oppo, Amazon Web Services, Ericsson, GitHub, Aconex, Upright and HTC, joining a client roster that features Zebra Technologies, NetApp, Amazon, Rolls-Royce, Adobe, Qlik, Solarwinds, Red Hat, Stripe, VMware, Acer and Clipsal Solar. 

Singapore serves as the firm’s key regional hub, responsible for driving much of Archetype’s transformation, and housing APAC lead Lee Nugent, client strategy head Marc Ha and ECD Lee Devine. Indeed, the stability of Archetype’s leadership across multiple markets has helped the firm evolve beyond its roots in B2B technology into consumer, creative content and digital marketing. That is evidenced by the breadth of Archetype’s work across clients. including Clipsal Solar (brand development) Subway (brand communication), Rolls Royce (web development and content marketing), Zebra (PR and digital), the German National Tourism Board (social media and web development) and Xero (content development and thought leadership). — AS


Finalists

Ketchum (Omnicom PR Group)

Rather than attempting to compete via scale, in a region where its regional footprint is dwarfed by several rivals, Ketchum has smartly repositioned its offering around a digital/social-first model that focuses on audience marketing and social commerce. And this approach appears to be paying off, driving overall (estimated) double-digit growth for the firm across the region, landing a slew of new business including JD Digits, Lenovo ThinkVision, Netflix, Activision Blizzard, Line Friends, Japan Airlines, Motilal Oswal, Agro-Russia and Haier. 

The firm remains led in Asia-Pacific by New York-based international president Esty Pujadas, who is supported by client development partner Simeon Mellalieu in Hong Kong. In Greater China, CEO (and former IPG Mediabrands chief digital officer) Prince Zhang is supported by COO Tiffany Hu, who have overseen double-digit growth fuelled by a strong content to commerce offering. In India, there has been high single-digit expansion under longtime MD NS Rajan, whose leadership team includes VP Avijit Singh and SVP Vikas Sahni. 

Ketchum’s work is notable for its progressive bent, qualities that have only become more critical amid the absence of face-to-face interaction in 2020. For Japan Airlines, Ketchum’s teams in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Los Angeles oversee an integrated brief that covers the customer journey — which has obviously undergone some re-engineering due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Accordingly, Ketchum has adapted its efforts to focus on social media channels to drive engagement, support solidarity and keep potential passengers occupied. For Lenovo ThinkVision, what started as a small project has evolved into a multi-million dollar assignment that sees Ketchum serve as lead agency for digital communications and social marketing, covering digital asset creation, product marketing and social amplification. And, for JD, Ketchum handles a broad range of duties, including the critical JD Discovery event.

Other eye-catching efforts in China include the Continental Tires 618 social commerce campaign, which used a range of ecommerce platforms to drive engagement and sales, along with similarly successful initiatives for Rado and Haier. In India, meanwhile, the firm has successfully diversified its offering beyond its corporate/financial heritage, thanks to sophisticated campaigns for Motilal Oswal, Mastercard, Bajaj Chetak and Skoda, the last of which included three successful car launches conducted for the first time on digital channels.  — AS


Ruder Finn
(Independent)

2017’s Midsize winner continues to impress, with regional chief Elan Shou bringing considerable energy and verve to Ruder Finn’s efforts to build a credible offering outside China, which continues to account for almost 90% of its regional revenue of $39m. Growth slowed in 2019 to 3%, with China again serving as the firm’s standout operation, up 7% to around $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 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. 

Outside Greater China, Ruder’s Southeast Asian operations suffered some turbulence with the departure of MD Martin Alintuck last year, but has stabilized under Brian Witte. Meanwhile, India is in growth mode after bringing in the highly-regarded Atul Sharma as MD, launching a consumer practice that has already secured ten clients including Harley-Davidson. 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


SPRG 
(Independent)

It is now 25 years since Burson-Marsteller veteran Richard Tsang launched Strategic Public Relations Group in Hong Kong, and while last year was not a banner year—the firm’s revenues were flat—its close to $25 million in fee income is enough to rank SPRG among the 100 largest public relations firms in the world and one of the top 10 headquartered in the Asia-Pacific. It boasts a network of more than 250 employees across 15 offices in Asia—and now in Australia, after its 2019 acquisition of local investor relations boutique FCR—with established expertise in consumer marketing and corporate social responsibility, it remains best known as a market leader in Hong Kong and in the financial arena.

One of the keys to the firm’s success is its continued status as an independent, which gives it the freedom to partner with the best (it is a member of the well-regarded PROI international network) and the flexibility to respond to market changes. The firm also continued to lead the way in Hong Kong’s IPO market, handling 26 over the course of the year, and was able to adapt to the strictures placed on live events by Hong Kong’s political turmoil and later the Covid-19 panedemic, organizing more than 100 online events for clients. (In keeping with Tsang’s longtime commitment to community relations, the firm also made in-kind donations of masks, alcohol, meal coupons, canned food and more, supporting 24 NGOs to the tune of HK $400,000.)

There was new business from China Overseas Holdings Limited, Covestro, ESR, GE Healthcare, Giga, Ministry of Trade and Industries, Singtel, and Setia Haruman, while the firm continues to work with Asia Pulp & Paper, China Mengniu, Deloitte, Lenovo, Merck, and Zespri. The Shanghai office enjoyed 50% growth, Malaysia was up by close to 40%, and the Hong Kong marketing arm grew 20% despite social unrest. In Singapore, SPRG set up a new production team to increase content creation capabilities, and in Malaysia there was “Last Straw,” an online platform on sustainable lifestyle issues. Interesting work included promoting EU agricultural products in China for the Consumer, Health & Food Executive Agency of the European Union; assisting investment platform China Aoyuan as it overcome a financial crisis and sought to regain investor trust; and helped AstraZeneca educate potential users aabout the merit of immunotherapy.

WE (Independent)

Best-known for its technology credentials, WE has undergone a rapid transformation in Asia-Pacific, now under the leadership of international chief Kass Sells. An ambitious acquisition spree added top-rated outfits in China (Red Bridge), India (Avian Media) and Singapore (Watatawa). The net effect of this expansion, along with the earlier deal for Australian agency Buchan, is that WE now possesses a 400-person offering that extends beyond technology through healthcare, consumer, B2B and corporate. And, it should be noted, it also possesses a leadership team that is stronger than most, featuring Penny Burgess in China, Nitin Mantri (India), Simon Pangrazio (Watatawa), and Rebecca Wilson (Australia and Singapore), along with global operations EVP Aaron Petras in Singapore.

One year after winning this category, WE submitted another strong performance in 2019, with revenue up 19% to $26.9m, powered by double-digit expansion from WE Communications in Australia, WE Red Bridge in China and AvianWE in India, helping to offset a slight decline from corporate specialists Watatawa. The firm’s strengths in technology and healthcare are also helping it manage this year’s difficulties in better fashion than most, while its focus on purpose and its Brands in Motion research continue to help it differentiate from rivals. New business over the past 12 months included Adobe, Capgemini, Nestle, Blackberry, Lazada, TrendMicro, Subway, FC Barcelona, Samsung and Menarini, adding to an existing client roster that features Lenovo, iRobot, F5, Facebook, J&J, Aruba, Rosewood, McDonald’s, Elseview, Bayer, Honeywell and GSK. And there were several senior hires across the region, including Bee Peng Tan as Shanghai GM, Marcus Loh as regional senior client director and Sara Pereira as regional technology lead. 

In Australia, diversification helps to explain WE Communications' impressive rate of growth, up 16% in 2019 to US$5.9m from 55 employees, thanks in part to 61% growth from its digital/creative (DXT) capabilities. In China, Red Bridge grew 24% to $7.8m, with a 100-strong operation landing new business from Fila, Innocent, Coca-Cola, Accor, Elsevier and Subway. In India, meanwhile, revenues were up 20% in 2019 to $7.4m, delivered by 260 employees across the Avian and Chase (public affairs) brands, working for such clients as Samsung, J&J, Deloitte, Intuit, Mastercard, Amazon, Fortis, VMware and Reckitt Benckiser. Unfortunately, Singapore declined 24% last year, although a new management structure is expected to deliver a turnaround. 

Campaign highlights include Adobe x Made Here in Australia, F5’s Curve of Convenience in Singapore and You/Scoot in China.  — AS