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The 2021 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 2021 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards, which takes place virtually on 15 September. Analysis of all Finalists and Winners can be accessed via the navigation menu or below:
E-J Granleese launched History Will Be Kind (HWBK) in 2014 with the lofty aim of “creating moments in history for clients” by managing reputations, raising profiles, launching products, and most interestingly, starting movements. Covid, though, forced HWBK to change its focus, prompting leadership to instead commit to maintaining the team, focus on mental well-being and resilience, and lean into challenges with transparency and bravery. Leaders simultaneously took steps to shift business to operate during the pandemic, which included improving efficiency while keeping a laser focus on clients and quality. The efforts worked. HWBK logged 12 key wins across travel, entertainment, FMCG, logistics and technology over the last 12 months, and 97% client retention year-over-year.
History Will Be Kind is in Sydney.
History Will Be Kind closed 2020 as a 16-person operation with nearly AUD$2 million in revenue, despite losing 28% of fee income during the first month of the Covid pandemic. That speaks to HWBK’s rapidly deployed moves to sustain the business during Covid, which included efficiency improvements, a complete evaluation of how the firm does business, and putting laser focus on clients, quality delivery and an empowered team. HWBK’s 12 new clients include Airliquide, Celebrity Cruises, Chromebook, Ferrero, SBS on Demand, Mentemia, YouTube and Drive Yello, which join a roster already populated by the likes of Etihad, Google, and Horticulture Innovation Australia. HWBK retained 97% of its clients and 88% of staff. June 2021 revenue set to be 120% increase on the same period last year.
HWBK considers supporting its team through Covid one of 2020’s biggest accomplishments. After starting the year with the goal of being Bigger, Bolder and Better, the firm in March changed its goal to be Bolder and Better Together. Leadership committed to maintaining the team, focusing on mental well-being and resilience and being transparent. HWBK also doubled down on its people-first approach, supporting the team to upskill and embrace change, while navigating major personal and professional changes. The firm’s commitment to diversity is cultivated with strong female leadership (founder, business director, client partner, ADs), a pay parity commitment and 10 nationalities across the group, all mentoring juniors to drive career success. In 2020, HWBK shifted the industry debate from maternity leave to return to work and accommodated its team’s major life decisions, from side hustles and study to relocation, providing remote work arrangements while they established themselves. The firm built out its policies allowing employees to work from anywhere and choose their own hours. HWBK also started providing access to mental health services and supported emerging talent with coaching. The agency also launched new products to help the team through the pandemic. They include Covid Conversations covering hot topic sweeps and impact analysis; a new podcast series ReGr()up diving into key challenges facing the industry; Virtual Masterclasses to maintain engagement with media/influencers; and Rally, Respond, Recover, a workshop series to drive innovation/movement, at a time of uncertainty.
During 2020, HWBK ensured innovation and product development were core to its operations, leading to the creation of new offerings including Sounding Board, a network designed to align independent agency leaders to share strategies and build trusted support; and an owned and licensed product diversification strategy, Collective Ventures, shifting into owned-product development and business incubation in response to the pandemic environment. HWBK’s top work of 2020 includes its ongoing work repositioning Australia-Google/YouTube as a locally focused company helping the community; educating consumers and generating local demand for sustainable seafood for the Marine Stewardship Council; and supporting the International Convention Centre Sydney through the Covid recovery.
— Diana Marszalek
Interpublic agency DeVries Global launched its Asia-Pacific operations in 2012, carving out P&G business from sister firm Weber Shandwick to help fuel its initial expansion in China and Singapore. Now under the regional leadership of Darren Burns, the firm has transformed its offering to notable effect in recent years — focusing on next generation consumers across a range of sectors, with lifestyle and healthcare to the fore. Those efforts have been bolstered by the establishment of a social commerce and marketing innovation hub at its Shanghai office and creative studio in Singapore, which together underpin an offering that focuses on ‘cultural communications.’
There are 100+ staff across offices in Beijing and Shanghai (70 in total), Taipei (15) and Singapore (20), while DeVries also executes campaigns in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong.
Asia-Pacific was flat in 2020, with similar performances in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei offsetting 26% growth in Singapore/Southeast Asia. Growth of 12% is forecast in 2021, with the China operation expected to account for around two-thirds of the region’s $12m in revenue. Consumer healthcare has grown by 60% since 2020, thanks to such clients as Sanofi, Roche, Nicorette, GSK, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Lyxumia, BMS, Oral-B, Acuvue, Braun, Abbott and Novartis, while there was also major new business from Tiger in Singapore, ABInBev and Lamborghini in China, ByteDance on celebrity management and Converse in Taipei. Southeast Asia, notably also saw expanded remits for SK-II, Niantic and IHG — with the overall regional performance supported by a product suite that includes mobile SEO, data/analytics in China, and Gen Z research in Singapore.
Burns’ leadership team includes mainland China leader Lydia Shen, Singapore & Southeast Asia MD Rafidah Rashid, and Taipei head Vivian Liu. Of note, a new hybrid talent model was launched to help DeVries employees carve out different career paths, beyond PR if required, and involving customised training programmes. That reflects the firm’s strong focus on health, wellbeing and inclusion, which has resulted in high employee scores in terms of happiness, fair treatment and D&I.
The firm’s Gen Z incubator includes a two part study into attitudes, which has helped power much of their work for major brands in Singapore and Thailand, reflected in campaigns for Acuvue and SK-II. In China, social commerce expertise underpins initiatives for Goose Island, Novartis and SK-II, while Taiwan highlights include eye-catching efforts for BenQ and Georgia.
— Arun Sudhaman
Kiri Sinclair founded the eponymous firm in 2009 to deliver integrated campaigns from its office in Hong Kong. Today, the firm has operations in Shanghai, Beijing and, as of 2019, Singapore as well as its Hong Kong HQ, which operate as a unified business true to its core tenet — impacting business through storytelling — with the added benefit of local expertise and regional presence across Greater China and Southeast Asia. Now in its 12th year, the firm continues to progress around its ‘team first’ philosophy — that putting its 50+ staffers above all else leads to business success. The firm also is active in public service, providing community and industry support that leads to positive change.
Sinclair is based in Hong Kong, with offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore.
Sinclair garnered new business in 2020, thanks to its 50-plus team retaining and winning clients by adapting quickly and proficiently to meet the challenges ushered in by Covid. Growth was fueled by new business from Moet Hennessy Diageo, Sino Group, The Grounds, Hong Kong Observation Wheel, Yew Chung Collage of Early Education, Blue Insurance, Carousell, Design Shanghai, Remy Cointreau and IWG (International Workplace Group), adding to existing clients including Singapore Tourism Board, FWD Insurance, BioRevive, ifc Mall (ifc Management Company Limited) and Fondation CHU The-Chun. All of which is a testament to Sinclair’s commitment to having in-depth knowledge of its clients and working to bring together digital, social, marketing and media to protect reputations and keep business flourishing amid 2020’s challenges, particularly the Covid pandemic. Sinclair also achieved its objective of equalising B2B & B2C revenues in 2020. The agency won corporate business across markets in new industries such as recruitment, banking, insurance, education, tech and property.
Sinclair operates around the idea that its team’s perspectives, needs and well-being take precedence above all else, a philosophy that has grown the firm’s cultural stability as well as business. In 2020, the firm and its employees reached more outward, too, offering pro-bono support to communities in need with the goal of making positive impacts. Sinclair sees each individual employee as an equal in every aspect of the company’s recruitment, employment, training, promotion, transfer, compensation, benefits and termination policies. A female owned and operated agency, Sinclair’s team is 78% female. Senior leadership (CEO, CFO, COO, regional director) is 75% female and management (associate director and above) is 70% female.
2020 saw Sinclair winning and delivering single-capability scopes outside the traditional PR remit — social media content & advertising for Hysan, dedicated influencer marketing for SmileDirectClub and Duolingo, e-commerce strategy for Moet Hennessy Diageo, insights & research for Bread Elements and brand visual development for Dr. Happy among them. The firm also invested in its dedicated intelligence team and tools, as well as content, design, copywriting, social media strategy and digital marketing experts as demand for digital content strategies increased. Sinclair met its two-year goal of diversifying its client roster with the addition of B2C clients in new industries such recruitment, banking, insurance, education, tech and property. The agency deepened our B2C client base, expanding sector experience in entertainment (Hong Kong Observation Wheel & The Grounds), fashion (REDRESS) and consumer tech (Aurebeat). The year’s hallmark work included generating excitement for The Grounds at AIA Vitality Park (Hong Kong’s first Covid-era outdoor entertainment destination) by maximizing awareness of the complex while reinforcing its mission of providing Hong Kong a safe space to socialize.
— Diana Marszalek
A top three player in the Japanese public relations market, which continues to be dominated by domestic agencies—generally regarded as better connected to the Japanese media and better attuned to the Japanese consumer—Sunny Side Up is perhaps best known for its work in the events space, and in sports marketing in particular. But more recently, the firm has expanded into broader consumer and corporate PR activities, adding digital expertise to its experiential core and focusing heavily on social purpose. (It also operates several other businesses, in areas as diverse as human resource management, athlete management, and restaurant management.)
Headquartered in Tokyo, Sunny Side Up has the bulk of its operations in Japan, but also has a subsidiary in Korea, and does about $1 million of business in North America. The firm has established a partnership with Red Havas over the past year, and has a particularly close working relationship with its One Green Bean operation in Australia.
With its emphasis on events, Sunny Side Up took a significant hit from the covid pandemic, which hit its core business hard. As a result, revenues were down about 23%. New clients included 7-11 Japan, P^G Prestige, Luxury Hotels International, Uniqlo, Lakeside Hotel Systems(The Ritz-Carlton, Nikko), IHG ANA Hotels Group Japan (Kimpton Shinjuku Tokyo, Hotel Indigo Hakone Gora), the Japan Sports Analytics Association and the Japan Sports Agency. They join a roster that includes FamilyMart Co., Nestle Nespresso, Unilever Japan, Uber, the Ministry of Education Culture Sports Science & Technology, MHD Moët Hennessy Diageo and Huawei.
Etsuko Tsugihara, president, founded the company in 1985 and has built it into the force it is today. Having tested positive for covid at the end of the year, she was one of a handful of business leaders to speak out about it, disseminating information to help other infected citizens and becoming a social media influencer on the topic. In addition to Tsugihara, the leadership team includes Saki Masuno, who led PR for "NIHONMONO", a project that "connects traditional culture leaders and customers" through information dissemination of Japanese traditional culture and Emi Tanimura, manager of the parent group president's office, in charge of new business development and PR/branding for the company.
One interesting side-effect of the pandemic was that SSU found itself handling PR for a number of the tech-based services that were flourishing under the “stay-at-home” culture, including Vaio, a domestic brand of personal computers, and Playstation. The firm also focused its efforts on the femtech industry, which has been attracting attention for issues related to technology and women’s health. The firm also, perhaps surprisingly, managed PR for several hotels opening in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.
— Paul Holmes
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