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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:
Provoke’s 2019 New Agency of the Year, Era was born through the March 2019 merger of leading Myanmar PR firm Echo and digital agency RevoTech, ushering in the concept of integrated communications in Myanmar. The goal: combining traditional PR and technology to develop integrated campaigns that enable clients to better, and more creatively, reach today’s complex and connected consumers. The idea is working. Era in less than three years has grown into a $2m company, making it Myanmar’s largest agency. Era’s leaders don’t take the responsibility that comes with that lightly, launching initiatives that support the industry and the firm’s home country. The firm sponsors an exchange program for Myanmar citizens interested in a PR career; funds efforts to see journalists detained by the military released; and, through media relations, encourages international companies and investors to not pull out of Myanmar when its people need them most.
Era has offices in Yangon, Myanmar and Singapore.
In less than three years Era has grown to $2m in revenue, with fee income rising in 2020 an impressive 33% from the year before, making it Myanmar’s largest agency. The firm sustains a 89-person team to handle its growing workload from new clients including Johnson & Johnson (lead agency), Unilever, Mastercard, Abbott, Myanmar Garment Factory Workers Association, Heineken, Shiseido and KFC. New clients joined a roster already populated by the likes of Coca-Cola, Unilever (other brands), Singapore Tourism Board, Myanma Posts & Telecommunications, Samsung, Microsoft and Google.
You can’t overstate Era’s commitment to people, shown internally through its commitment to employees and externally through its activist bent that includes everything from supporting next-gen talent and funding the release of detained journalists to calling on the international community to continue to do business in Myanmar despite the military regimes’ abuses. Leadership is far from traditional. Ko Min Gaung is a songwriter and poet in addition to creative director and known for pushing the boundaries in a market that’s not always accepting. Su Shwe Yee Htun, director of marketing integrations, is transgender and, as Era says, “a geek at heart.” Managing director Anthony Larmon, who was Echo’s longtime leader, now focuses on client service. Members of Myanmar ‘s ethnic minorities or marginalized communities are members of Era’s workforce. Era recently reimbursed employees’ money lost to a 25% pay cut during Covid (senior leadership took a 50% cut and Larmon 100%), which boosted morale amidst the uncertainties of Covid and the military coup. Era was the first agency in the market to actively take a stance against supporting military owned businesses. Its actions drove organic reach of 100,000 and drew hundreds of comments and shares from staff, peers and clients including Unilever and KFC in support of the move.
Era’s powerful Save Our Seafarers campaign for Uniteam Marine is among the year’s most highly regarded public affairs initiatives, landing on more than a dozen SABRE Award shortlists. Conducted mostly on Facebook, Era put in the public spotlight the plight of Myanmar’s seafarers, who couldn’t work during Covid because they weren’t deemed essential workers, leaving some stranded on ships. Era’s work driving labor law awareness among garment factory workers also is on multiple SABRE shortlists. So is the firm’s brand work, notably including its Chicken Dance campaign for KFC that offered a modern take on a traditional children’s dance. Era also started offering clients new services in response to Covid, including crisis management and internal communications.
— Diana Marszalek
Like marketing agencies everywhere, Dentsu has seen clients looking for more integration and more earned-first ideas, and the Japanese agency’s advertising and PR businesses have converged in ways that have brought out more creativity and originality—and elevated Dentsu to new heights in international awards competitions such as SABRE and the Cannes Lions. Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Dentsu is now established as one of the leading creative agencies not only in Asia, where it has been a consistent performer in the SABRE Awards and other regional competitions, but in the world living up to its 4-year-old tagline: ‘Advocates for Social Innovation’.
Dentsu Public Relations has offices in Tokyo and Osaka.
In 2020, Dentsu worked with 37 Fortune Global 500 companies and 71 Nikkei 225 index companies—standout clients include the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japanese Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Defense, the Japan National Tourism Organization, and corporates Philip Morris, Coca-Cola, and Sekisui House. The firm started 2020 with 138 PRSJ-accredited PR planners among its 305 employees. Dentsu also boasted a typically impressive 97.7% employee retention rate in 2020.
In March 2020, the agency named Masahiro Makiguchi as its new president and CEO, replacing Kazunori Azeyanagi, who becomes senior corporate advisor and continues to serve as president of the Public Relations Society of Japan. A 20-year Dentsu veteran, Makiguchi oversaw the firm’s responses to Covid — allowing employees to work from home, revising working rules, improving communications, and going paperless among them. In-office employees were provided Partitions and PPE. Internal communications were strengthened through online social events, companywide meetings, training sessions, and access to occupational therapists. The year also saw Dentsu PR roll out initiatives to foster a more inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community among them. Workshops covering the Black Lives Matter movement, new-found attention to women employees and the creation of an employee contract that protects older workers also were among the efforts.
Dentsu’s work continues to make an impressive showing on this year’s SABRE Awards shortlists, with numerous campaigns up for multiple honors. Among the most notable: the Tuna Scope that Dentsu created for Karu Sushi. The AI-based system judges the quality of natural tuna using cross-sectional images of their tails, and fills a need created by a shortage of people who evaluate tuna the traditional ways. Other hallmark work includes the Save Lions campaign for baseball’s Seibu Lions, which marked the team’s 70th anniversary by launching an effort to save the team’s namesake mascot, which are critically endangered in some parts of Africa. Donations to Oxford research unit WildCRU, with which the team partnered, quadrupled year-over-year. Season game attendance grew by 60,000. In addition, Dentsu’s work for The Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center made food lockers with bento boxes and sake available to New Yorkers and Los Angelenos.
— Diana Marszalek
After more than a decade as a headhunter, Siu Tang went for broke in 2012, pursuing his passion for art and design by launching The Orangeblowfish (TOBF) despite having no industry experience. Today, the China-based creative branding agency has worldwide reach with teams across China, Australia, the US and the UK serving clients from around the globe. The key to TOBF’s success: a commitment to imagine and create (they call it ‘imaginate’) through storytelling, art, space, and technology. One of the few independent international agencies in China, TOBF’s services include branding strategies, brand installations, brand experiences, digital campaigns and more. All of which have drawn an impressive roster of top-tier clients including the likes of LinkedIn, Cartier, Google, L’Oréal and Budweiser.
TOBF’s Shanghai headquarters is staffed by 14 people, who are joined by two colleagues in Australia, one in the US and one in the UK.
In 2020, The Orangeblowfish drew the kind of new business that would be impressive any year, let alone during a pandemic. The firm won new assignments from Cartier, Starbucks, LinkedIn, Marriott, Sanofi, Active Cosmetics (L’Oréal), Zodiac, Klay, Olive Box and Budweiser, which joined a client roster already populated by Asics, Mindshare, Pintxos, Greystar, Yuesai (L’Oréal), The Broken Dagger, Lindt, and Dasen Makers. Its 2020 saw the firm make senior level hires to meet client demand including Christina Chan, who has more than two decades of industry experience, as client services director.
As a relatively lean operation, The Orangeblowfish has strategically hired talent in keeping with its goal of being a truly global agency, yet with the key local insights that produce creative solutions that reap results. Chan, who joined the firm in November, for instance, brings expertise honed during a career working for the likes of Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy, and Edelman, leading regional brand and comms programs for Fortune 500 companies. TOBF’s global team includes individuals from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, China, Singapore, Malaysia, the US and Mexico. Employees set and pursue their career goals through custom professional development plans. TOBF offers remote working and an automatic 15 vacation days a year, far above the average in China. When Covid hit, Orangeblowfish offered staff options to get through it and keep their jobs — flexible working hours, reduced pay, and unpaid leave among others.
A SABRE Award shortlister, TOBF’s Budweiser Drop 158 Festival was the agency’s way to help the brewer regain its footing in Shanghai while helping the city’s bars and clubs recover from an eight-week Covid shutdown. TOBF drew customers to the club Found 158, a Budweiser partner, by creating an experience featuring video games, visuals and activities that put Budweiser at the center. TOBF also helped launch a new Shanghai cocktail lounge, Zodiac, with a customer experience that includes astrological-themed cocktails, irreverent art, and a DIY station where customers learn to mix their own drinks. That kind of work reflects the commitment the firm made during Covid to its core strengths — creating branding, graphic design, and brand experience — which included reorganizing the team to strengthen those offerings. TOBF also focused more heavily educating brands and individuals about opportunity in China, and the value of local expertise in creative branding.
— Diana Marszalek
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