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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:
Edelman’s pioneering approach to digital helped it emerge as the world’s biggest PR firm over the past decade and continues to provide a distinct edge to its operations in Asia-Pacific, where it operates multiple hubs and centres of excellence focused on such areas as influencer management, performance marketing and analytics. Digital accounts for around 15% of the firm’s $100m in Asia-Pacific revenue, including specific depth in such areas as predictive analytics, performance marketing, SEO, social commerce and digital content.
While Edelman operates an extensive regional footprint, there are digital content studios in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and India, and a performance marketing hub in India, along with specific centres of excellence focused on influencer (Australia) and creative (China, Singapore and Australia).
Many of Edelman’s account wins and expanded assignments include a significant digital element, including Singapore’s MINDEF and Ministry of Health; the Singapore Tourism Board, Mitsubishi Power, Samsung Australia, California Almonds, Mars Wrigley and Mediatek.
Edelman’s integration solutions capability in Asia-Pacific is led by regional vice chair and Australia CEO Michelle Hutton with digital specifically overseen by vice chair Matt Collette, while Gabor Koska heads the DXI analytics offering. The firm also revamped its digital leadership in the key markets of Korea, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and Malaysia - rebuilding around a minimal viable team model and shifting from generalist talent towards specialisms in such areas as B2B/CRM, performance, analytics, newsroom and commerce. Eight platform communities were also launched, involving 50+ staffers committed to certification and developing expertise. And there has been significant investment in the DXI capability, which now numbers 40 people in the region, across research, analytics, business science and behavioural science.
Edelman’s digital product innovation is extensive in Asia-Pacific, covering such areas as digital crisis, predictive analytics, footprint mapping, AI-driven auditing, psychographic content analysis and paid amplification. Specifically, there were three separate social commerce pilots, involving Shopify, along with a stronger focus on digital executive thought leadership, the latter of which was best exemplified by successful work for Microsoft, Mitsubishi Motors and PayPal on LinkedIn. That focus on B2B demand generation was further illustrated by impressive lead-gen work for Mitsubishi Power. Edelman’s digital studios, meanwhile, will house 60 people by the end of its 2022 fiscal year —using Adobe After Effects and Unreal Engine to build a dynamic content offering — and reflected by a Sunkist campaign that integrated the brand to notable effect with Animal Crossing. DXI offerings, meanwhile, include a bias detection tool, disinformation shield, Trust IQ and behavioural content developlment — exemplified by risk analytics work for Chevron.
— Arun Sudhaman
The 2018 merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe may have proved a largely complementary marriage of corporate scale and consumer innovation, but one area that remained underweighted was the combined entity’s digital offering, which paled in comparison to many of the network’s rivals. Accordingly, BCW has invested substantial effort and resources into improving its digital capabilities, which are led by chief digital officer Joe Peng. The firm’s digital revenue has increased by almost 150%, thanks to extensive expansion in creative technology, video/animation, social commerce, data/analytics, extended reality, influencer management and data storytelling, using a ‘platforms of excellence’ model that is embedded across practices.
BCW’s comprehensive Asia-Pacific footprint is particularly strong in Greater China and India, which are also the two markets that lead much of its digital innovation. China, for example, plays a prominent role in terms of BCW’s martech lab, its investment in new technology and integrated marketing, while India provides digital transformation and newsroom solutions for BCW clients across the globe.
BCW’s stellar growth in recent years owes much to integrated marketing and digital capabilities, which also helped the firm weather the worst of 2020’s downturn. Major new assignments included Manulife, BSH, Medtronic, joining a roster that features Alibaba, Vivo, Oppo, Lenovo, Huawei and Skyworth.
A 60+ person regional creative team is focused on moving the firm further into video, animation and creative technology, while an overhauled training curriculum is heavily focused on e-learning and development. Stable regional leadership, which includes CEO Matt Stafford and deputy Polka Yu, in addition to Peng, have created an environment in which digital investment has transformed much of how the firm operates —reflected in strong employee survey and culture scores.
The firm’s digital strategy encompasses platforms of excellence (new ways of working), earned-plus solutions (including, datam analytics, performance and paid), and a martech lab that develops new offerings, such as extended reality, social commerce and marketing automation. And all of these have proved pivotal in BCW’s best campaign work, including the Gillette Barber Suraksha programme in India, the ‘Lullaby Generator’ for Zepp, social media work for Ford, Proton and Lincoln, and next-generation animation for Boral, Huawei and Lenovo.
— Arun Sudhaman
Since its launch in 1996 (when it was known as Blue Focus PR), Oscar Zhao’s company has grown into the largest public relations consultancy in China and one of the top 10 public relations businesses in the world, with 2020 fee income in excess of $360 million—up 10% on the previous year. Last year brought its share of tumult however, after the company shelved its plans to spin off its non-China business into a New York Stock Exchange listed company due to the covid pandemic. Later, it sold a minority stake in those same international business to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners and investment fund Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.
BlueFocus remains the dominant player in China, with offices in all the major centers and a host of second-tier cities.
Perhaps because of its strength in the digital arena—which was less affected by the pandemic than other sectors—BlueFocus was able to more than hold its own last year, with fee income up by 4% in constant currency terms, moving up one spot in our global ranking to number eight. It added business from the likes of Royole, Geely Auto, Taobao, Sanyuan, Mediatek, Fortrust, Greenland, Cepf, Haier, Tiktok, Xpeng and Muji, while continuing its work for blue-chip brands such as FAW, Tencent, GAG Group, JD, Lenovo, Baidu, Yili, Vivo, Volvo, and Chery.
With founder Oscar Zhao increasingly focused on group-level leadership, BlueFocus Digital nevertheless has an impressive indigenous management team, including Luo Bin, president of BlueFocus Group, and an expert in brand planning, integrated marketing communications, crisis and media relations; Stanley Xiao, BlueFocus Digital CEO, who has 15 years of experience in marketing public relations; chief strategy officer Yorf Guo, a veteran of Ogilvy&Mather; and chief creative officer OG.Cai. Culturally, the firm has promoted itself as a place where local talent can thrive, a positioning reinforced by the firm’s willingness to rapidly promote young talent.
BlueFocus Digital’s growing creative reputation was demonstrated by the fact that its clients took home five Gold SABRE Awards last year, including the runner-up for Best in Show, the “Liberating Our Periods” campaign for feminine hygiene brand Libresse. The firm also worked with JD to educate consumers about 5G technology, addressed the pain points of automotive after-services for BMW, and helped Nestlé Health Science China connect to the lifestyle of the burgeoning e-sports movement. The firm expanded its creative capabilities last year, incubating in-house a new marketing studio, Qiafan Dimension, with a focus on Bilibili advertising and Bilibili-style content marketing.
— Paul Holmes
Ogilvy’s ability to blend PR and digital continues to impress in Asia-Pacific, where Andreanne Leclerc oversees a social team that numbers 400 executives across the region, including expertise across social media, influencer management, research, AI, chatbots, digital content and paid media.
Ogilvy’s digital operations encompass its key Asia-Pacific markets of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Shanghai, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Sydney.
There was continued business expansion for Ogilvy Social in 2020, including a string of new business assignments, including Google Southeast Asia, Huawei (global from Hong Kong), Shiseido (global and Japan), L’Oreal and Garnier (Thailand), National Gallery Singapore, Rio (China), and several others in Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines and Taiwan. Many of these reflected the agency’s enhanced focus on newer platforms such as TikTok and Clubhouse, along with increased expertise in social commerce, influencer management and healthcare digital.
Ogilvy’s social community continues to grow, with a string of new appointments including Tom Wan and Kay Liao as president and strategy director, respectively, in Shanghai; Calo Sambrano as managing partner in Manila; and, Hirol Gandhi as India president. They join a team that is highly regarded for its depth of digital/social training, which is supplemented by deep partnerships with Google, Facebook and TikTok — which include considerable training and workshops across the region. Ogilvy’s workplace efforts, furthermore, includes the 30-for-30 female leadership program, and employee assistance program in all markets and a comprehensive wellness initiative that covers a range of critical issues.
In addition to stepping up its virtual event focus in 2020, notably via Huawei’s ‘Seeds for the Future’ effort, Ogilvy’s work reflected its mastery of new media platforms. Durex, for example, became the first Hong Kong FMCG brand to organize a Clubhouse live event, while KFC Australia and National Gallery Singapore benefited from TikTok campaigns and Furry’s Kitchen and Pop Mie impressed on Instagram. The United Nations in India saw success from Facebook, while Ogilvy also actively deployed successful efforts across Line, Twitter and YouTube. There were also eye-catching social commerce campaigns for Singapore’s MCCY, KFC China and Line Shopping, while the agency’s influencer work included an AI influencer and editor in Vietnam.
— Arun Sudhaman
In recent years, Zeno has emerged as the fastest growing firm in the DJE Holdings family, snatching the spotlight away from its much bigger sibling. But that growth has largely favoured North America; in Asia-Pacific, the firm went through three regional leaders in three years, ultimately landing on Text100 and Allison+Partners veteran Paul Mottram to help it carve out a credible and distinct growth story in this region. And much of that centers on Zeno’s digital and data/analytics capabilities: approximately 70% of the firm’s work involves integrated implementation, while 12% is pure digital marketing.
Zeno’s regional footprint includes 115 people across Singapore, Malaysia, India, Australia and mainland China, but it is Southeast Asia that serves as its digital epicenter, thanks to a Singapore performance hub that drives data and analytics, creative and web development.
Like many firms, Zeno took a hit in 2020, with fee income down around 15% to $5.5m, although that had already recovered to $6.2m by the end of its 2021 fiscal year in July of this year. Specifically, Zeno’s data and analytics capabilities helped it win a string of major new business assignments, including regional duties for Lenovo, UPS, Goodyear, Amadeus, Ikea Singapore, FIS and Yorkshire Tea in Australia. They join an existing client roster that features the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, Borneo Motors, Foxconn, Lend Lease and Veeam.
Mottram has revamped the leadership team, bringing in creative veteran Sarah Littlefair to lead Australia and adding Ekta Thomas and Rosemary Merz as regional heads of client services and corporate, respectively. In digital terms, the key figure is growth and innovation MD David Lian, who has been with the firm for several years. Salary reductions and reduced work hours were restored and paid back in full by the end of last year, as Zeno switched to a flexible model and restructured its creative approach based on behavioural psychology.
The firm’s performance hub began the pandemic by analysing social media conservations to help clients better understand consumer sentiment across several markets, while its proprietary Human Project surveyed thousands of people in China, India, Singapore and Malaysia. All of that paid off with strong digital work for Sentosa Development Corporation, which reimagined the island in Animal Crossing; a global VR film series for Lenovo; extensive social media activity for the Alliance to End Plastic Waste; and integrated initiatives combining SEO, influencer and media engagement for Greystar.
— Arun Sudhaman
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