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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:
WPP’s GCI Health may be an established name elsewhere, but in Asia-Pacific, it’s only just shedding its start-up origins. The agency opened its doors in Singapore at the start of 2019 as a new hub office of WPP’s only global specialist health PR agency and has since grown rapidly across the region under the impressive leadership of Rikki Jones. The firm’s timing has been impeccable, benefiting from the a long-overdue expansion in healthcare PR that has only accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
After launching in Singapore, GCI Health added Hong Kong last year and Japan and India this year, with China set to roll out soon. There are 48 employees across the region.
While the firm’s small base should be kept in mind, there is no disguising the remarkable growth trajectory that GCI Health is on in Asia-Pacific. In 2020, the firm grew by 174%, and is forecast to expand at about the same rate in 2021, with Singapore (+70%) and Hong Kong (+47%) leading the way. Headcount has tripled, with the India operation rebranding sister firm Genesis BCW’s healthcare team under the GCI Health banner. All told, the firm added 16 new clients over the past 12 months, retaining all of its key relationships and successfully diversifying its offering to ensure that 20% of revenue now comes from med comms. Key clients include Roche, Sanofi, AstraZeneca and Unicef.
Jones was upped to regional president earlier this year, overseeing a leadership team that includes a string of experienced MDs in Dan Blomfield (medcomms), Hemali Bhutani (India), Sophie Asker (Singapore), Chitose Yamada (Japan) and Yvonne Yeung (Hong Kong). GCI Health’s staff culture is perhaps the most impressive aspect of its rise, it was named Best Small Agency to Work For in 2020 and a 96% retention rate reflects the attention the firm is paying to its people amid rapid growth and the pressures of a pandemic.
While much of GCI Health’s work remains confidential, the firm’s focus on multiple patient communities has paid off to notable effect in campaigns for Sanofi (Beyond Health Hack), Unicef (tackling vaccine hesitancy) and AstraZeneca (raising awareness of CVD triad). GCI Health also helped launch a new ultrasound device in Japan and has played a critical role on AstraZeneca’s vaccine comms across the region.
— Arun Sudhaman
APCO’s Asia-Pacific presence includes operations across Greater China, India and Southeast Asia, bringing its typically sophisticated corporate and public affairs expertise to a range of clients in ‘issues-rich’ environments. In particular, the firm has benefited from a focus on the healthcare sector, along with depth in terms of in-demand areas such as geopolitical counsel, social impact and ESG.
There are around 115 fee earners spread across APCO’s Greater China footprint, which includes around 50 in Greater China (Beijing and Shanghai), 15 in Japan, 25 in India and another 28 in Southeast Asia, which includes Singapore and Korea.
Many of the unique challenges posed by 2020 played to APCO’s strengths, so it should not come as a surprise to find that the firm grew in Asia-Pacific to US$12.5m in fee income, powered by specific expansion in Southeast Asia (+25%), Japan (+17%). In particular, APCO’s healthcare sector was up 19%, with new business coming from Edwards Lifesciences, Sanofi, Hummingbird Bioscience, I-Mab Biopharma, Eli Lilly and AdvaMed. These join an existing roster that features Bayer, MSD, Gilead, ResMed, Roche and Allergan. In Southeast Asia, revenue is driven by a mix of public affairs, corporate and digital/media, particularly in the biotech sector, helping power 400% growth in the past two years, while APCO’s Japan and China operations also benefited from their healthcare capabilities.
Healthcare specialists James Yi and JJ Lee have proved critical to Southeast Asia’s turnaround, while Rahul Sharma leads India; Masayo Nagai is in charge of Japan; and, Greater China includes veteran chairman James McGregor, along with COO Anne Wang and Shanghai MD Jeff Astle. The firm has also significantly expanded its international advisory council in Asia-Pacific, adding such names as Richard Burn, John Lin, Dr Chew Suok Kai, Dr Maria Radyati, Fredrik Nyberg and Aida Greenbury. More than two-thirds of APCO’s Asia-Pacific workforce are women, while the voluntary turnover rate is less than 19%, with more than 38% of staff having been with the firm for more than three years.
The firm’s ‘come back stronger’ strategy has seen it focus on helping clients rebuild after the pandemic, resulting in some eye-catching campaigns. For World Sleep Day, for example, APCO helped ResMed tackle the an increase in sleep apnea associated with Covid-19.
— Arun Sudhaman
Healthcare public relations is often seen as a recent growth driver among many of the major multinational agencies operating in the region, but there is nothing new about FleishmanHillard’s emphasis on the sector, which has been a key component of its regional business since it expanded into Asia 25 years ago. Its capabilities have expanded from pharmaceutical marketing to include market access, regulatory and legislative issues, clinical trial work, and technical medical communications across the full lifecycle of products from drugs to devices.
The firm has strong healthcare teams in Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Mumbai, New Delhi, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney and Tokyo, and also collaborates with other Omnicom-owned healthcare-focused agencies to deliver a broader array of services.
Fleishman’s healthcare business was once again one of the star performers among its regional practice groups in 2019, up 7% for a client roster that includes Abbott, Pfizer, Novartis, J&J, Genesis, Olympus, Amgen and ChromaDex. There was new business from AstraZeneca, GSK, Kimberly Clark, Sandoz, Organon and Veritas - with particularly strong growth in Shanghai, Manila, India, Japan and Korea.
There specific hires to boost FleishmanHillard’s healthcare capabilities in Japan — Tomomi Sasaki as head of healthcare — and Shanghai, where Lynn Liang returned to lead a new practice. The firm’s EDGE learning and development program continues to deliver results across leadership/personal effectiveness, commercial acumen and value proposition. In addition, the firm’s Asia-Pacific network played a key role in Fleishman’s global Covid-19 response, which eventually evolved into a ‘recovery and resurgence’ practice, and was supported by #LosetheWhisper internal discussions on tough topics.
The Covid-19 mindset series tracked pandemic-related changes in global values and behaviours, with Korea and China driving specific Covid-19 thought leadership initiatives. Campaign highlights included the Soy Strong health awareness campaign for the Right to Protein initiative in India, along with vaccine work for AstraZeneca and B2B medtech activity for Olympus.
— Arun Sudhaman
In the eight years since its launch, SPAG has already established itself as an industry game changer in the Asia-Pacific region — a hybrid firm with strong healthcare and public affairs capabilities that continued its growth story in 2020 despite the difficulties in the Indian PR market. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has helped solidify SPAG increasingly regional aspirations, which have been bolstered by specific investment in healthtech, data and analytics capabilities.
SPAG has grown beyond its three Indian offices to now operate a fast-growing Singapore presence, along with offices in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.
There was growth of around 4% in 2020 to $8.5m, ensuring that SPAG remains on track to reach its goal of $12m by 2025. New business was led by Sputnik V, Roche, Varian, Medtronic (regional), Novo Nordisk, Alive Core and a major public health campaign for USAID in India. The breadth of SPAG’s client work reflects its decision to spin off pharma and medtech/healthtech as separate practice areas — for a client roster that features GE Healthcare, Sanofi, Bayer, AdvaMed, PhRMA, GIPC and Abbott. A new employee engagement practice in Singapore, meanwhile, netted new business from Marico India.
Founders Aman and Shivani Gupta continue to oversee SPAG, ensuring a highly entrepreneurial flavour to the firm’s culture. That includes its D Yellow Elephant digital arm, and Gigalife creative acquisition.
There has also been a notable uplift in the firm’s thought leadership output, via the Asia-Pacific Healthcare Communications Outlook Report in partnership with KPMG, along with an SPAG Dialogue podcast that focuses on public health. The latter focus also helps to explain some of SPAG’s more notable work over the past year, including the USAID campaign to combat vaccine misinformation, and 48-hour effort to launch Roche’s Covid antibiotic cocktail in India.
— Arun Sudhaman
Accounting for around 10% of its regional revenue, Weber Shandwick still believes its healthcare practice is underweight in the region, despite serving as one of its key growth areas in recent years.
Hong Kong serves as Weber Shandwick’s biggest healthcare practice, with that expertise being parlayed into a cross-market taskforce with Singapore. Korea has also seen specific healthcare growth, while Japan also serves as a major market for the sector.
There was ‘immense’ growth for Weber Shandwick’s healthcare practice in 2020, driven by Hong Kong, Singapore and Korea — and reflecting the firm’s diversification into med ed and digital, along with its ability to tap into new funding models and virtual platforms. New business included BMS, Novartis, Bayer, CSL Behring, Lifebuoy, Organon and Takeda, joining anchor healthcare clients Abbott, MSD, Pfizer, Roche and J&K.
While regional healthcare EVP Naomi Mermod departed after less than two years, key figures include the newly promoted duo of Robert Broad and Wincy Chan, who each serve as EVPs across the Hong Kong and Singapore hub under Albert Shu. There were also key appointments in Japan (SVP Kaouru Nakagawa) and Singapore (VP Sharon Mueller). here was a sustained focus on virtual community and learning and development, with the firm’s ‘Juice’ global initiative instrumental in helping Weber Shandwick reimagine the future of work. A new DE&I program has also launched in Asia-Pacific, which includes committees in each market and mandatory training for senior leadership.
Much of the firm’s work in the area reflected its ability to pivot its core med ed and event businesses online, conducting 200+ virtual meetings (often on its proprietary platform) and supporting digital transformation and new funding models such as a multi-sponsor clinical masters platform, and a virtual medical congress. Major online events included the Asia Fungal Working Group and all of Roche’s education events, while campaign highlights included the ‘Educating the Elderly’ initiative for BMS, which raised awareness of atrial fibrillation and associated stroke risk via a visual adventure storybook.
— Arun Sudhaman
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