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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:
FleishmanHillard celebrated its 25th anniversary in Asia-Pacific in 2019, after launching in Beijing in 1994. Today, the firm’s presence spans 19 owned offices in the region, and includes two additional brands (BlueCurrent and Vox), under the long-term leadership of regional president Lynne Anne Davis, who also added Asia-Pacific leadership duties for parent entity Omnicom PR Group (OPRG) in 2019. The firm’s operations remain weighted towards Greater China and North Asia, but there has been eye-catching growth in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines and India — underpinned by FleishmanHillard’s core strengths in technology, healthcare, public affairs, crisis/issues, brand marketing and corporate.
Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong) and North Asia (Tokyo, Seoul) together account for more than 350 people, while there are also significant operations in Australia, India (Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore) and Southeast Asia (Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore).
Revenues were effectively flat in 2020, an impressive performance that was led by growth in Manila (+26%), Tokyo (+9%), and China, where Shanghai was up 13%. In 2021, meanwhile, the region is currently up 9%, thanks to expansion across several operations, notably Sydney (+30%), China (+16%, with Shanghai again leading the way), Seoul (+16%), and Jakarta (+11%). Sectoral growth was led by public affairs (up 21% thanks to major government engagements in Tokyo, Jakarta, Manila and Hong Kong), technology (+14%), and healthcare (+7%), while this year has seen a rebound across all sectors and practice areas. New business included AstraZeneca, Effissimo, GSK, Haitong Securities, Kimberly Clark, Nike, Sandoz, Organon, Swiss Re and Veritas, joining a long-term client roster that features major regional assignments for P&G, J&J, Samsung, Swatch, the Government of Japan, Philips, Alibaba, Sumitomo and Aflac. Notably, Shanghai benefited from growth across luxury, lifestyle, sports, technology, manufacturing and healthcare, Hong Kong continues to impress in terms of financial/professional services and healthcare, and North Asia has built strong capabilities in public sector and reputation management.
Davis is supported by a leadership team that features Japan president Shin Tanaka, Greater China head Rachel Catanach, Korea chief Yvonne Park, Vox Japan president Nojiri Akihiro, and Hong Kong GM Patrick Yu. Shanghai GM Yisi Liu has been elevated to mainland China MD, while Munavar Attari was promoted to oversee India. There were also promotions for Manila GM Patti Malay (who added DE&I leadership), Suki Zhao (to BlueCurrent Chnia head) and Norman Li (to FleishmanHillard China consumer head), while new hires included Lynn Liang returning to oversee China healthcare and Rei Mochizuki (as COO) Tomomi Sasaki (as healthcare head) in Japan. The firm’s EDGE learning and development program continues to deliver results across leadership/personal effectiveness, commercial acumen and value proposition, while there has also been a notable improvement in FleishmanHillard’s efforts to drive stronger DE&I policy and actions. Notably, Fleishman has gender balanced leadership across its top four levels; half of its offices are led by women, and Korea’s Yvonne Park has played a key role driving gender diversity legislation for Korea’s publicly-listed companies.
Fleishman’s thought leadership offering is nothing if not active, including a variety of events, white papers, newsletters and research studies, across numerous offices, including the global Authenticity Gap research in China and stakeholder engagement and AI trend intelligence in Korea. A new FHX virtual client experience platform, furthermore, has helped to elevate the firm’s intellectual firepower in collaboration with such clients as Amgen, BNY Mellon and Veritas, and has been supported by specific research into Covid-19 trends in several markets. That mindset is reflected in a string of impressive campaigns, including SABRE-nominated efforts for Right to Protein, the PCI Security Standards Council, Manulife Asia, Johnson & Johnson, Free A Girl, PwC, Corning Gorilla Glass, and WarnerMedia’s ‘We Bare Bears’ movie.
— Arun Sudhaman
The reverse takeover of Burson-Marsteller by Cohn & Wolfe has not been without challenges in Asia-Pacific. Yet, for the most part, the complementary nature of the two operations has ensured a rather more productive union that some might have anticipated, helping the firm land Regional Consultancy of the Year honours last year. Under the continued leadership of Asia-Pacific president Matt Stafford, BCW weighs in at around $100m in revenue, fuelled by the firm’s Greater China operation, which accounts for around half of its regional fee income and much of its intellectual firepower, particularly in terms of integrated marketing (from Shanghai), Chinese tech brands (from the Greater Bay Area), and geopolitical counsel (from Beijing and Hong Kong). BCW’s Indian operation, underpinned by strength in technology, consumer and digital, also stands out, with group featuring the Genesis, Six Degrees and PPR brands.
There are more than 500 employees in Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong), and a similar number in India, along with smaller operations in Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia), Australia and Japan.
2020 revenue fell by just 1%, thanks to continued growth from China (+7%) and Hong Kong (+4%), with every other market either flat or declining. An 8% increase in the first half of 2021 bodes well for BCW’s recovery, driven by growth from Greater China, India, Singapore and Japan. Major new business included Manulife, BSH, Medtronic, Continental, Changan and Oppo, joining a client roster that features a number of Chinese brands going global (Alibaba, Huawei, Honor, Lenovo, Midea, Ping An, Skyworth, Vivo and Tencent, along with major MNCs such as Qualcomm, Gilead, GSK, ExxonMobil, AstraZeneca and LinkedIn. The Greater China and India operations also fuel digital innovation, which has been a major factor in BCW’s recent success, alongside geopolitical expertise and the corresponding support of Chinese technology brands going global.
While the key leadership team has remained relatively stable, the merger has created new roles for many, with Stafford now supported by deputy president Polka Yu, and Joe Peng becoming chief digital officer. India has proved to be toughest nut for the BCW merger to crack, but progress has been made through the formation of a combined group that includes Genesis BCW CEO Deepshikha Dharmaraj, while Vandhana Sandhir leads Six Degrees following Rishi Seth’s elevation to chief client officer for Asia-Pacific. BCW has overhauled its Asia-Pacific training curriculum to better capitalise on the shift to virtual work, while there has also been considerable investment in culture and inclusion following the bias — paying off with solid employee scores on cultural and support metrics.
Much of the firm’s innovation has centered on its digital and integrated marketing capabilites, which 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. All of which has paid off with some stellar campaign work, including SABRE-nominated efforts for Gillette India, Lenovo, Honor, Zepp, Shell, LinkedIn, Dell and Britannia.
— Arun Sudhaman
The world’s biggest PR firm was also one of the first MNC networks to launch in Asia, via a Malaysian office in 1984. Since then, much like its global presence, Edelman has expanded considerably, now numbering 1,100 staff across 11 Asia-Pacific markets. And, also in line with its global focus, recent progress has been led by the firm’s ability to blend creative, strategy and a pioneering digital capability for clients across brand marketing, corporate and B2B. Much of this has been refreshed under Asia-Pacific CEO Stephen Kehoe, who took charge in 2019 after a succession of leaders in the region, and is clearly focused on turning Edelman into the industry’s most desired agency to work for.
There are 1,100 staff across major operations in Greater China (260 across Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, along with 130 across Hong Kong and Taipei), Southeast Asia (140 in Singapore, 54 in Kuala Lumpur, 50 in Ho Chi Minh City, 60 in Jakarta), Australia (80 across Sydney and Melbourne), Japan (69), Korea (121) and India (230 across seven offices).
Recent years have been characterised by a slow contraction in Edelman’s Asia-Pacific revenues, and the pandemic did not help, with fee income down 8.9% in 2020 to $96m. However, the second half of last year saw a rapid recovery which has carried over into 2021, helping Edelman record 3.5% growth to $99.9m for its 2021 fiscal year — underpinned by strong performances from Hong Kong and Taiwan (+25%), Singapore (+11%), Australia (+11%), Malaysia (+8%) and Korea (+6%). China remains a challenging market, but Edelman will be hoping that a revamped leadership team helps reorient an operation that has lagged for several years now. In terms of sectors, the firm’s key technology sector declined by 11% (thanks to the loss of HP business), offset by growth from all other sectors, notably healthcare (+30%), food and beverage (+8%), financial services (+10%), professional services (+17%) and industrial (+11%). And a focus on bigger, more profitable clients saw 5.8% growth from Edelman’s top 30, including significant expansion from Mitsubishi, Ajinomoto, Singapore Tourism Board, PayPal, Tera Laval, Samsung, Pfizer, Microsoft and GSK. There was also new business from Mindef Singapore, Ministry of Health, Novartis and ABS, along with successful retention and organic growth of such clients as the Yidan Prize, Mediatek, California Almonds and Mars Wrigley.
Kehoe has put in plenty of work to revamp Edelman’s regional leadership team and structure. A new integrated solutions team is led by regional vice chair and Australia CEO Michelle Hutton, and consolidates the firm’s expertise across creative, digital, data/analytics and strategy/planning — including the hires of Tim Green and Huw Gildon to oversee creative and strategy, respectively. Elsewhere, Pully Chau arrived to lead Greater China, Sanjay Nair returned to China to oversee the firm’s sectors, and there were a number of hires to transform the firm’s leadership in Beijing and Shanghai. Training has focused on improving client financial management, increasing retainer size and better managing resources and new business. Edelman also revamped its DE&I council, implemented multiple cultural days and awards, encouraged higher participating in citizenship and community initiatives, while upping investment in employee support and wellbeing.
For several years now, the quality of Edelman’s work has reflected its market-leading focus on creativity, digital and strategic planing. In particular, 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 and B2B demand generation. Edelman’s digital studios, meanwhile, will house 60 people by the end of its 2022 fiscal year. All of which has paid off with SABRE-nominated campaigns for Samsung (’Generation 17’), Swire, Sunkist Growers (on Animal Crossing), HP, AstraZeneca, TM Net, PepsiCo, Mitsubishi Power and the Singapore Tourism Board.
— Arun Sudhaman
The loss of the PR suffix from Ogilvy, in the wake of its high-profile ‘refounding’ a few years ago, made least sense in Asia, where the firm had build a formidable public relations offering (estimated at more than $150m) that not only led the way for the overall advertising group, but overtook US earnings sometime ago. So the return of Ogilvy PR as a distinct global brand is probably something of a relief for the firm’s Asian operations, which have continued to progress in steady fashion despite the global leadership changes that have affected Ogilvy in recent years. Asia was not totally spared, though, with longtime leader Scott Kronick moving to an advisory role and Singapore chief Emily Poon stepping up to regional president last year. Even that transition, though, seemed well planned — a hallmark of Ogilvy PR’s consistent Asia-Pacific performance over the past three decades, in a region where it combines a formidable digital and social media practice with strategic depth in such areas as public sector and public affairs, technology, consumer marketing and financial communications.
There are more than 1,000 staff working across 25 offices in 17 markets, giving it the largest regional footprint of the MNC firms, led by particular strength in Greater China (where it remains the biggest MNC PR firm), Australia, Japan, the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
2020 revenue saw a low single-digit decline but Ogilvy PR has bounced back to growth in 2021, across all markets in Asia-Pacific. New business has included global briefs for TCS and Zippo, regional PR/social briefs for Skyworth, Hisense, Google, Unilever, Huawei, Zymergen and the British Council, and significant local mandates from the likes of NutiFood, Disney+, Lazada, Foodpanda, Burger King, PTT, DAMO, Amazon and OCBC Bank. The firm Ogilvy Health unit also saw a strong return to form, particularly in China and Taiwan, while its social practice remains one of the strongest in the region, helping power numerous integrated assignments for the likes of Nestle, Colgate, Unilever, Google, Huawei and NutiFood.
Kronick led Ogilvy PR in Asia-Pacific with rare distinction, but the elevation of Poon provides Ogilvy with renewed energy, supported by a very stable leadership team that features Andrew Thomas in Singapore, Andreanne Leclerc at Ogilvy Social, and other key figures such as Wendy Wu (client service), Simon Webb (reputation/sustainability), Joe Yu (China), Clara Shek (HK), Richard Brett (AUNZ) and Diecam Nguyen (Vietnam). Michelle Ang was appointed to oversee PR growth in Southeast Asia, while Putri Mahardhaka Rini and Akashah Q took on senior roles in Indonesia and Singapore, respectively. Ogilvy also stepped up ethics and D&I training, launched an employee assistance program to help families through the pandemic, and formalised its wellness partnership with the Human Edge.
Ogilvy’s prolific thought leadership operation has been a key factor in the firm’s Asia-Pacific success, encompassing regular publications that cover influence, public affairs, Covid19. The firm’s leaders are also highly visible in this regard, participating in numerous events and other initiatives that span such areas as education, professional development, business insight and nation branding. A focus on disruptor and DTC brands has paid off in major assignments for such companies as Line Bank, Grab, Uber Eats, Gojek and Traveloka, while the firm’s social practice demonstrates strong innovation, not least through its AI influencer activity in Vietnam. Unsurprisingly, Ogilvy’s campaign work continues to reflect these strengths, including SABRE-nominated campaigns for Vogue (‘Project Uniform’), Ta Ya Electric, Hotel Royal Chiaohsi, PTT Oil, Agile Group, Viatris, Huawei and Tencent.
— Arun Sudhaman
A new era is undoubtedly underway at Weber Shandwick under the leadership of global CEO Gail Heimann, but the firm’s Asia-Pacific operations continue to benefit from the stability and steady focus that helped it land Asia-Pacific Consultancy of the Decade honours in 2020. CEO Baxter Jolly moved to become chairman, with North Asia chief Tyler Kim stepping up to the top job in his stead. Weber Shandwick’s cohesive regional strategy under Jolly means that the whole often adds up to more than the sum of its parts, thanks to considerable geographic breadth and specialist depth in such areas as healthcare, digital/analytics, social impact, technology and consumer marketing.
There are around 900 staffers across a 10-market regional footprint that features major operations in Greater China (500 people), North Asia (Japan and Korea), Singapore and India. Meanwhile, Weber Shandwick sold its Australian operation back to CEO Helen Graney.
2020 revenues saw a single-digit decline, but 2021 has seen a solid recovery take root, bolstered by a 4% increase in revenue from Weber Shandwick’s top 40 clients, which include such names as Amazon, Novartis, the Gates Foundation, Nike, Samsung, IBM, J&J, Temasek, ExxonMobil, Daimler and Mastercard. There was new business from Ikea, Legoland, Disney, Facebook and Japan’s Prime Minister’s Office (North Asia); Tata Trusts, Dell Foundation, Nestle, Bayer and Vedanta (India); and continued healthcare and digital growth from the firm’s new Hong Kong and Singapore hub. There was also expansion in the firm’s purpose and social impact initiatives, for such clients as Lifebuoy, Hero Motor Corp, Shiseido, Ikea and Temasek, and in its data-driven narrative development for the likes of SPH, J&J, United Women Singapore, Manulife and Standard Chartered. It is also worth mentioning that Weber Shandwick now has 237 Asian-domiciled clients, up from 133 in 2019, and featuring companies such as Tata, Alibaba, LG, Samsung and Vedanta.
Kim’s promotion to regional CEO has been accompanied by a string of leadership changes in recent months, including the expansion of Hong Kong chief Albert Shu’s remit to include Singapore in a new hub model that aims to consolidate the two office’s strengths. Accordingly, Vanessa Ho Nikolovski became chief client and growth officer, while another major change saw Lydia Lee relinquish China leadership to take on a regional sustainability role. Corbin Hsieh was elevated to China GM, while other appointments included Juny Lee as Korea MD, Carolyn Devanayagam as corporate and regional technology lead, and Robert Broad and Wincy Chan as healthcare EVPs. As befits its collegial reputation, Weber Shandwick moved swiftly in terms of its employee support efforts, sourcing PPE and only cutting senior management salaries for a short period of time before reinstating them. There 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.
Weber Shandwick’s creative capabilities remain in strong shape, reflected in a thought leadership platform that focuses on solving at the intersections, at a time when the overlap between practice areas and sectors calls for a more integrated mindset. That approach has brought particularly benefits in terms of Weber Shandwick’s work across data-driven narratives, sustainability/social impact, predictive intelligence, geopolitical analysis/advisory and virtual platforms, the latter of which includes the firm’s proprietary Conference+ engagement platform. And that mindset is further reflected in the best of Weber Shandwick’s work, which included nine SABRE nominations, notably the ‘Dharavi Diligence’ anti-Covid campaign in India, ‘Eau de Holiday’ for Hotels.com, and Champion Restart for Nike in China.
— Arun Sudhaman
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