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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:
Best-known for its technology credentials, WE has undergone a rapid transformation in Asia-Pacific, now under the leadership of international chief Kass Sells. An ambitious acquisition spree added top-rated outfits in China (Red Bridge), India (Avian Media) and Singapore (Watatawa). The net effect of this expansion, along with an earlier deal for Australian agency Buchan, is that WE now possesses a regional network that extends beyond technology through healthcare, consumer, B2B and corporate/public affairs.
There are more than 450 WE employees across offices in Australia (50), China (100), India (300) and Singapore (45), along with 15 at corporate consultancy Watatawa.
2020 revenue fell by 2.2% to $26.3m, a credible performance given last year’s challenges, with significant growth returning for WE’s 2021 fiscal year. Healthcare, including pharma and healthtech, was WE’s fastest growing sector, but technology remains the core of its work across practices, including much of its consumer work in China and Australia. Market performances reflected the overall picture, with all flat, but — in addition to healthcare — bright spots included digital growth across the region, along with expansion from social impact consulting and double-digit growth from Watatawa. New business included the multimarket assignments for Intel, Alteryx, AstraZeneca, Treasury Wine, Rockefeller Foundation and NetApp, along with local mandates for Adobe, Janssen, J&J and Wilson Security (Australia), GSK, Celine and K11 (China), Lego, EdelGive Foundation, Nathealth and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (India), and Mercatus, Prudence Foundation and Schneider Electric at Watatawa. These join an existing client roster that features Adobe, Allianz, Amazon, F5, GSK, iRobot, Reckitt, Samsung, Schneider Electric and Wilson Security.
There have been many positives from WE’s smart acquisition strategy in Asia-Pacific, but perhaps the most important of these is the leadership team that has remained in place, featuring Penny Burgess in China, Nitin Mantri (India), Simon Pangrazio (Watatawa), and Rebecca Wilson (Australia and Singapore). New appointments included a slew of senior names to help support Australia’s growth, along with specific hires to underpin a ‘reset’ of the Singapore operation, including MD Daryl Ho from Edelman. And WE’s relatively unique mix of scale and independence was reflected by a highly enlightened response to the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic. There were no pay cuts, or job losses, or furloughs, but instead an increase in mental health support and time off, along with focused resource distribution, including oxygen concentrators and free vaccinations, for Avian WE during the worst of India’s Covid-19 crisis.
Thought leadership played to WE’s strengths, including specific initiatives focusing on purpose and leadership (Singapore), policy and social development (India), and LGBTQ+ activism (India). The firm’s capabilities now demonstrate considerable breadth, including policy and social impact expertise in India, digital and integrated marketing capabilities in China and Australia, and technology and corporate counsel in Singapore. All of which was reflected in SABRE-nominated campaigns for Westlife Development and the Kamonohashi Project against human trafficking in India, and further initiatives for Celine and GSK in China, Adobe, Janssen, Wilson Security and Hearing Australia in Australia, and APRIL, Mercer, IHH Healthcare and Olam from Watatawa.
— Arun Sudhaman
Eight years since entering Asia, Allison+Partners has not only built a credible regional presence, but has demonstrated that scale need not be a barrier to providing a broad range of strategic services. With global chief operating officer Jonathan Heit now based in the region, a relatively new leadership team has ensured that Allison did not miss a beat despite the difficulties wrought by the pandemic, with the firm benefiting from its strength across technology, corporate and healthcare, supported by strong capabilities in data/analytics, digital experiences, media mapping, demand-gen and executive positioning.
There are around 85 people in owned Allison offices in China (50 in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and a new office in Tianjin), Japan (10) and Southeast Asia (23 in Singapore and Thailand), while Allison also operates via deep affiliate relationships in India, Korea and Australia.
2020 revenue remained steady at around US$9.5m, thanks to 50% growth from Allison’s technology practice and, remarkably, 19% consumer expansion — the latter thanks to Allison’s focus on consumer digital brands that grew during the pandemic. There was new business from Databricks, EDF, F45, GE Healthcare, Honeywell, Pfizer, Shiseido, the Singapore Institute of Technology, Suning and VF, adding to a client roster that features Booking.com, Bosch Home Appliances, Cargill, Corning, Monde Nissin Corporation, Nike, Qualcomm, Standard Chartered Bank, Tableau and TikTok. Allison also expanded Asian work onto the global stage for such clients as The Goldman Prize, Qualcomm, Lam Research, ResMed, TechData, Teradata and YMTC, and local offices netted significant mandates from 2C2P, Bayer, BOE, Inspur, Lark and Schneider Electric. The firm is forecasting record growth for its Asia-Pacific operations in 2021.
Alongside Heit, Allison’s key regional leaders include China MD Jerry Zhu and regional growth and innovation MD Jeremy Seow, who is based in Singapore. Shen Jegathesan was promoted to client service SVP in Singapore, while new appointments included Rain Wang as Shanghai GM and Daniel Li as regional VP in China. Allison’s global employee culture has always served as a competitive strength, reflected by zero layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs during Covid, along with employee resource groups and regular training on unconscious bias, harassment and professional development.
In China, Allison’s positioning reflects the demand for high-end consulting, particularly in terms of Chinese companies going global. In Japan, meanwhile, the firm’s digital capabilities give it a similarly unique edge, while in Southeast Asia, Allison benefits from a cohesive integrated marketing and digital capability. Campaign highlights included launching TikTok for Business, smart mobility work for Qualcomm Automotive, Covid-19 programming for Booking.com and supporting Baidu World 2020.
— Arun Sudhaman
A leadership change in 2020 saw Weber Shandwick veteran Darren Burns return to sister firm Golin as Asia-Pacific CEO, putting him in charge of a group that comprises the Golin and DeVries Global brands. And while DeVries has punched above its weight for several years now, focusing on next generation consumers across a range of sectors, Burns’ arrival has seen a particular elevation in Golin’s profile. The latter firm’s Asian presence has sometimes seemed to lack the verve of its US and UK operations, but a focused approach on consumer, corporate and technology — underpinned by above-average creative and digital capabilities — is starting to move the needle for the IPG firm. Notably, there is increasing data and back-office integration between the two agencies, even if the brands remain clearly distinct.
Golin has around 200 staff across the region in China (100), Hong Kong (35), Taiwan (40) and Singapore. Meanwhile, there are 100+ staff DeVries Global employees across offices in Beijing and Shanghai (70 in total), Taipei (15) and Singapore (20).
Golin’s revenue dipped slightly in 2020 to around $15m, but 2021 is forecast to return 10% growth. The firm’s China operations, which include the Golin and GolinMagic brands, were up 12% in 2020, with new business from JBL, Flexport, GP Batteries, Texas Instruments, Amazon, Bayer and Merck. Hong Kong benefited from corporate and healthcare expansion, which included Collinson, L’Oreal, Invesco, AIA, Amgen and Roche. Singapore had a more challenging 2020, but there was growth from McDonald’s, Dow, Unilever and Porsche, along with new business from Disney+ and Kotex. And Taiwan’s focus on technology and healthcare, for such clients as Texas Instruements, Micron, Gilead and the AIDS Society of Taiwan, helped it weather the worst of 2020. Golin has taken back its Indian operation from Lintas (numbering around 10 people under the IPG Dxtra group), and a smaller operation in Indonesia won Hyundai.
For DeVries, 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 accounting 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.
Burns’ tenure has seen leadership changes in China and India, with Lydia Shen now overseeing both brands in the former market, and Burns himself taking interim charge of the Golin brand in Singapore. Other key Golin leaders include Jane Morgan in Hong Kong and Terry Chiang in Taiwan, while Simon Ruparelia oversees regional growth and Shouvik Mukherjee was promoted to oversee regional creative. At DeVries, Shen is joined by Singapore & Southeast Asia MD Rafidah Rashid, and Taipei head Vivian Liu.
Both Golin and DeVries benefit from a relatively strong focus on culture. Golin has created a new DE&I Council, and has also elevated its mental health and wellbeing support, which includes a dedicated mental health counsellor in Hong Kong, while launching a top client leaders programme that includes training and professional development. At DeVries, 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.
Golin’s best work reflects its specific strengths in terms of its ability to integrate its proprietary customer journey and relevance radar data with a creative focus that covers data-driven stories, an innovative use of technology and visual storytelling. There are also specific strengths in terms of ESG and DE&I counsel, reflected in SABRE-nominated campaigns for Collinson, the Environmental Campaign Committee, the Taiwan AIDS Society and the Book Depository. DeVries’ 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
Ruder Finn’s Greater China operations continued to account for around 85% of its US$39m in regional revenue in 2020, but regional chief Elan Shou (who is based in Shanghai) remains steadfast in her efforts to build a credible offering for the independent agency in Southeast Asia and India, specifically. The firm’s capabilities include considerable automotive and luxury expertise in China, along with with fast-growing capabilities in travel & tourism, beauty and digital. Hong Kong is best known for its corporate, financial services, crisis and digital experience, while Southeast Asia and India work across corporate, consumer and technology.
There are around 557 Ruder Finn Asia-Pacific employees, with the majority located in Greater China (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shenzhen) and smaller operations in Singapore, Malaysia and India.
Despite the firm’s over-exposure to China, which effectively lost four months during the pandemic, Ruder Finn managed to keep its regional revenues flat in 2020, and a double-digit rebound is underway this year. While travel and retail bore the brunt of the pandemic downturn, most of Ruder Finn’s clients stayed with the firm, and have started spending again, adding to existing growth from the firm’s luxury, beauty/skincare, consumer electronics and financial services practices. There was new business from BASF, Dah Sing Bank (HK), DoubleVerify, Edrington and Vivo, the last of which adds to a consumer electronics portfolio that is dominated by Chinese brands going global, including Oppo, Xiaomi and Tencent. Other key existing clients in Greater China include EquitiesFirst, Estee Lauder, Ikea, Marriott International, Moet Hennessy Diageo, Porsche, Singapore Tourism Board, TikTok and Visa, along with important local assignments for Mercedes-Benz, MHDC, McDonald’s China, LG, Macy’s, FedEx and HSBC. Elsewhere, India drove significant growth from client base that includes DXC Technologies, Fiserv, IEEE, Xiaomi and Visa, while Southeast Asia was flat in 2020 but is expected to grow this year, with clients such as Visa, DBS, Pan Pacific Hotels, Trafigura, and Cybersource to the fore.
In addition to Shou, key leaders include luxury head Gao Ming, RFI Asia MD David Ko and global head of risk Charles Lankester, while Atul Sharma and Brian Witte lead India and Singapore, respectively. Unsurprisingly, Ruder Finn benefits from its independence; there were no layoffs nor pay cuts due to Covid-19, while the firm elevated virtual support for employees, including weekly anti-stress sessions and vaccination drives. Ruder Finn was the first to put an Asian woman in charge of its regional operations, and is a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ causes and broader diversity initiatives, both internal and external.
Ruder Finn’s willingness to invest in digital tools and research continues to reap dividends, most notably through its annual China Luxury Forecast, now in its ninth edition and specific digital tools focusing on crisis simulation and influencer analysis. All of which underpins a vastly improved awards performance from the agency, with standout campaigns including a virtual open house for the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, 3M’s State of Science Index, and integrated transformation work for EquitiesFirst, Edrington and Manulife.
— Arun Sudhaman
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