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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:
Launched by Brian Griffin 14 years ago to focus on Southeast Asian markets that bigger players often ignore, Vero has grown steadily to 130 people across Southeast Asia. In tandem with that growth, the firm has focused on rethinking its mission, which now centers on telling the collective stories of progress. That serves as an attractive proposition in Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Phillippines, one that is supported by specific capabilities in technology, gaming, FMCG, corporate and digital, along with a value proposition that sees employee retention as crucial to client servicing.
Vero does not operate a specific HQ. There are 70 people in Bangkok, around 35 in Ho Chi Minh City, 15 in Yangon, 10 in Jakarta and a new office in Manila.
Vero grew its topline by 32% in 2020, driven by strong expansion in Thailand (+23%), Myanmar (+12%) and Indonesia (+95). And while the political situation in Myanmar has slowed that market’s growth in 2021, the firm is still forecasting 21% expansion this year, as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia all continue to grow. Much of the firm’s work is multimarket, and there was new business in 2020 from Nestle, Vivo, EA, Dorco, Tencent, OPPO, WeWork, LINE, VIVO, ThankYou, Investing in Women and Tellscore, all of which join an existing roster that features Estee Lauder Group, Dell, Intel, Daikin,Delta, Booking.com, PUBG, and EA.
Griffin’s team, which includes COO Raphael Lachkar, CCO Pattanee Jeeriphab, chief digital officer Pawares Wongpethkao has made its employee value proposition a central focus for the company, and earlier this year hired its first head of culture in Vu-Quan Nguyen-Masse. The firm has implemented a range of core benefits, including flexible office setup, health insurance, mental health and wellness support and a dedicated training roadmap, all of which results in a staff retention rate of 89%.
Thought leadership research has aligned with Vero’s focus on fast-growing sectors such as technology and gaming, while the corporate team also produced a Covid-playbook for communicators, and the firm has been at the forefront in terms of providing proactive guidance on the situation in Myanmar. Campaign highlights included the ‘Proudly Made in Vietnam’ campaign for Daikin, ‘Bangkok Booking Bus’ for Booking.com, ‘Business 2020’ for Line, ‘Dell Your Story’ for Dell and ‘Be Your Own Queen’ for MAC Cosmetics.
— Arun Sudhaman
Provoke Media’s 2020 Midsize Regional Agency of the Year, Archetype’s continued success across APAC reflects the enduring strength of predecessor Text100’s leadership team and its history in the region. Archetype Singapore is very much part and parcel of the larger operation, one that grew for the third consecutive year in 2020 despite the pall of Covid-19. The firm’s strength is in B2B technology, a carryover from Text100 and Bite, whose merger created Archetype in 2019. But the Singapore office has also expanded into corporate, consumer, creative and digital work. That Archetype Singapore operates true to the values of the agency as a whole — ambition, curiosity, and kindness — underpins the firm’s consecutive PRovoke Media honours in 2020a and 2021, when it was also named Best Large Agency to Work For.
Archetype has 52 employees in Singapore, along with a substantial operation in Kuala Lumpur.
Archetype Singapore started 2020 with key retainer wins, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), OPPO, Vodafone Business, and Infrastructure Asia, followed by additional projects with retainer clients like Amazon, AWS and Qlik, as well as project-based clients like Here Technologies, Snap and DHL. The office won 18 new accounts, contributing year-on-year revenue growth of 2% to US$4.4 million despite the impact of Covid, extending the firm’s multi-year growth streak of 17% and 19% in 2018 and 2019 respective. The first also grew project revenue with retainer clients, contributing an additional 35% of billables on top of their retainers. Strategy, monitoring of economic developments and intelligent leveraging of government initiatives were behind Archetype’s stability in 2020. The operation was net positive in profitability despite growing its headcount.
Even before the full effects of Covid were felt, Archetype Singapore took decisive steps to protect its staff’s jobs and salaries, avoiding furloughs or retrenchments while also staying efficient and productive. In keeping with the firm globally, APAC leadership took pay cuts, and helped workers adapt to remote working by providing access to benefits from equipment to mental health. Archetype hires using a DE&I framework that guides its recruitment process, as well as job opportunities. The Singapore operation also invests in training, offering employees access to platforms like LinkedIn Learning. And Archetype’s continued success in PRovoke Media’s Best Agencies to Work For employee surveys reflect the enduring strengths of its culture.
In 2020, Archetype Singapore expanded from public relations to also offer content development, market enablement, insights and analysis, analyst relations and more. For Amazon Web Services, for instance, that includes having a dedicated content centre of excellence managing end-to-end creation of enterprise customer announcements for all of AWS’ markets in Asia. The firm provides management consulting to Dow, which includes evaluating, consulting and training their in-house marketing and business communications teams in APAC to integrate digital marketing into their plans and processes. Key client work in 2020 included working with Amazon to reach out to vulnerable groups in the community to provide donations in cash and kind. The office also onboarded non-profit organisations onto Amazon’s platform so they could publish wish lists of required items, leveraging Amazon’s shopping functionality to facilitate the public’s desire to help underprivileged communities while ensuring the NPOs received the items they needed.
— Diana Marszalek
Interpublic agency DeVries Global launched its Asia-Pacific operations in 2012, carving out P&G business from sister firm Weber Shandwick to help fuel its initial expansion in China and Singapore. Now under the regional leadership of Darren Burns, the firm has transformed its offering to notable effect in recent years — focusing on next generation consumers across a range of sectors, with lifestyle and healthcare to the fore. Those efforts have been bolstered by the establishment of a creative studio in Singapore, underpinning an offering that continues to build on ‘cultural communications,’ overseen by Singapore/Southeast Asia MD Rafidah Rashid.
Singapore is the Southeast Asia hub, but DeVries also executes assignments in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
Singapore grew by a remarkable 26% in 2020, and is on track for 14% growth in 2021. Much of that is driven by expanded work for key client P&G, along with new business from Tiger, Abbott, SKII, Acuvue, Niantic and IHG. The assignments reflect the office’s strengths across integrated marketing, SEO-powered comms, design and Gen Z-focused communications, along with its ability to handle multi-market work across Southeast Asia and beyond.
Rashid is supported by Isabelle Marchand (strategy), Li Ting Ng (innovation), Rani Retmono (Indonesia) and Pichamon Ngernruang (Thailand). Of note, 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.
The firm’s 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. Campaign highlights include global brand reputation and purpose work for SK-II, and successful content to commerce activity for Acuvue.
— Arun Sudhaman
Edelman’s Southeast Asia presence includes substantial operations in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietman, adding up to more than 300 people across the sub-region, with particular strength across consumer, corporate, creative, digital and employee engagement.
There are 140 people in Singapore, making it one of the country’s biggest PR firms, along with 60 in Indonesia and around 50 each in Malaysia and Vietnam.
Edelman’s Southeast Asian operations did their best to buck the firm’s Asia-Pacific decline in 2020, with Singapore (+7.6%), Indonesia (+11.6%) and Malaysia (+9%) all reporting impressive performances. Singapore’s fiscal year growth rate for 2021, furthermore, exceeded 11%, as the firm thrived from specific growth in employee engagement, digital and creative. That is reflected not only in the firm’s 18-strong digital team, but in Singapore’s status as a creative center of excellence, and a hub for four global agency of record relationships. Average client size grew 22% over the past year, with expanded business from Mitsubishi Power, Ajinomoto, Mindef, Mediatek, ABS and the Singapore Tourism Board. Other key existing clients include HP, Samsung, Shell, Microsoft, PayPal and Nissan.
Singapore is led by John Kerr, while Mazuin Zin oversees Malaysia and Indonesia, and Thi Thien Thanh Nguyen is in charge of Vietnam. Under Asia-Pacific CEO Stephen Kehoe, Edelman has revamped its DE&I council and stepped up its focus on culture and citizenship. This is particularly noticeable in Singapore, thanks to Kerr’s approach to mental health support and wellbeing, but is also bolstered by considerable regional investment in training and talent development. Many of Edelman’s key practice leaders, furthermore, sit in Singapore — including digital vice chair Matt Collette and DXI head Gabor Koska, underpinning the office’s status as an innovation hub and helping explain why more than 50% of client budgets now come from marketing.
The Singapore office’s status as a digital and creative hub has been reflected by a string of award-winning campaigns in recent years, along with specific innovation in such areas as digital crisis, SEO, analytics and employee experience. This year’s campaign highlights included ‘Captains of Lives’ for the Singapore Prison Service and ‘The Perfect Voiceovers’ for the SPCA — both of which fused earned thinking with multimedia storytelling to deliver powerful, emotionally resonant work.
— Arun Sudhaman
Gutsy independent agency Mutant is led by former journalist and entrepreneur Joseph Barratt, who counts a successful Singaporean craft brewery as a side-hustle from running one of the best of the new generation of Southeast Asian PR firms. Mutant was started in 2012 as an agency focused on getting business results, from leads and sales to employee retention. It has evolved into a regional agency providing PR, content marketing and branding for clients across Asia Pacific and globally. Mutant’s content marketing revenue has grown by 20% over the last three years and over the past year it also increased its internal communications work for clients, as well as helping them to engage stakeholders through newsletters, sales toolkits, and research reports. In 2020 the agency introduced two new services: Mutant branded content, a design offering within the content team, to help startup and SME clients evolve their brand post-funding; and Mutant specialisations, tapping into senior teams members’ skills in HR and employer branding and media training
Mutant has two offices, in Singapore and Malaysia.
In 2020, Mutant focused on building profitability and cash reserves, and put regional expansion plans on hold. To support clients, it launched a special rate card that focused on solutions that would lead to quick returns and immediate revenue. This strategy paid off: the agency recorded 15% revenue growth to almost US$3.6 million, 18% margins (compared to 11% the previous year) and added a string of big brands and well-funded start-ups to its roster, including Disney Southeast Asia, Singapore Sports Hub, PayPal and Experian APAC. The agency also saw strong growth in its first full year in Malaysia. Facebook, a client since 2017, spent 179% more year-on-year with Mutant in 2020 across 16 different client teams including Instagram, Whatsapp and Messenger, and has hired two Mutant staffers to be seconded full-time in its office, and selected the agency as its preferred content strategy and editorial supplier in the region. Mutant had an 80% client retention rate in 2020, with Aviva, Kimberly-Clark, Zendesk, LinkedIn, Meltwater among those maintaining or increasing budgets.
Mutant now has a team of 30, with a retention rate of 85%. At the start of the pandemic, it rolled out an employee equity scheme that saw 25%-35% of salaries from account managers and above put towards owning a stake in the agency, for a three-month period from April 2020. Instead of a direct pay cut, staff had the opportunity to sell back these shares through buy-backs or to hold onto their shares for a higher valuation. The 66% female leadership team champions flexibility, including its gradual return policy for new mothers. The firm is also a supporter of LGBTQ+ community, to the point of us turning away work that doesn’t align with its inclusive values. An independent survey in mid-2020 resulted in an 86% staff satisfaction rate, with 92% of the team expressing admiration for the agency’s leadership. Key hires included Archana Menon as country manager in Malaysia from Ruder Finn.
As well as supporting Singapore telco M1 through its two-year digital transformation with a completely new approach to communications, Mutant worked across 16 Facebook teams across the Asia Pacific region to create six of the platform’s top 20 best performing content posts across APAC in 2020. Always-on content driven by Mutant’s seconded staff secured: over 800 million impressions from 1,095 content posts; a 50% increase in web visitors YoY; a 104% increase in click to ad products; and 14% increase in B2B client ad spend on Facebook. The team also positioned iKala, an unknown AI brand from Taiwan, as an industry authority by developing data-driven research on social commerce that drove B2B leads.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
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