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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:
After 24 years in the region, Hoffman can lay claim to being more of an Asian consultancy than an American one, not least because it makes around twice as much revenue in this region as it does in the rest of the world. Much of that success can be attributed to the firm’s growth beyond its B2B technology roots to encompass consumer marketing and integrated communications, with a particularly strong bent towards startups and disruptors.
There are 130 people across operations in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan.
Hoffman’s relentless pace of growth saw less of a slowdown than most rivals in 2020, up 8% to around $14m in fee income, with a further 30% forecast in 2021. Major new clients included some of the biggest brands and issues in the region, including regional mandates for Zoom, Twitch and Twitter, along with significant expansion of assignments for Invisalign, Shopline, ASML, Tealium and Shutterstock. Accounting for $1m (or 11% of 2020 revenue), the new clients joined an existing roster that features Nutanix, Lenovo, Blackberry, Ripple, Uber, Airbnb, Alibaba, SolarWinds and Supermicro, with Hoffman’s top 10 clients generating around 37% of total revenue. And, there is no question that the firm’s single P&L gives it a competitive edge over network rivals.
Former Google veteran Caroline Hsu has helped to supercharge Hoffman’s growth since taking the Asia-Pacific reins, but she is supported by a relatively stable leadership team that includes longtime leaders Lydia Lau, who heads global operations from Hong Kong, and North Asia VP Shingo Nomura. Many of the firm’s recent leadership appointments reflect a refreshing diversity of talent, including Singapore GM Maureen Tseng, Hong Kong GM Kevin On, Korea GM Kelly Kwon, brand communications director Alessandra Tinio and digital head Nicolas Chan. Salary cuts were repaid in full by the end of the year, with Hoffman’s independence and entrepreneurial spirit helping it move quickly to mitigate the worst of the downturn. Hoffman also has a better D&I record than many network rivals: all of its leaders are Asian (50% are women) and local GMs are native to their markets. There has been decisive action, furthermore, to support female career progression — in Japan, special flexitime contracts were piloted to enable working mothers to overcome the culture of office presenteeism, an initiative that is expected to expand regionally soon. All staff benefit from an optional work from home policy and Hoffman also plays a major role supporting LGBTQ+ acceptance, particularly in Taiwan.
The firm’s local leadership brings considerable Asian technology and B2B expertise, which has been supplemented by hires that span journalism, marketing, data science, startups and technology. All of which paid off in SABRE-nominated campaigns for Invisalign, Twitter, iChef and ASML.
— Arun Sudhaman
PRovoke Media’s 2020 Midsize Agency of the Year, Archetype could have had a tough go of the last two years, which included the agency’s 2019 launch stemming from the merger of Next 15 sister agencies Text100 and Bite, the loss of loss of key global clients IBM and Lenovo and last year’s Covid pandemic. But it didn’t, a credit to the enduring strength of Text100’s leadership team and culture in Asia-Pacific, which helped the agency navigate the turbulence in impressive fashion, underpinning its selection as Best Large Agency to Work For in 2020 and providing a signal example of how an agency can not only manage change, but actually capitalize from it. Led by Lee Nugent, Archetype’s Asia-Pacific also bolstered its capabilities in the last year, which it ended stronger in creative, content creation, insights and analytics and business development.
Archetype’s 320-strong Asia-Pacific operation has particularly strong operations in Australia, Southeast Asia (Singapore and Malaysia) and India, along with smaller outposts in Mainland China and Hong Kong.
Archetype had a robust 2020, adding an impressive 60 new retainers to its portfolio including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Disney+, Akamai, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pickupp, Prudential, ASUS. The firm also picked up additional work for existing clients such Amazon, Airbnb, Ericsson, Snap, Gartner, as well as project-based clients like DHL, Tile and Sukin. Revenue reached US$18.2m, a decrease of 5% compared to the previous year. Increasingly, the firm’s progress is rooted in its integrated communications services including regional PR, digital marketing and lead generation. Case in point: Archetype acts as a management consultant for Dow, training its APAC marketing and comms teams to effectively integrate digital marketing into their work. The firm retained 73% of its clients during 2020.
Building on the legacy of predecessor Text100, Archetype has invested in its people, creating the foundation for employee and client satisfaction and retention. When Covid hit, leadership protected the team’s jobs and salaries by taking pay cuts themselves and rolled out The Archetype Way program that included providing employees work from home equipment, guidelines for going off-grid during nonwork hours and mental health services. Hybrid working and flextime predated the pandemic. Recruiting and hiring is conducted in line with Archetype’s DEI framework, though the firm is poised to update it based on the findings of an employee conducted in April of this year. Employees are supported through weekly training and courses of their choosing through access to LinkedIn Learning. Archetype also encourages volunteerism, giving employees one day per quarter to help a charity.
2020 saw Archetype adapting to pandemic living, responding to the rise in podcasts by building out a production studio to optimize the channel for clients. The agency has moved beyond PR to now offer management consulting — evaluating, consulting, and training clients’ in-house teams on in integrating digital marketing. Archetype produced a Covid guide that offers clients strategic counsel and, during Singapore’s circuit breaker and phased reopening, Archetype worked with Amazon to reach out to vulnerable groups in the community to provide donations in cash and kind. The agency also onboarded non-profit organisations onto Amazon’s platform so they could publish wish lists of required items. The agency’s Reboot the Building campaign with Johnson Controls positioned the tech company as a thought leader in the smart city space. When Acer hired Archetype to boost laptop sales in Australia, the agency created a social contest that gave participants the chance to win a $4,000 home office makeover.
— Diana Marszalek
No longer the new kid on the block after an impressive 10 years in business, IN.FOM continues to bring plenty of energy to an offering that has already been won multiple Agency of the Year Awards from PRovoke Media. IN.FOM, whose clients include the likes of Samsung and Intel, had planned on 2020 being the year of supercharging the agency, including diversifying its portfolio on the heels of parting ways with anchor client Microsoft in 2019; focusing on next-gen talent; and scaling capabilities that have made the tech firm one of the region’s best. With Covid, though, IN.FOM instead doubled down on innovation and developing new offerings to keep and attract clients, such as webinar and online communications training. Bolstered further by its commitment to being true client partners, IN.FOM closed out 2020 poised to reboot its growth trajectory, including growing its headcount by up to 15%.
IN.FOM operates out of a Singapore office.
IN.FOM ended 2020 as a 20-person, roughly SGD$4.3 million business — and positioned to grow, despite losing project revenue from Covid-related cancellations. The firm kept all its retainer clients and added new partners to its roster. New business wins came from Tata Communications, NTUC Income, D’Crypt, Intel APAC Analysts program and MoguShop, who joins existing clients Samsung, Poly, Grab, Intel, Ensign Infosecurity, SAP Concur, SGInnovate, Herbalife, Expedia and Engie. The firm’s success stems, in part, from its diligence in creating and rolling out new services that clients needed to make it through Covid — marketing webinars, online communications training and services for startups among them.
IN.FOM has grown by putting its people first, operating under a protocol that includes giving employees direct access to management, collaboration and having no team structure based on, say, accounts or expertise. Additionally, IN.FOM has had a work-from-home option since it opened, doesn’t require the likes of timesheets, and offers biannual performance reviews, salary adjustments and bonuses and allowances for wellness and professional training programs. The package is working when it comes to employee retention. More than half of IN.FOM’s employees have been the firm for five years or more, and six employees are marking their 10th anniversary there. In 2020, staff salaries were untouched. IN.FOM also continued to pay bonuses and raises and make promotions. Co-founders and managing partners Wong Voal Voal and Mike Liew established the framework for a diverse and inclusive organization from the start. In addition to anti-discrimination policies, staff performance is measured by peer evaluations and candidates aren’t required to have a university degree. Staff is evenly divided between men and women. Half of the firm’s managers are 40 or older. Talent includes a local LGBTQ advocate.
In 2020. IN.FOM doubled down on offerings to meet the needs of clients during Covid and beyond. The firm launched end-to-end capabilities to organize marketing-centric webinars leading to sales leads for B2B clients through storytelling versus hard sells. IN.FOM also continued building out its capabilities around data storytelling, multimarket comms program management and visual, social, and digital storytelling.
— Diana Marszalek
Six years since its inception, Influence Matters remains focused on the fast-paced world of startups and technologies looking to wield influence in China and beyond. With a business model that’s focused on flexibility, agility and results, the firm, the agency brings international best practices and expertise to the mix, resulting in the kind of support needed by fast-growing businesses in a vibrant economy. Influence Matters supports primarily B2B high-tech industries including semiconductors, industry 4.0, AI, machine learning, IoT, cybersecurity, fintech, blockchain, adtech, deeptech, big data, gaming, software and VR/AR among many others, driven be the goal of increasing the success of those businesses in China through communications.
Influence Matters is based in China with offices in Beijing and Shanghai. Through its network of partners, the firm is also active in Asian, American, and European markets.
In the past 12 months, Influence Matters’ team has grown to 20 people across Beijing and Shanghai offices, and the agency registered year-over-year growth with fees up just under 10%. The growth was fueled by new business from tech companies around the world including Prophesee, Browzwear, Trymax Semiconductor, Illumina, Greenwaves Technologies, Riskified, Ampere Computing, Tableau Software, Winbond and SOI Industry Consortium. The fruitful year stems from the agency optimizing its operation & service to fit a no-travel, no in-person meetings world, offering virtual press events, and a much bigger emphasis on social media interactions.
Influence Matters abides by mission established at launch: “To break the Chinese PR habit of working day and night.” The agency continues to promote that by emphasizing the value of work-life balance, enabling once-givens like clocking out early and taking time off when feasible. The firm has doubled down on that ideal by implemented training and development programs to promote work-life balance and individual growth. When the Covid outbreak started hurting employee morale, agency leaders rallied optimism by keeping in constant contact with their team and individual support, so that staffers could focus on their own safety before client needs. In May 2020, the agency activated an aggressive six-month post-Covid business recovery plan, including employee incentives based on success.
Influence Matters aims to be a central partner in China for fast growing B2B technology organizations setting up or ramping up their China presence. The firm added a Client Success Director (CSD) in the summer of 2020 whose role is to build the intelligence function at Influence Matters and to work with our clients to understand their product, market and business objectives in China, then working with the account teams to devise optimal communication strategies, starting with PR influence programs and supported with lead gen marketing programs with a more direct impact on clients’ KPIs (leads, funding, connections). Influence Matters is increasingly supporting clients beyond the typical PR scope, getting closer to their business objectives in China with more direct support to their bottom line, including brand experience, lead gen marketing and investor connections. Hallmark 2020 work included building a brand presence for blockchain solution Everledger by positioning it as a leader in transparency and trust, and launching an e-commerce fraud protection platform called Riskified.
— Diana Marszalek
Founded in 2009 as one of a new wave of independent Asian technology PR firms, Rice has belied those roots to work across multiple sectors from its Singapore HQ. But B2B technology remains the firm’s mainstay, which was just as well given the growth from those particular clients as the pandemic took hold over the past 18 months. Rice also recently inked a joint venture with tech marketing firm AKIN to create Lab360, the latest in a series of industry efforts to better connect content, CRM and lead generation.
In addition to Singapore, which houses 34 staff, there are 17 in Myanmar and 3 in Hong Kong.
At $4.1m, Rice was effectively flat in 2020, with B2B technology growth helping to mitigate a downturn in consumer and hospitality. That marked the first year in 12 in which Rice had not grown, but must still count as a positive given the difficult economic environment. Specifically, Myanmar was up 81% while Hong Kong grew 16%. There was new business from EZ-Link, MyRepublic, IWG, BlackLine, Ciena, Hilti, Food & Health Bureau Hong kong, Unispace and Woodside, joining a client roster that features LinkedIn, Palo Alto Networks, Digital Realty, World Wildlife Fund, Shell, Zurich, Telenor, Zalora, the EU and Hilton. Encouragingly, revenues are up 14% this year.
While founder Sonya Madeira remains the majority shareholder from London, operational leadership is handled by managing partner James Brasher, who is supported by Myanmar head Donna Garcia, Hong Kong GM Phoebe Sou, client services director Neil Mirano and insights/strategy director Agung Santoso Ongko. Brasher’s focus is on Best Workplace honours, and while Rice is not quite there yet, the firm ensured that the pandemic did not cause any retrenchments or salary cuts, while all promotions, increments and bonuses were fulfilled. A staff retention rate of 85% bodes well, as does an 8.53 employee net promoter score, and a willingness to resign clients (three in 2020) to prioritise staff wellbeing. Staff also benefit from free therapy and counselling services, along with considerable investment in training, career progression and transparent workplace practices. The firm has also stepped up its DE&I targets, beyond blind hiring to include compulsory training, a taskforce, regular pay audits and unconscious bias workshops.
The firm’s Lab360 joint venture reflects a desire to better integrate reputation management and technology marketing, underpinned by the values it shares with AKIN, and by an increasing proportion of non-traditional comms work, including audience, channel and landscape insights (for LinkedIn), brand messaging/strategy (for Real Pet Food Company), and integrated marketing. Campaign highlights included the LinkedIn Opportunity Index, integrated comms for MyRepublic, and public service messaging for the EU Delegation in Myanmar.
— Arun Sudhaman
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