2021 Middle East PR Consultancies of the Year | PRovoke

2021 Middle East Consultancies of the Year

The 2021 EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 200 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the UK, Europe the Middle East and Africa. Analysis of each of the finalists across 20 geographic and specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners were unveiled at the 2021 EMEA SABRE Awards on 9 June.

You can find the 2021 SABRE Awards EMEA winners here.

Winner: H+K Strategies (WPP)

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H+K’s Middle Eastern presence spans nine countries across MENA, making it one of the top three players in the sub-region, highlighted by its selection as our 2020 Middle East Consultancy of the Year. The firm has grown considerably over the past four years under CEO Bashar AlKadhi, whose remit expanded last year to include Continental Europe and the Nordics. There is particularly strength in energy, finance and economic/cultural development — bolstered by the expansion of the firm’s Studio creative offering. 

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Headquartered in Dubai, there are 250 people across nine MENA offices, with particularly strong operations in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 

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After tripling in size between 2016 and 2019, H+K still managed 12% expansion in the Middle East in 2020, despite a significant downturn in Dubai. Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia have emerged as key drivers of new business, from such clients as Mubadala, Adnoc, Saudi Aramco, Royal Commission of Riyadh City, the Hope Consortium vaccine distribution hub, the Ministry of Human Resource & Development and King Salman Park. There were also new assignments from such MNCs as Disney, Facebook, Bayer and Ford, reflecting the breadth of H+K’s offering. Significantly, 49% of the firm’s growth in the region is organic.

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The firm has invested heavily in its culture, with a robust professional development initiative (3300 hours of training last year) that supports qualifications, scholarships and internships. H+K’s senior leadership team in METIA is 50% female, includes 14 different nationalities, and is regularly featured in Great Place to Work rankings. 

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The firm’s leadership position is further reflected by the role its key executives play on industry bodies. Campaign highlights include Riyadh Art to the World, ‘Gamers Without Borders’, and #MonthofGood — all of which demonstrate H+K’s ability to fuse social impact, cultural intelligence and business outcomes on behalf of its clients. 

Arun Sudhaman



Finalists

Asda'a BCW (WPP)

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Now in its 21st year, Asda’a BCW has always been a regional industry pioneer. Born in the UAE, with a distinct Arab identity, from day one it disrupted the industry model by targeting a market that had never used PR before: local governments, family businesses and emerging regional brands with global ambitions. The agency continues to be led by Sunil John, who founded the agency in 2000 before selling a majority stake to Burson-Marsteller in 2008, and is still rooted in and committed to the region. Asda’a BCW is the only Middle Eastern networked agency that reports directly to global headquarters rather than EMEA, with John as president taking a seat on the global BCW board.

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Asda’a BCW has eight wholly-owned offices in UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Saudi Arabia (Riyadh and Jeddah), Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Jordan; and nine affiliates in Oman, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan, Egypt, and Palestinian Territories.

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In a tough year, where all the areas the agency was strongest – travel and tourism, retail, real estate and oil and gas – hit hardest by the pandemic, the team stepped up its ‘Power of Three’ strategy,
working alongside sister agencies Proof Digital and PSB Research, considerably upping its digital capabilities, and rolling out a ‘Project Reset’ programme to support clients. PSB alone grew income by 50% over the year. PR income shrank by just 4%, making the firm one of the best performers in the network sector, and having bounced back in Q4 the agency is one track for double-digit growth again in 2021. Asda’a BCW won $10 million in new business with a revenue impact of over $6 million in 2020. New work came from government departments, healthcare companies including Boehringer Ingelheim, International Monetary Fund and investment banks, sports federations and restructuring firms, which joined a client roster that includes Visa, Emirates bank, Ford, GE, Jumeirah Group, Nestlé and the Red Sea Development Company.

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Asda’a BCW now employs 160 people, 50% of whom are women. It nurtures a culture of inclusion, learning and innovation. In the BCW Global Annual Employee Engagement Survey, 93% of the team said they were proud to work for Asda’a BCW – the highest score for a region in the BCW global network; 84% of employees across 30 nationalities feel their cultural differences are valued. As part of the ‘BCW Belong: Moving People Toward Diversity & Inclusion’ programme, the agency focuses on improving workplace diversity, inclusion and retention, professional development and external reach, via bias mitigation, awareness training, employee resource groups, and a variety of partnerships. 

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The firm’s Arab Youth Survey remains one of the most valuable pieces of research and thought leadership in the industry; its 12th annual edition in 2020 included a ‘pulse’ survey later in the year, once again shaped debate about the region and Arab youth at the highest levels around the world. SABRE shortlisted work included #MoveForwardwithBayer, an integrated campaign featuring the virtual avatars of two young Saudis to attract young people into careers in the pharma sector, which doubled the number of Saudis and the number of young women in Bayer’s ‘field force’.

Maja Pawinska Sims

Hanover (Avenir Global)

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Hanover was founded 22 years ago by Charles Lewington, who remains as CEO after selling the agency to Canadian group Avenir in April 2019. The consultancy has grown to a heavyweight with true trusted advisor status, providing strategic counsel to corporate clients, working with senior leaders to enhance recognition, reputation, and resilience and working with some of the world’s biggest businesses on the most complex global communications challenges. The Middle East operation, led by Jonty Summers and focused on strategic communications and public affairs, trebled in size overnight in 2017, when Hanover bought Bell Pottinger’s business in the region. 

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Hanover is headquartered in London and the Middle East operation is based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The agency also has offices in Brussels and Dublin. 

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It was a record-breaking year for Hanover Middle East, where revenue for 2020 was up 28% to £2.6 million, most of which was retained income for corporate and financial services clients. Hanover’s team in the region now numbers 22. Work for the Public Investment Fund expanded in Saudi Arabia, and there was new business from the UAE government, pharma and private healthcare providers including AstraZeneca and Janssen, regional restructuring firms, the arts sector and New York University’s Abu Dhabi outpost. Overall, the 171-strong agency ended the year with income up by 7.5% to £21.9 million, driven by new top-tier clients such as Uber Eats, Pizza Hut, Novartis, Disney and Pernod-Ricard. The agency’s client roster also includes Facebook, Instagram, Sky, Goldman Sachs, Merck/MSD, Apple and Uber.

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The UAE being one of the first and fastest governments to shut down was initially a huge challenge for the team and clients, who are used to the agency being in their offices and lots of face to face connection. The expats on the team also struggled with uncertainty of when they could get home to see family. The agency put its people first, enhanced its already comprehensive LiveSmart wellbeing programme, including support around stress, anxiety, bereavement and sleep, to enable everyone to shift working hours as needed and trained leaders to identify signs of burnout in their teams. As well as Zoom discussion groups on film and podcasts, exercise clubs, wine tasting, a virtual day at the races, awards and quizzes, Hanover created mechanisms for the team to talk about the ongoing situation with management. The agency’s inclusion and diversity network, IN, promotes positive behaviours and practices around gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, working parents, LGBTQIA+, age, and mental health. Currently, Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation is at 15% across the group, with a target of 20% by the end of this year.

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One of the agency’s leading pieces of thought leadership is its annual Middle East Healthcare Business Barometer 2020, interviewing 102 senior-level decision makers within healthcare businesses across the region. Last summer, the agency launched a group-wide Rewire initiative to help clients evolve, with a focus on purpose, vision and culture; brand positioning; relationships with internal and external stakeholders; responses to political, regulatory, environmental and reputational challenges; and engagement and communication strategies. It also offers Hanover 360° to clients across EMEA looking to embed sustainability practices within commercial strategy, public affairs and communications.

Maja Pawinska Sims

Weber Shandwick (IPG Dxtra)

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Weber Shandwick MENAT won the PRCA’s Large Consultancy of the Year trophy this year—its second triumph in the past three years and evidence that the global, Interpublic-owned agency has established itself as a major player in the Middle East. Not surprisingly, the firm has impressive strength in the region’s sturdy financial services sector, but more recently it has been expanding its digital and social media capabilities, including content creation and influencer marketing.

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Weber Shandwick has a smaller Middle East footprint than many of its rivals—offices in Abu Dhabi, Doha, Dubai and Kuwait City, as well as an Istanbul office and a network of affiliates in eight additional markets—but an outsized reputation. 

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While Weber Shandwick revenues in EMEA as a whole took a small dip in 2020, there was still growth in the Middle East. There was growth from clients such as Mastercard and SABIC and new business from the likes to UEFA, as well as plenty of EMEA wins that include work in the Middle East.

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Weber Shandwick has an impressive leadership team in the Middle East, headed by Ziad Hasbani, a 14-year veteran of the firm who serves as CEO. He has support from Ghaleb Zeidan, who leads the UAE operations, Noura Al Sarraj in Dubai, Seda Yalçin in Turkey, and senior integration officer Peter Jacob. New additions in 2020 included Salim Rachid, to lead the firm’s social impact work, and Becky Briggs-York who is leading consumer practice work in Dubai. A values-driven approach to culture, with an increased emphasis on inclusion, has helped to establish the firm as one of the region’s best workplaces.

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Partnering with longtime client Mastercard, Weber Shandwick has won recognition for its strategic communications and thought leadership work, an initiative that converted insights and data related to safe contactless technology adoption into stakeholder messages and stories. Other recent highlights include launching Warner Bros. World in Abu Dhabi and helping McDonald’s celebrate its 26-year history in Kuwait.

Paul Holmes