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Former HSBC and Credit Suisse in-house veteran Adam Harper launched Ashbury at the start of 2020, not necessarily ideal timing given the impending pandemic. By summer, however, the market had recovered and the Hong Kong firm’s focus on integrating communications strategy and content creation for financial sector clients was starting to reap dividends. Growth has continued since then, thanks to an in-house focus across banks, insurers, asset managers, industry associations and fintechs
Ashbury has already reached US$600k in fee income, with 10 retainer relationships and five permanent staff. Key clients include Flourish Ventures, Modular Asset Management, Pan Asia Securities Lending Association, Ping An Insurance and Alta Real Estate Capital.
Harper is supported by former in-house executives Noel Cheung, Jeremy Hughes and Joanne Chung. The firm’s culture reflects its belief that the distinction between public relations strategy and content creation makes little sense, giving it an edge over bigger, siloed, agencies. Ashbury has also developed a network of independent partners around the world, and benefits from a collaborative culture that is both curious and tenacious.
The firm’s executives all bring considerable financial sector experience, with Harper himself serving as a respected commentator on such areas as the future of finance, ESG and technology. Campaign highlights include media positioning, often involving a strong ESG angle, for Modular, PASLA, Flourish Ventures and Alta Capital.
— Arun Sudhaman
Advertising group M&C Saatchi launched Razor as its South African PR firm in January 2020, bringing in respected industry veterans Dustin Chick and Kalay Maistry to build a new business in the midst of a recession and just as the pandemic was starting to take hold. Despite (or perhaps because of) the market conditions, Razor is the fastest growing startup in M&C Saatchi’s venerable history, with its senior-level focus and expertise in financial services, technology, public advocacy and measurement helping to underpin a very 21st century reputation management firm.
Razor is headquartered in Johannesburg and also operates in Cape Town but, like most South African firms, is capable of continental coverage.
Razor has already grown to 11 staffers and 16 clients in barely a year, billing ZAR$13.5m. But it is the pedigree of the client roster that really shines, featuring such names as Dimension Data (Middle East and Africa), Trend Micro, BDO, Virgin Active, Tiger Brands, Investec Bank, Investec Life, Discovery Networks, SA National Editors Forum, Takealot Group, Revix and Lift. All of this, of course, was done on virtual platforms, benefiting from Razor’s focus on earned media metrics, social purpose and sophisticated corporate counsel.
Chick was previously head of strategy at Ogilvy South Africa, while Maistry has held senior roles at some of South Africa’s key firms and media titles. About half of Razor’s workforce is comprised of previously disadvantaged individuals, and there is also a specific focus on women and people of colour. Razor has also created a graduate programme and is on track for Level 1 BBBE empowerment status in 2021.
There were three SABRE EMEA nominations, a highly credible haul for a new firm, including BDO’s ‘Clarity Charter’, Tiger Brands’ ‘Eat Well Live Well’ initiative and #ChangeforHer for Newzroom Afrika.
— Arun Sudhaman
In July 2019, Jennifer Risi stepped down from an eight-year career at Ogilvy to launch the Sway Effect, operating under a business model built to foster alliances, as well as diversity and inclusion. The idea: create a network of agencies with a range of expertise beyond PR and comms, to address broader client needs and expand geographic reach across the US, Caribbean, and Latin America.
Headquartered in New York, the Sway Effect's footprint spans the US, Caribbean, and Latin America, with the hiring of Paula Cordova as the head of The Sway Effect based in Buenos Aires, and with network partners DLC and Founders who serve clients across the hemisphere. Additionally, a new network partnership with By The Network, has further expanded The Sway Effect’s geographic footprint into key markets in Canada, across Europe and select markets in Asia-Pacific.
Since launching, the Sway Effect has secured seven clients with more than $2 million in billings. The firm reported $2.25 million in fee income during 2020, up a remarkable 83% from its first year in business. In 2020, Sway had five full-time staff, four part-time staff, plus 50 network partners/independent senior leaders, versus the two full-time staff, three part-time staff, and 10 network partners/independent senior leaders it had in 2019.
Last year’s big wins include new business from medical tech company BD, which the Sway Effect secured in a pitch that included some of the industry’s largest firms. What started as a corporate comms assignment has expanded to include digital communications and several lines of business, accounting for 300% organic growth within the past year. Other new clients include AnitaB.org, BERG, and Signet. Appian brought The Sway Effect in to handle CEO communications, serving as a complement to existing agencies Highwire and Edelman. The American Association of Advertising Agencies, or The 4As, is also a key client.
In addition to Risi, Sway Effect leadership includes Marielena Santana, a veteran PR professional who joined the firm in August as a senior VP. In addition, Sway Effect established a physical presence in Latin America by bringing on Buenos Aires-based Paula Cordova as regional leader. From the outset, Sway Effect has made diversity, equity, and inclusion a core component of its work. Risi serves as strategic communications advisory to UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as part of the agency’s pro-bono efforts; Sway Effect is also donating time to supporting GirlGaze, a network founded by Amanda De Cadenet to drive diversity, equity and inclusion across the creative industry.
The Sway Effect has also created two proprietary tools in recent months. First, along with network partner CRANT, is a data and analytics dashboard that uses machine learning to map and track real-time conversations for brands and their core competitive set. This tool was developed for BD’s social media RFP, which the Sway Effect secured in a pitch that included some of the industry’s largest firms. Second, Sway has created a measurement dashboard that assesses the qualitative and quantitative media relations results and social media sentiment for brands today — and is being used for AnitaB.org and BD. Sway Effect’s positioning of medical tech company BD as a leader in the battle against Covid-19 through innovations was among the year’s hallmark works, which started with having to garner attention for a company that up until then had not invested in PR. The Sway Effect’s global media campaign focused on the company ramping up manufacturing of its rapid diagnostic tests, raising awareness of BD’s effort to fight the pandemic. In the first nine months, BD secured more media placements than the company had in the previous nine years.
— Diana Marsalek
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