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The 2022 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 2022 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards, which return in person to Singapore on 13 October. Analysis of all Finalists and Winners can be accessed via the navigation menu or below:
Icon Agency was founded in Melbourne in 2002 by innovative husband and wife team Joanne Painter and Christopher Dodds. Their vision was to combine the disciplines of PR, digital marketing and advertising into a new, connected model of creatively-led communications. After expanding from its consumer PR beginnings to government and corporate PR, the firm now operates at the forefront of modern PR, helping clients adapt to disruptions such as digital transformation, big data, influencer marketing and the experience economy. The agency has developed particular specialisms in deep web and digital marketing, as well as multi-channel behaviour change and social marketing, including data-driven, creative integrated campaigns to counter violent extremism, and ‘Counter Communications’, an emerging field of PR practice focused on addressing misinformation and fake news. As it enters its third decade, Icon has introduced a new brand positioning, ‘For People, with Purpose’, reflecting its ambition to make a positive impact on people’s lives and the planet. In 2021, Icon opened a new headquarters in Sydney, and introductions included the launch of a secure forms product, a new webinar and podcast service, The Content Garden – a dedicated video, content and film production studio – and I-Chat - an AI-driven chatbot to improve citizen communications.
Icon's 80 staff work across offices in three Australian cities: Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.
Icon has emerged from the Covid era as one of the largest independent communications agencies in Australia. After a strong performance in 2020, growth accelerated over 2021 thanks to a slew of wins and strong growth across its content, digital, health and government communication practices, resulting in revenues up 84% to A$15m and gross profits up 75%. Overall, the volume of new business over 2021 more than doubled, including Icon’s biggest ever account win: an AUD$9.4m government project in health and ageing. Other new clients included more government departments and construction firm Hansen Yuncken, who joined a roster including Mondelez, Schneider Electric, ADP, Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation, the University of Melbourne and software firm Airwallex.
Icon grew from 58 to 80 staff in 2021 and the agency achieved gender parity across the business and the leadership team. Icon also introduced a positive discrimination policy to attract and retain more women in traditionally male-dominated disciplines such as web development and creative, as well as more people of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Asian descent. While multiculturalism has always been a cornerstone of the agency (it manages the Australian Government’s countering violent Islamic extremism program), it has doubled-down on diversity commitments, continuing to build its Chinese-speaking team, and is on target to achieve 40% of staff from international, culturally and/or linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, including SE Asia, the UK and New Zealand, by 2025.
Painter and Dodds are supported by a leadership team including director of integrated client services Hazel Tiernan, COO Gerard Roche, and director of sales Rob Cleeve, who played a major role in the agency’s new business success. New hires included director of communications and PR Fiona Forbes, creative director Andrew North, and director of people and culture Karen Leung. As well as introducing an ultra-flex workplace model, Icon faced down the great resignation by allowing employees to work from anywhere in Australia, and overseas for up to two months a year. It also introduced an employee assistance program to support the team’s mental health and wellness, including counseling, meditation, workshops and training.
In 2021, the agency introduced its Icon EDM platform for sharing best practice campaigns, company news, market insights and customer interviews and started a reputation blog. Standout work over the year included SABRE-shortlisted campaigns for CARE Australia, a Dubai Expo campaign for the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and integrated stillbirth public awareness and behaviour change campaign for the Still Six Lives Consortium. Icon also developed a multi-channel counter-communications campaign for the Department of Home Affairs to counter the risk of right-wing violent extremism, designed to engage young Australian men before they become radicalised.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Karen Coleman has led Archetype in Australia since Bite, of which she was the MD, was merged with Text 100 in 2014, before the combined agencies became Archetype in 2019. Coleman has combined a nothing-is-out-of-bounds attitude with empathy to transform the global firm’s Sydney operation from traditional tech PR consultancy to a firm that is now pushing the edges of strategic and integrated communications for clients in the region. The business now has three areas of focus: brand, marketing and communications strategy; creative brand campaigns and storytelling; and client services. New services included the Archetype Audio Podcasting Studio, a new executive thought leadership approach, ‘Magnetic Exec’, and a deeper offer around account-based marketing to drive clients’ B2B pipelines.
Archetype Australia is based in Sydney, with a headcount of 28. The firm also has eight other offices across the APAC region.
In 2021, Archetype Australia overachieved on revenue and profitability without cost cutting, investing in its people and finishing the year with a 25% profit margin — the highest across Archetype’s APAC region, and rising to 65% for its top 10 clients. The team achieved 9.3% YOY organic growth and its top 10 clients made up 68% of total fees versus 76% from a year ago. Fee income from new clients grew almost five-fold. The firm’s client stable features the likes of Oracle, VMware, Ericsson, Smartsheet, ASUS, Github, HTC, Trend Micro, Akamai, Snyk, Tiger Beer, Diligent, Genesys, Axis, Coursera and Chainalysis.
To strengthen Archetype's offer, Coleman has invested heavily in strategic and creative talent over the year, and is now supported by the creative powerhouse duo of Lee Devine and Mickey Madgett, plus new client services lead Claire Chapman, and recently-arrived ‘chief storyteller’ Leon Spencer. Archetype’s recruitment process is guided by its DE&I framework, developed with employees, including ensuring language is inclusive, training on DE&I awareness and microaggressions, and a new onboarding process with an Insta-friendly welcome kit. The team, wherever they are working, is kept connected via a monthly internal newsletter giving a glimpse into the lives of colleagues across the region. The agency also launched its flexible hybrid working model, The Archetype Way 2.0; a ‘freedom to work from anywhere’ programme, Archetype Anywhere; free counselling and support via Archetype Lifeworks; and wellness grants and digital detox initiatives.
Coleman is working with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) to redesign the Bachelor of Comms, Digital course, and alongside strategy director Bec Madden is a judge for the ‘Digital Futures’ strand of the course, where students present prototypes for real-world business problems. The agency also partners with the university on an intern program, with an intern employment rate of 55%. Standout work over the year included the Creator Xchange for ASUS laptops: an open source platform and community for creative and design ideas, inspiration and collaboration, promoted via influencers and NFT artists’ work. The campaign led to an engagement rate of 23% with the platform. The agency also reminded Australians that heritage telco firm Ericsson is still an industry leader, with a brand film, interactive timeline, employee podcasts, and the first 5G call in Australia.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
This year Eleven turned 11; the agency has grown up, but still feels like a startup at heart. Now firmly ensconced as one of the region’s top firms, Eleven remains one of the most creative agencies in one of the world’s most creative regions. The pandemic prompted Eleven to hone its purpose, from creating cultural impact for brands to creating change for good: making a difference to the way people feel about brands, how they show up in the world and their bottom line. This shift meant Eleven emerged from the pandemic with record revenue, headcount and satisfaction scores. During the year, Eleven launched two new propositions: a sustainability practice — it’s the only agency in the world to officially partner with the United Nations — and its ‘Next’ offer, which maps emerging shifts in technology, new media, changing human behaviours and culture, across five categories: design and new media, commerce, sustainability and DIY, the metaverse and gaming, and community.
Eleven has two offices in Australia: in Melbourne and Sydney, and one in Auckland, New Zealand. It has also opened offices in Dubai and New York, and is planning a third overseas office in Los Angeles.
Eleven’s ‘change for good’ proposition paid off for the business, which recorded a 52% increase in pre-tax profits, 45% increase in revenue and 42% headcount growth. The team launched over 100 campaigns and received record NPS client satisfaction scores, above the top quartile of agencies. The agency’s success was aided by its new Sustain and Next offers, and its social and content division, which grew to a quarter of total business. Eleven’s long-standing clients include Tourism New Zealand (nine years) Campari Group and PepsiCo (both six years), Mastercard and Kellogg (both five years). It also works with Peloton and Nestlé, and new clients over the year included Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Web Services, Contiki, Intercontinental Hotel Group, Oral-B, The Great Barrier Reef Foundation and Sheridan.
As Australia went into its longest lockdown in June 2021, Eleven (again) went into action, creating new ways to work together, keep its culture alive and support its people and partners, resulting its highest ever Pulse employee survey scores. The agency created an innovation fund to encourage its people to unleash their inner entrepreneur and turn their creative side hustles into commercial reality, adopted a ‘work where’s good’ policy, and matched annual leave with an equal period of remote working. Eleven also gave everyone four days a year to create change for good in their community through volunteering, continued to invest 10% of profits into training, and introduced a parental group.
Eleven’s core team has remained constant over seven years. With its current three-year plan coming to fruition, it made promotions to lead the next phase, promoting Roberto Pace to group managing director, Fiona Milliken to Sydney MD, Angelina Farry to Auckland MD, Russ Tucker to ECD, and Amy Ashworth to Sydney general manager. The agency works with the Diversity Council of Australia to undertake assessments on DE&I policies and initiatives, such as cultural awareness and unconscious bias training, a diverse supplier list and celebrating multicultural holidays. It has composed a Reconciliation Action Plan, and is working with a First Nations artist. Its monthly Disruptor Series invites diverse speakers, such as 100% Aboriginal-owned businesses, to share stories of how they’ve disrupted their industries.
In 2021, Eleven focused on analysing what change and progress will look like, through its two cultural intelligence platforms: Backslash looks at what’s breaking in culture, served as bite-sized information, while Edges takes a deeper dive into future cultural trends. The agency made its future forecast and insights available to all, alongside detailed category-specific reports for travel, finance and retails. Multiple-SABRE-nominated work during the year included campaigns for Kellogg’s, Continental Tyres, Contiki (for which it achieved the tour company’s highest ever online booking day) and home loans fintech Nano. For Kellogg’s, the team developed the Gut Bacteria Reef, addressing the issue of digestive problems with an educational game set inside the human gut to show the benefits of eating fibre, leading to a 5% increase in sales.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Five years after its acquisition by Publicis Groupe, Herd MSL’s focus on conversations that change Australia has proven particularly appealing during the Covid era, as businesses increasingly focus on demonstrating their impact beyond profit. The firm operates across corporate, policy and consumer, with specific strengths in sustainability (via the recent launch of Salterbaxter Australia), influencer relations (through the firm’s proprietary Fluency offering) and measurement/evaluation. Of note, Herd MSL’s ability to build blended teams, for key clients such as Meta and Uber, stands out.
The firm is headquartered in Sydney, although its overall headcount of around 65 also includes a growing presence in New Zealand.
Described as one of the MSL Asia-Pacific network’s “star markets”, Herd MSL grew in the high single-digits in 2021, supported by a new business performance that saw it win every assignment for which it pitched. That resulted in new business from Amazon Web Services, Telstra, IB International, Australia Post, Car Next Door, Colonial First State, Diligent, Fujifilm, Nestlé and Visa. They join an existing roster that features long-term client Meta, alongside Arnott’s Group, Cancer Council Australia, Commonwealth Bank, Diageo, P&G, Spotify and Uber.
Skye Lambley was elevated to CEO in late 2021, overseeing a leadship team that also features chief strategy officer Stuart Wragg and consumer MD Laura Beament. Rebecca Zemunik arrived to lead Salterbaxter’s expansion in Australia, while there were also specific hires focusing on content marketing, business transformation, travel/tourism and senior client management. Herd MSL’s cultural focus on kindness has also helped it increase its retention rate to 77%, supported by strengths-focused training and several initiatives to enhance staff flexibility. Those policies also underpin the firm’s DEI commitments, which include ensuring that 40% of top leadership are women, and the Born Blak Indigenous Creator Fund that aims to level the playing field for First Nations social media creators through funding, training, and mentorship.
The firm scored an impressive five SABRE Asia-Pacific nominations, including the ‘Australia’s Leafiest Suburbs’ campaigns for Nearmap. Meanwhile, the firm’s corporate reputation work for Telstra also stands out, including the ‘Talking Loneliness’ effort to help people feel more connected.
— Arun Sudhaman
Acquired by its global parent in 2016, WE has expanded its offering to impressive effect under the leadership of Rebecca Wilson, who also oversees Singapore for the independent agency network. That diversification has seen WE evolve beyond its corporate and financial heartland, into consumer, technology and healthcare, with a particularly strong digital, experience and technology (DXT) team that includes specific expertise in attribution and ROI.
Headquartered in Melbourne, WE also operates a Sydney office, with 65 staffers spread across the two locations.
Revenue surged by 41% in 2021 to $7.7m, making WE one of Australia’s biggest PR firms. Much of that growth was organic, for a client base that includes such names as Adobe, Bayer and NGS, while WE also rationalised its long tail to ensure it was more focused on clients billing more than 500k. Integrated campaigns now represent the bulk of the agency’s work, with DXT accounting for 40% of total revenue and helping to support strong growth across strategy, health and digital. The firm’s WE Motion Matrix measurement dashboard also spurred growth from Adobe, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Janssen and Trend Micro, alongside broader new business from Abbvie, Alteryx, AstraZeneca, Capgemini, Cash Rewards, Lilly, NetApp, Sun Cable, Viatris and WorldRemit.
Wilson is supported by MD Dan Woods, appointed earlier this year, while the leadership team also includes strategy head Brian Keenan, regional health innovation and growth EVP Gemma Hudson, and health head Emma David. Significant hires included Hannah Howlett and Mike Nikotin to oversee investor comms and art direction, respectively. WE’s response to the pandemic, meanwhile, has reflected the very best of its independent ownership — with no job cuts or furloughs combining with significantly elevated mental health support and DE&I training.
Campaign highlights included the integrated Cashrewards Max launch, along with the ‘Share Your Secret’ to help Hearing Australia boost hearing loss acceptance.
— Arun Sudhaman
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