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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:
SenateSHJ, founded in 2002, bills itself as working on “projects that matter for organisations we respect” and its expertise in complex, high-end strategic communication services such as reputation management, crisis and issues, change communications, ethical healthcare, digital services and social, public affairs and social marketing helps it stand apart from others in the New Zealand and Australian markets.
With a network of offices in major cities throughout Australia and New Zealand, SenateSHJ has become one of Australasia's largest consultancies and, through its membership of the PROI network, also services clients worldwide, including an increasing amount of healthcare work across the Asia-Pacific region.
After a Covid-induced dip in 2020, SenateSHJ rebounded quite nicely in 2021, when revenue rose 16% to $9.1 million, and headcount grew to 46. Staff retention, a clear focus on quality consulting and investment in innovation and offerings fueled the lift. Another major factor: high-profile Covid-related public education assignments from the Australian and New Zealand governments, as well as other healthcare clients. New business also came from NSW Government (countering violent extremism), Pfizer, Camp Australia, Department of Internal Affairs (Three Waters reform), and South Seas Healthcare Trust (Covid-19 and vaccination programme Pasfika community response). They joined a list of existing clients including Bupa, HESTA, Bluescope, Olam and Fuji Xerox.
SenateSHJ's commitment to a fair and equitable workplace led to being named PRovoke Media’s 2021 best Asia-Pacific midsize agency to work for. The agency’s D&I policy is rooted in creating an inclusive workplace where employees feel valued and respected because of their differences and backed by practices that promote diverse recruits, employees and leadership — and look for clues in exit interviews, surveys and salary reviews for ways to improve. Talent has long been a key differentiator for SenateSHJ — its founders were veterans of the well-respected Porter Novelli partner Turnbull — with founding partner Neil Green supported by group managing director Brendon O'Conner, previously a director at PwC Consulting in New Zealand and managing partners in Melbourne and Wellington. The firm’s regular showing on our Best Consultancies to Work For list, is an indication of its ability to attract, retain, and develop a new generation of talent.
In the past year, SenateSHJ has invested in expanding capabilities by building new products, creating a formal ESG practice and growing its market intelligence offer by appointing a senior researcher to design and lead formal research programs for clients. SenateSHJ also created the Togetherness Index, a study of the impact of communications in the community, information used in conjunction with the firm’s ongoing trans-Tasman Reputation Reality research and insights. SenateSHJ is particularly well-regarded for its corporate reputation work, with its licensed Four Rooms of Change methodology gaining traction, and for its crisis management expertise, which has led to its work with several insurance companies providing coverage for cyber-crises in particular. High-profile work included helping South Seas Healthcare Trust contain the Covid delta variant outbreak in South Auckland, as well as helping keep government officials up to date on their efforts.
— Diana Marszalek
A global public relations firm historically best known for its work in the public policy arena but now a broad-based corporate and public affairs player, APCO’s Asia-Pacific presence includes operations across Greater China, India and Southeast Asia, bringing its typically sophisticated C-suite expertise to a range of clients in ‘issues-rich’ environments. In particular, the firm has benefited recently from the addition of digital and data-driven expertise, and a focus on the healthcare sector, along with depth in terms of in-demand areas such as geopolitical counsel, social impact and ESG.
There are around 110 fee earners spread across APCO’s Asia-Pacific operations, which include offices in Greater China, Japan, India, Singapore and Korea.
The past 12 months have played to APCO’s strengths with clients looking for strategic advice on mission critical communications challenges, internal and external, so global growth was a robust 21%, with the Asia-Pacific region up 16% and contributing $14.5 million of the $172 million total. Nine out of the top 10 clients in the region have been with the firm for three years and strong retention was supplemented in 2021 by more than 60 new clients: the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, Arconic, Ficci, Lam Research, Levi Strauss, Pernod Ricard, Riot Games, and West were among those joining major clients such as Adobe, Amazon Web Services, Dell, Edwards, Elsevier, Enterprise Florida, Estée Lauder, Gilead, HP, the International Copper Association, Mars and Microsoft. Growth in the healthcare sector was particularly noteworthy, with a client roster that now includes the likes of AdvaMed, Bayer, Lilly, Stryker, Takeda, and biopharma company i-MAB.
A strong local leadership team includes chief operating officer for China, Anna Wang and experienced managing directors, Masayo Nagai in Japan and Rahul Sharma in India. New hires over the past year included JJ Lee as managing director of Southeast Asia; James Tyrrell, who relocated to Asia and took on a new role as global health chair; and Bruce Fu as managing director in Beijing; while Deborah Elms, founder and executive director of the Asian Trade Centre, joined the firm’s International Advisory Board. Globally, the firm has invested in training and development throughout the Covid pandemic, and has also started to offer a more flexible approach to work, as well as an increased emphasis on both diversty and inclusion and mental health issues.
One of the most notable events of the past year was the Asia-Pacific launch of APCO Impact, the firm’s sustainability and social impact practice, recognizing the growing importance of sustainability and governance issues in Asia. In the public affairs realm, APCO helped the International Copper Association engage with policymakers and key stakeholders around a variety of issues, worked with a host of companies including HP and Microsoft to help them engage with Chinese officials during a time of shifting trade policies and priorities, and helped gaming company Games 24 address concerns at the state level in India, and supported Levi’s in China as it sought to navigate the global crisis over the sourcing of cotton amid concerns over the treatment of the Uyghur population. In the healthcare space, meanwhile, the firm managed a major regional campaign for Gilead focusing on Creating a Healthier Asia and spanning Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, and also worked to engage with the HIV community in the wake of the Covid pandemic.
— Paul Holmes
Astrum was founded in 2015 with the mission “to be the most sought-after science-based reputation advisory” in India, based on the firm’s commitment to garnering deep understandings of stakeholders before engaging them. That approach is backed by a multi-disciplinary team that includes policy experts, lawyers, sociologists and data analysts on top of experts in reputation, advocacy and public relations, who abide by the idea of using science and creativity to ethically shape public opinion.
Astrum works exclusively in India with staff in New Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai and affiliate reach in over 60 cities and towns of India.
Boosted by a 90% client retention rate, Astrum met its financial goals in 2021. The agency, which started with six people in 2015, expanded into a 30-person team that includes the full range of professionals, from experts in public relations and reputation management to lawyers and sociologists.
Astrum prides itself on being an inclusive and equal opportunity operation in accordance with a clearly established code of professional ethics, to which all clients, employees and business partners are required to adhere. Founding managing partner Ashwani Singla, who launched Astrum, has advised business and political leaders for more than two decades, and is known as an influential voice in India’s PR industry. Partner Shefali Khanna, who is chief of online reputation & marketing, brings close to a decade and a half of marketing and brand management experience. Partner Sharada Sharma is chief of strategic insights. Significant hires in 2021 include corporate affairs head Bhupendra Singh, who spent 30 years working for the Indian government.
As a provider of research-based consulting, Astrum offers a focused set of services including corporate reputation management; crisis preparedness & crisis communication; government & politics and strategic insights. Astrum’s campaigns, however, reach the full gamut of stakeholders — employees, candidates, and industry leaders among them. In 2020, Astrum surveyed 70 chief experience officers on their preparedness for the Covid pandemic, which found three out of five respondents were only “somewhat ready” and “used their instincts” to manage the situation — findings that were distributed to clients along with crisis preparedness toolkits.
— Diana Marszalek
The SEC Newgate brand was born from the 2019 merger of UK holding company Porta, which owned international corporate and financial consultancy Newgate, and Italian public affairs firm SEC, which had made several independent agency acquisitions in Europe and signaled its expansionist ambitions with an AIM listing (in January, the firm announced plans to de-list, backed with €49 million investment from private equity firm Three Hills Capital Partners). It took a couple of additional years before the brand was adopted by the Asia-Pacific, aligning itself with sister offices that operate under that name worldwide. The firm’s integrated services include public affairs and advocacy, financial and corporate communications, digital insights, research, crisis management and consumer PR.
In the region, SEC Newgate has operations in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra, Adelaide); Greater China (Hong Kong, Beijing), and Singapore. Globally, there are more than 600 people working across 38 offices in 15 countries.
Globally, fee income was up by about 10% last year, with the Asia-Pacific region contributing almost a quarter of the $106 million total. In Greater China and Southeast Asia the firm serves some of the largest private equity, asset management, technology and property companies in the world, while in Australia it is a go-to advisory firm in political circles and on some of the largest energy and M&A projects. Major clients include Alvarez & Marsal in China; Sydney Metro (the country’s largest public transport project), BHP, eBay, Minter Ellison, Uber, Whitehaven Coal and Endeavour Energy in Australia; and Credit Suisse, Cromwell European REIT, Frasers Property, Northstar, Pan-United, Thai Beverage, and TSMP Law Corporation in Singapore. New business came from the likes of Hongkong Land and Uber (Greater China), Carnival Australia and Square (Australia), and NTUC Income (Singapore).
Brian Tyson, managing partner of the Australian operation, was recently appointed global co-CEO, a recognition of the market’s critical importance to the firm, while new managing partner for China James Hill has increased its corporate communications and social media mandates in that part of the world. In Singapore, Terence Foo remains one of the sub-region’s most respected financial practitioners. An expansion of the leadership team last year saw Candise Tang elevated to partner in Hong Kong, focused on the property and technology sectors. The firm has not been immune from the post-Covid “great resignation,” particularly in Southeast Asia, but it has been proactive in its response, developing more flexible workplace policies with an emphasis on providing resources that allow employees to work from home and provide assistance with mental health and other work-life balance challenges, including paid wellbeing leave when needed.
In Australia, SEC Newgate advised Square, now Block, on its A$39 billion acquisition of Afterpay, the largest M&A transaction in Australia’s corporate history at the time, just one of a number of deals that helped SEC establish itself as a leader in the local transactions arena. The firm also worked with Icon Water, the Australian Capital Territory’s supplier of essential water and wastewater services on community engagement on a major new project. In Greater China, SEC Newgate was appointed by Hongkong Land to raise awareness of the company’s Central portfolio in Hong Kong. In Australia, robust thought leadership activities include public affairs briefs around major events like elections and budgets, its weekly Covid tracker, and its annual Australian ESG Monitor, which surveys over 1,000 people on ESG attitudes and behaviors. A new service offering has been developed around this burgeoning ESG area.
— Paul Holmes
Robyn Sefiani’s firm, after more than 20 years as a trendsetter on the corporate and financial communications scene, enjoys a stature in the Australian marketplace that is out of proportion to its relatively modest (20 person) size. The past few years have seen a successful expansion and diversification strategy, with Sefiani transforming itself from a relatively traditional corporate and financial communications specialist into something broader, more creative, and more modern—all without losing sight of the strategic thinking that has set the firm apart since it was founded by Sefiani upon her departure from Edelman.
Sefiani covers all of Australia from its headquarters in Sydney. But the firm has numerous international affiliates—it is the Australian partner of APCO, Grayling and Ruder Finn—providing global reach.
Sefiani made our Financial Consultancy of the Year shortlist last year despite the fact that the Covid pandemic took a major bite out of its core business as several clients retreated from the market — an indication of the high regard in which the firm is held. Its core strength was confirmed in 2021, when Sefiani rebounded impressively, as clients recognized the need for robust, strategic communication that really impacted the business. Corporate and financial communications, crisis and issues management, and internal comms all contributed as Sefiani’s C-suite credibility paid off handsomely. Fee income was up by about 25% to A$3.25 million. Corporate clients include Airbus, EY (Ernst & Young), Henkel, 3M, Serco, L'Oréal and Arcadis, while the financial practice works on IPOs, capital raisings, and shareholder communication for clients including Federation Asset Management, NSW Treasury Corporation, Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation, AusPayNet, OneVentures, Hejaz Financial and Pro-invest. In the public affairs sector, the firm has worked with DoorDash, Expedia, EY and others.
The firm’s response to the severe impact of the pandemic was exemplary. A decision was made to eschew any redundancies but rather reduce everyone’s working days. The whole team opted to “share the pain” of salary cuts—which paid off when the firm needed capacity to deal with the rebound of business that kicked in by the end of the year. Robyn Sefiani continues to lead from the front, with the support of Nicholas Owens, director of the corporate and financial practice and a veteran of H+K Japan. New talent over the past year includes Amanda Galmes as managing director, after serving as CEO of H+K Australia, and Mumbrella’s PR Professional of the Year Julia Hoy, who joined to spearhead the firm’s new sustainability practice.
Sefiani has been at the heart of corporate transformation in Australia for two decades, so its new “Agents of Change” positioning already feels familiar and authentic, referring to its own role but also to a preference for clients who contribute to a better future. Its pro bono work in particular continues to make a positive impact, including anti-bullying advocacy and a reputation rebuild for an indigenous child bullied for dwarfism (a 30-minute documentary “About a Boy” resulted in over one million viewers and 362,000 YouTube views), legislative change in Australia to criminalize intimate image abuse and active support for gender equity through the Women for Election initiative. On the corporate side of the business, meanwhile, the firm has earned recognition for its work with German-based multinational Henkel, embedding sustainability into beauty brands across the company’s global portfolio following a comprehensive stakeholder engagement effort.
— Paul Holmes
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