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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:
Ogilvy’s ability to blend PR and digital continues to impress in Asia-Pacific, where regional president Emily Poon has ushered in a disruptive focus on influence and technology across all of its operations. Andreanne Leclerc oversees a social team that numbers 400+ executives across the region, including expertise across social media, influencer marketing, content/context, social commerce, paid and realtime marketing. The firm’s position within the broader Ogilvy group gives it access not only to PR and creative expertise, but also to media and brand capabilities and delivery/tech skills — a combination that has proven particularly useful for its influencer marketing unit.
Ogilvy’s digital operations encompass its key Asia-Pacific markets of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Shanghai, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Sydney. There are 250+ people across the agency’s various content/context hubs in the region, including major centers in Manila, China and India, providing a variety of rapid newsroom and intelligence monitoring services.
The firm’s AI influencer unit has moved from virtual influencers to brand advocates, attracting assignments from VP Bank, Dove, Clear, Huawei, Unilever, MSD and Sabeco, while its influencer marketing work includes a $1m regional campaign for EBay and content/context work for Durex, KFC, Google, eBay, AIA, JLR, and several more. An end-to-end social offering, meanwhile, includes work across social listening, strategy, CRM, social commerce and paid, for such clients as AIA, DFS, Nestlé, Seek Asia, Huggies, Huami, KFC, HSBC, MSD, Google, Cadbury and Volkswagen.
In addition to Poon and Leclerc, several of Ogilvy PR’s key leaders also play prominent roles in their S&P team, with Vietnam head DieuCam Nguyen overseeing AI influence at a regional level, for example. The unit remains highly regarded for its depth of digital/social training, which is supplemented by deep partnerships with Google, Meta and TikTok — which include considerable training and workshops across the region. Ogilvy’s workplace efforts, furthermore, includes the 30-for-30 female leadership program, an employee assistance program in all markets and a comprehensive wellness initiative that covers a range of critical issues.
Ogilvy’s work continues to reflect its mastery of new media platforms, helping it land 30 SABRE Asia-Pacific nominations and two Innovation SABRE Awards. These included Unicef’s #StrongerMindStrongerYou social media campaign, social content for Google Southeast Asia, and AI influencer work for Clear in Vietnam.
— Arun Sudhaman
Four years have now passed since the dramatic reverse takeover of Burson-Marsteller by Cohn & Wolfe, and the relatively productive union it has engendered should not be taken lightly, given the challenging nature of such mergers. The firm was named Regional Consultancy of the Year in 2020, and now weighs in at more than $100m in revenue under the leadership of president Matt Stafford. Much of that, furthermore, has been fuelled by a transformation in the firm’s digital capabilities under chief digital officer Joe Peng, which includes new offerings focused on web 3.0, and considerable investment in such areas as audience experience, data analytics and digital service — including extensive expansion in capabilities, supported by an account-based approach that includes digital transformation consulting, agile social commerce and virtual solutions and storytelling.
BCW’s comprehensive Asia-Pacific footprint is particularly strong in Greater China and India, which are also the two markets that lead much of its digital innovation. China, for example, plays a prominent role in terms of BCW’s investment in new technology and integrated marketing, while India provides digital transformation and newsroom solutions for BCW clients across the globe.
BCW’s stellar growth in recent years owes much to integrated marketing and digital capabilities, underpinning 15% growth in 2021. The digital innovation group landed more than 50 new business wins, including B2B work for TikTok, data-driven content for HSBC and Lenzing, consistent growth for Lenovo and Shell, and further mandates for Poggen Pohl, DiDi, Colgate, Bloomberg, Puma, Dell, Viva, Continental and LinkedIn. Integrated marketing and digital capabilities, furthermore, helped underpin a new business haul that included Grab, Deloitte, TikTok, Airtel, Dyson, Starbucks, De Beers, Line Friends, Perfect Diary and Scoot.
A 70+ person regional creative team is focused on moving the firm further into video, animation and creative technology, while an overhauled training curriculum is heavily focused on e-learning and development. Stable regional leadership, which includes CEO Matt Stafford and deputy Polka Yu, in addition to Peng, have created an environment in which digital investment has transformed much of how the firm operates —reflected in strong employee survey and culture scores.
The firm’s digital thought leadership has stepped up to noticeable effect in the past couple of years, including a recent focus on the metaverse and a ‘data force’ that operates across trends, best practices and skills. And all of these have proved pivotal in BCW’s best campaign work, including Asia’s first Best in Show at the Global SABRE Awards for Lenovo, and no fewer than 14 SABRE nominations, for such clients as Oppo, American Express, Shell, Dell and Booking.com. Other highlights include helping TikTok establish a more convincing business story, and data-driven content for HSBC.
— Arun Sudhaman
Since its launch in 1996 (when it was known as Blue Focus PR), Oscar Zhao’s company has grown into the largest public relations consultancy in China and one of the top 10 public relations businesses in the world. But while growth has been a constant, the progress has not been without its challenges: last year the company shelved its plans to spin off its non-China business into a New York Stock Exchange listed company due to the Covid pandemic and then sold a minority stake in those same international businesses to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners and investment fund Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. As a result, Blue Focus remains primarily focused on its domestic market — though that market is large and fast-growing enough to accommodate its appetites for now.
BlueFocus remains the dominant player in China, with offices in all the major centers and a host of second-tier cities.
With 1,100 people, Blue Focus remains by far the largest public relations and digital marketing firm in China, and one of the largest agencies of any kind. Modest growth (just a little more than 1%) meant that it fell out of the global top 10, although with just under $370 million in fee income it is the largest single-market firm in our rankings. Major clients include a mix of Chinese companies and multinationals, including FAW, JD, GAG Group, Yili, Tencent, Lenovo, vivo, Canon, Nestlé, and BMW, while there was new business last year from Geely Technology Group, Dongfeng Motor Corporation, SAIC Motor Corporation, XPENG, MediaTek, Bayer, ETS, ByteDance, Genetron Health, and Xiaohongshu.
Pan Fei, CEO, is responsible for the strategic planning, operation, and management and has led the firm’s digital transformation and overseas business. He is supported by Stanley Xiao, COO; chief strategy officer Yorf Guo, and CCO OG.Cai. The firm is “devoted to creating a safe, orderly, diversified and inclusive working environment,” an issue Xhao has repeatedly championed internally and externally. Culturally, the firm has promoted itself as a place where local talent can thrive, a positioning reinforced by the firm’s willingness to rapidly promote young talent.
A major focus over the past couple of years has been the new Gen Z consumer, with the development last year of a new Youth Marketing Manual and a series of insight papers, "Youth Eyes,” while there has also been an increased focus on women’s issues amd values in terms of career, marriage, and consumer life. The impact of this thinking on the firm’s work can be seen in two of its award-winning campaigns from the past year: “Liberating Our Period” for Libresse, the first campaign in the region to take on this previously taboo topic, and “Life by Me" for Yasmine, a trio of campaigns focused on gender equity issues. Other notable campaigns included the creation of a virtual digital spokesperson for Dongfeng Peugeot and the creation of WeChat's 10th Anniversary Video designed to explain and celebrate the "digital society" created over the past decade. The firm has also been leading the way into the metaverse with the development of new Web 3.0 marketing tools focused on virtual people, virtual objects and virtual scenes.
— Paul Holmes
KPR lost its founder, Kay H. Imm, in February at age 91, by which time she was heralded as the godmother of the Korean PR industry. The firm, though, has not wavered from Imm’s staunch commitment to being the trendsetter in the Korean PR industry that she created it to be in 1989. KPR’s continued success is built on creating value for clients through integrated communications and content created through collaboration, new ideas and technology. That, combined with the firm’s deep understanding of Korean media and business, has fueled continued growth and a reputation as a full-service player in the competitive Korean marketplace.
KPR is headquartered in Seoul, where it employs 119 staffers.
While Covid cost KPR a portion of its tourism and aviation business, the firm quickly moved to negate pandemic-induced losses by boosting its digital offerings to the point where, today, the firm positions itself as a digital services provider. Adding branded journalism, web and app development and operation and interactive VR platforms resulted in KPR recording $18.4 million in revenue in 2021, an impressive 34% rise over 2020. New business came from BGF Retail, BMS Korea, GS Caltex, Kakao Bank, Milwaukee Electric Tool, Nielsen Media, Notion, Samsung Electronics, Sony Interactive Entertainment Korea and Trip.com. Existing clients on KPR’s list include Applied Materials Korea, Google Korea (including YouTube), Hyundai Motor Group, Kia Corporation, Lenevo Korea, Mercedes Benz, Nestlé Purina, POSCO, Siemens Ltd. Seoul and Viatris Korea. More than 70% of clients last year extended their relationships with KPR.
You can’t look at KPR’s culture without noting the lasting influence of agency founder Imm, who came into the office every day. Her commitment to the firm’s people, elevating women in the workplace and improving the world through communications remains very much alive under Jooho Kim, who was named KPR’s president after five years at the helm of collabo K, the firm’s integrated marketing unit (and a stint as executive VP of the 2018 PyongChang Winter Olympics Organizing Committee). Currently, the ratio of female staff at KPR is more than 70%. Promotions consider peer review in addition to performance. KPR regularly reviews its diversity & inclusion-related policies and practices to ensure it delivers on its commitment to DEI.
KPR in 2021 doubled down on cementing its newfound stature as a digital services provider. The firm strengthened its Digital Communication Research Lab, providing clients with digital news and information and launched the publication of a digital communications trend report, including a quarterly magazine. The firm also expanded into next-level digital ventures including River market, an e-commerce platform to help small businesses overcome Covid challenges, and Weenidy, a design services platform. Imm’s principle that “PR has to pursue social good and put the highest priority on the public interest” continues to underpin the firm’s operation over the decades. Exciting work included KIA’s VR Driving Center, where customers can take the automaker’s EV6 model for a digital test drive; and Korea Network for Organ Sharing’s organ donation campaign that boosted donation pledges through mobile and apps.
— Paul Holmes
Zeno’s HQ operations in North America have emerged as one of that market’s best-performing firms in our Consultancies of the Year research, but it has been a few years since its Asia-Pacific arm has featured in this section. That is down to a leadership succession that saw Margaret Key take on the role for one year before an overhaul installed Paul Mottram in the top job in early 2020. Since then, Zeno’s progress in the region has accelerated, thanks to an offering that combines corporate, technology and consumer credentials with strong digital capabilities. The latter is most noticeable in Southeast Asia, where growth and innovation MD David Lian oversees proprietary analytics expertise that has helped land major assignments and propel growth across the network.
Zeno numbers around 120 people in Asia-Pacific, across Singapore (40), Malaysia (30), India (27), Australia (11) and China (11). Much of the firm’s digital innovation emerges from Southeast Asia, while there are notable social media capabilities in Australia, India and China. Zeno also operates teams under the DJE group in South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
After a few quiet years, Zeno grew 38% in 2021 to $7.6m, with Singapore up 86% and China growing by 59%. Digital and analytics played an integral role in much of Zeno’s client growth, including new regional assignments from UPS, Lenovo, Goodyear, Cognizant, BCG, FIS, and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, and domestic work for Ikea Singapore, Taylor’s of Harrogate in Australia, Motorola in Australia and India, Tata and AstraZeneca in Malaysia. Multi-market clients were up 16% to 43% of the firm’s client base.
In addition to Mottram and Lian, key executives include regional corporate lead Rosemary Merz, regional client services lead Ekta Thomas, India MD Rekha Rao, China president Ruby Fu, Singapore MD Allanjit Singh, Malaysia MD Amanda Leong and Australia MD Sarah Littlefair. Zeno’s cultural focus has always helped its North American parent, and that approach is bearing fruit in Asia, where Mottram has reshaped wellness and diversity policies, while expanding training and development.
Zeno’s ‘Love Your Stomach Back’ campaign for MiRXES won Best Influencer Endorsement Program (paid) at this year’s Innovation SABRE Awards, while the firm also landed nominations for its data analytics work for Lenovo, and research/planning efforts for AstraZeneca.
— Arun Sudhaman
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