Greater China PR Consultancies of the Year 2022 | PRovoke Media

2022 Greater China PR Consultancies of the Year

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:

 

Finalists

BCW (WPP)

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BCW’s Greater China operation continues to demonstrate the benefits of complementary strengths, helping it to land Agency of the Year honours for this category last year. The firm’s corporate and public affairs heft in Beijing is allied to strong consumer and digital capabilities in Shanghai. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, BCW retains an industry-leading focus on technology, particularly in terms of cross-border clients that focus on the Greater Bay Area and beyond. 

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There are approximately 400 staffers across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, along with almost 100 in Hong Kong.

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Greater China remains the engine for BCW’s regional growth — accounting for more than 50% of regional revenue — despite the challenges posed by numerous lockdowns and geopolitical turbulence. There has been consistent growth for the past five years, including double-digit expansion in 2021 and a strong first half of 2022. New business included LinkedIn, Costco, SES, De Beers, Line Friends and Perfect Dairy in Shanghai; Lenovo, ADI, Dyson, Daimler and Starbucks in Beijing; and, TikTok in Hong Kong, where key clients also include the likes of Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo, Vivo, Alibaba, Skyworth, Ping An, Qualcomm, ByteDance, H3C, Baidu and Huami. 

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BCW Asia-Pacific president Matt Stafford also serves as Hong Kong market leader, while Qu Hong oversees BCW China and its Beijing office, alongside a leadership team that includes Veeco Tang (Shenzhen), and Cyrus Yeung (Guangzhou). The firm’s ‘People First’ promise includes a new learning and development program, along with the IDEA Committee that champions DEI across the network. 

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BCW houses much of its regional leadership in Greater China, including deputy president Polka Yu and chief digital officer Joe Peng, which has ensured that the markets are a hub of innovation, including new thought leadership offerings focused on the metaverse and geopolitical counsel. There has been consistent investment in creative capabilities, technology platforms, data/analytics, animation, AR/VR, influencer management and martech solutions — which has paid off with a notable uplift in campaign work, including the region’s first Best in Show at the Global SABRE Awards, on behalf of Lenovo. This year’s SABRE haul includes nominated work for Lenovo, Oppo and Shell.

Arun Sudhaman

H+K Strategies (WPP)

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H+K’s once dominant China operation has seen quieter times in recent years, but has turned around to dramatic effect under the leadership of CEO Jun Xu. Since Xu joined the firm to oversee Greater China, headcount has grown from 180 to 250, thanks to a reorganized approach that plays to the firm’s strengths across corporate, marcomms, public affairs, technology, and advanced manufacturing. The firm’s Shanghai creative studio is further supported by expanded services in social media and performance marketing — with specific growth coming from geopolitical counsel, change/crisis management and social commerce.

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There are approximately 250 staffers across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

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Greater China reported double digit revenue and profit growth for H+K in 2021, previously averaging in the low single-digits. The firm’s business development reflected expansion across all practices, including new assignments for international companies such as HSBC, McDonald’s, SK, Unilever, Canon and KPMG, along with local players like Citic Group, Prince Group Holding, Genesis, Yili and Mi. They join an existing roster that features Ping An, TCL, Nestle, Red Bull, Coca-Cola, Schneider Electric, Ford, Microsoft, Li-Ning, Shell, Tencent and Rolex. Meanwhile, the firm’s ability to bring local clients to global markets is also prominent, via such clients as Tencent, Huawei, TCL, Li-Ning and Haier. 

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Xu has reorganized the firm’s structure to focus on practices rather than geographies, supplemented by strategic senior hires that include Iris Liu, Cecilia Zhou, Robbie Yang and Elain Yang, to oversee corporate and performance communications, science, growth, and people and culture, respectively. Meanwhile, the firm has expanded its flexible working and staff support initiatives, including an Ally+ program that helps employees more easily connect with colleagues across the region. The firm’s global training approach continues to pay dividends in Asia-Pacific, including specific DEI modules focused on leadership inclusion and unconscious bias training.

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H+K’s China campaign work reflects the breadth of the firm’s expertise across corporate, consumer and public affairs, including the SABRE-nominated Year Zero initiative for Genesis Motor China, which supported the Korean automaker’s official entry into the market. The firm also helped Xiaomi report financial results to a sceptical audience, improved brand awareness for Fiji Water on Tmall, and supported TCL’s global FIBA 2021 sponsorship campaign. 

Arun Sudhaman

MSL China (Publicis Groupe)

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After an acquisition spree that saw it challenge market leaders among China’s international PR giants, MSL’s divestment of local firm Genedigi in 2018 heralded a more sedate period for the Publicis Groupe network in China. The last couple of years, however, have seen a significant turnaround for MSL China, driven by a new leadership team that has taken shape under MD Liza Zhang and regional chief Margaret Key. That includes a consolidated ‘One MSL’ approach across the firm’s China offices, and a service offering that has grown beyond its consumer and retail heartland to encompass corporate communications, ESG, digital/social, healthcare, high-tech, B2B and automotive. 

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There are more than 200 people across Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, along with a smaller operation in Hong Kong. 

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MSL’s China turnaround saw resilient growth of 8% in 2020 precede impressive 17% expansion in 2021, with around 15% growth forecast for 2022. And that growth has come across the board, from consumer to corporate, to digital, ESG and B2B, with new business exemplified by MSL’s addition to Huawei’s global PR roster in 2021. There was also new business from SAIC Volkswagen, Red Bull, The Face Shop, ECarX, Audi, Clubmed, Mini and Totole — along with specific assignments in such areas as B2B (AWS, Google, Adobe), and local technology (Hikvision). They join an existing roster that features Volkswagen, JLR, Puma, L’Oreal, Sanofi, BMW, Maserati, Procter & Gamble, Sephora and Amazon.

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A relatively young leadership team reflects an average age of 28 at the agency, with Zhang supported by digital/social SVP Cathy Cui and a team of practice area VPs that have all been promoted from within. New hires include government affairs director Haiquan Gu and business development VP Tracy Liu, while the firm has also stepped up talent investment to better attract personnel from other industries. 50% of current P&L leaders are homegrown executives, and the firm has also implemented a flat organizational structure to improve inclusion and empowerment. There are also specific initiatives focused on female leadership (currently 82%), training/coaching, and employee assistance, including mental health.

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The firm is currently exploring how to localise MSL’s global Fluency influencer management tool for non-English speaking platforms, but has also created a series of thought leadership initiatives to better highlight its expanded suite of services across strategic consulting, digital transformation and influencer engagement. Campaign highlights included SABRE-nominated work for FWD in Hong Kong, and major efforts for AWS, Google, Bayer, L’Occitane and The Face Shop.

Arun Sudhaman

Ogilvy PR (WPP)

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With fee income estimated at more than $80m, Ogilvy’s Greater China operations have always benefited from its formidable public relations offering, with mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong combining to deliver consistent depth across corporate reputation, brand PR, thought leadership, public affairs, crisis/issues management, health and wellness, and influencer marketing. In mainland China, the firm is particularly well known for its ability to help Chinese brands manage global challenges, while its Taiwan operation has expanded into such areas as business transformation and ESG impact. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, there has been a significant focus on helping clients rebound amid a challenging business climate.

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Around half of Ogilvy’s regional headcount are spread across its Greater China network, which includes offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen (400 in total), Hong Kong (50) and Taipei (100).

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Ogilvy PR grew by around 10% in Greater China, a performance that only becomes more impressive when you consider not only the network’s high base, but the broader lockdown and geopolitical challenges in the region. Increased collaboration across the three markets helped underpin regional brand-building work for CFA Institute, ZTE and Baidu, along with geopolitical counsel for Shiseido and commercial expansion for Amazon Web Services and Amazon Global Selling. There was also significant new business from Land Rover, Xiaomi, Perfect Diary, Hisense, Sleepup and Beijing Capital Land in China; Merz Aesthetics, Chinese University, TCS and Lenovo in Hong Kong; and, Orsted, Schneider Electric, Triumph International and Micro-Star in Taiwan — all of which join an existing roster that features such names as Intel, Huawei, Amazon, GE, American Express, Tudor, Mead Johnson, Ta Ya Electric, Yahoo, Uber and Nestlé. 

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Long-term Ogilvy execs Joe Yu and Clara Shek continue to serve as presidents of China and Hong Kong, respectively, while Taiwan is overseen by MD Abby Hsieh. Tiffany Hu returned to lead Shanghai, while other key figures based in Greater China include crisis comms lead Simon Webb, client service lead Wendy Wu and senior advisor Scott Kronick, who previously led the region from Beijing. 

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Ogilvy PR’s thought leadership offering in China continues to give it a competitive edge over many rivals, encompassing regular publications that cover influence, public affairs, and working life. The firm’s leaders are also highly visible in this regard, participating in numerous events and other initiatives that span such areas as education, professional development, business insight and nation branding. The firm’s campaign work remains in fine fettle, including SABRE-nominated efforts for Unicef, Tencent, Merck, TamJai, Hisense, Janssen, Swire Coca-Cola, Ta Ya Electric, Organon, and Mead Johnson. Ogilvy’s industry-leading digital capabilities also stand out, highlighted by a WeChat applet for Jaguar Land Rover and AI influencer work for Huawei.

Arun Sudhaman

Ruder Finn (Independent)

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Ruder Finn’s China operations continue to account for around 85% of its US$42m in regional revenue in 2021. That strength is reflected in particularly impressive luxury, beauty, travel/retail, automotive and integrated marketing capabilities in Shanghai, supplemented by growing depth in consumer electronics and ecommerce. Ruder Finn’s Hong Kong office, meanwhile, features expertise across financial services, corporate, technology, research and digital/social expertise, along with growth in legal communications and brand-building. All of which has added up to double-digit annual expansion for much of the past decade, including a significant double-digit rebound in 2021. 

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The firm boasts more than 450 people across offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Shenzhen. 

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China revenues grew by around 30% in 2021, with luxury, healthcare and automobile supported by significant growth from consumer electronics (Sony, Oppo and Vivo) and ecommerce. There was new business from Meiji, SAIC-Audi, Bananain, Bitmex, Edrington, HKGTA, MLB, Sony, Baume & Mercier, JNBY, AB InBev and Tencent, which join key existing clients such as Amazon, Audi, EquitiesFirst, Estée Lauder, HSBC, Ikea, Mercedes Benz, Moet Hennessy Diageo and Shanghai Disney Resort. The firm’s consulting capabilities have enabled it to land significant remits for such clients as EquitiesFirst, Edrington, CLP and Quality Healthcare, while several China clients have been exported to its New York and India operations, particularly in the technology space. 

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In addition to CEO Elan Shou, key leaders included luxury head Gao Ming, RFI Asia MD David Ko and global head of risk Charles Lankester. Unsurprisingly, Ruder Finn benefits from its independence; there were no layoffs nor pay cuts due to Covid-19, while the firm elevated virtual support for employees. Ruder Finn was the first to put an Asian woman in charge of its regional operations, and is a high-profile supporter of LGBTQ causes and broader diversity initiatives, both internal and external. 

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Ruder Finn’s willingness to invest in digital tools and research continues to reap dividends, most notably through its annual China Luxury Forecast, now in its tenth edition, and specific digital tools focusing on crisis simulation and influencer analysis. The firm also launched the Asia-Pacific Communications Index to better understand the in-house communications role, and benefits from particularly high scores in R3’s regular survey of China client satisfaction. All of which underpins a vastly improved awards performance from the agency, with SABRE-nominated campaigns for Sony and Budweiser, and high-profile initiatives for EquitiesFirst, Moet Hennessy Diageo and Clarins.

Arun Sudhaman