North Asia PR Consultancies of the Year 2022 | PRovoke Media

2022 North Asia 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

FleishmanHillard (OPRG)

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FleishmanHillard’s regional offering has always carried a distinct bent towards North Asia, with Tokyo serving as the firm’s largest single Asia-Pacific market by revenue, and Korea emerging as one of its fastest-growing operations in recent times. There are now 100+ people in Japan under president Shin Tanaka, supported by the BlueCurrent and Vox Global brands — bringing strength across corporate, healthcare, technology, consumer and public affairs. In Korea meanwhile, Yvonne Park oversees a team of more than 50, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2021.

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Tokyo (100+ staffers) and Seoul (50+). 

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FleishmanHillard’s Seoul operation grew by 20% in 2021, and has now doubled fees in the past six years, underpinned by the firm’s Center for Stakeholder Engagement, which helps clients handle complex conflict and policy issues, often across digital, social, internal and ESG areas. One of those clients was Google, while other key remits include corporate assignments for Samsung and L'Oréal, along with considerable advisory work for family chaebol that are aiming to reshape their governance. There has also been a sharp rise in activist and capital markets work in Tokyo, where FleishmanHillard has increasing multimarket business from the likes of P&G, J&J, Sumitomo and Aflac. For Olympus, specifically, Fleishman has expanded from its B2C camera work to include B2B medtech and corporate, bringing together healthcare comms, reputation and branding. For Samsung, meanwhile, the formerly US-led business has become a key assignment in Korea, growing to include IT, mobile and preparedness consulting. The Japanese government also serves as a very important client for Fleishman, demonstrating the firm’s public affairs capabilities. 

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In Korea, James Choi arrived to oversee public affairs and analytics, while Takeo Apitzsch took charge of digital strategy/insights and media/platforms from Tokyo. Both operations benefit from Fleishman’s employee experience focus, which includes a comprehensive new e-learning platform and numerous programs to improve leadership, skills, wellness and D&I. 

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Fleishman’s Korea office has developed a particularly strong thought leadership offering, including specific initiatives focusing on electoral politics and family enterprise management, the latter of which took place as part of the Korean Corporate Governance Forum. The social media and sports preferences of Japan’s Gen Z, meanwhile, were part of a regional report authored by BlueCurrent. 

Arun Sudhaman

H+K Strategies (Korea/WPP)

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Like many international players in North Asia, H+K Strategies’ operations are weighted towards one market in particular — in this case Korea, where H+K Korea has consolidated its presence as WPP’s key PR player in the market by integrating sister firms BCW and Ogilvy in recent years. It does not hurt, of course, that Asia lead HS Chung is based in Seoul, where the Synergy firm that she founded 20 years ago now numbers more than 100 people, with strength across technology, corporate and public affairs. In particular, the firm has benefited from ongoing expansion supported by H+K’s global capabilities, which include a string of new products focused on such areas as Covid-19, behavioural science, data/analytics, social impact and lead generation. 

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Seoul

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It was another year of double-digit growth for H+K Korea in 2021, after a 15% uptick in 2020, remarkable returns during the pandemic. LG Electronics remains a key client and, together with SK Telecom, has been successfully exported to numerous other markets across Asia and beyond. Indeed, H+K has built an impressive track record of supporting the global ambitions of Korean clients — work which often requires significant ESG and geopolitical expertise in recent years. LG Energy Solutions was the latest addition to this roster in 2021, while others include Kakaobrain and Naver. Other important accounts include Han Sung Motor, Singapore Tourism Board, P&G, Microsoft, BASF, Hanwha Techwin, Essilor, KIA Motors, AB InBev and Marriott International.

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Under Chung, who sits on WPP CEO Mark Read’s global DE&I committee, there has been a notable focus on ‘belonging’, with elevated mental health support, increased investment in training and development, and numerous initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion, including the Ally+ program that helps people across the network connect more easily. 

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Campaign highlights included a wide-ranging global influencer programme for LG Home Appliance & Air Solutions, along with an LGEAP community programme in Australia. 

Arun Sudhaman

Ketchum (Korea/OPRG)

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Ketchum launched in Korea almost a decade ago, through a merger with Omnicom sibling InComm Brodeur, a strong local brand that can trace its heritage back to its founding as an independent agency in 1993. The firm's expertise encompasses consumer brand-building and corporate reputation, with the requisite digital and social media capabilities that are table stakes today, and works across sectors including technology, consumer goods, food, transportation, travel, retail, lifestyle and luxury, and financial and professional services.

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The Seoul office is part of an Asia-Pacific network that is more about quality in key markets than it is about comprehensive coverage. There are offices in China (Beijing, Shanghai); Hong Kong; and India (Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai) as well as Korea. And of course an extensive global network with operations in key markets throughout EMEA and the Americas. 

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Regionally, growth was a relatively modest 2% last year, but the Korean operation led the way with a 16.7% increase, much of it driven by Samsung’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games. And in 2022, growth has gotten off to a more impressive start. In addition to APAC-wide wins such as an internal communications brief for Volvo, new business in Korea included new or expanded assignments for Blizzard Entertainment, Morgan Stanley, Naver Corp and Samsung. The Seoul operation now has a team of around 25, making Ketchum a midsized player in the market.

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Ketchum’s values call on the agency and its people to be curious, brave, inspiring, and most importantly, a force for good, producing “work that matters to the world.” The global roll out of a new employee value proposition (Better For Being Here) earlier this year, has been embraced by APAC offices, where much of the emphasis has been on empathy and purpose; a more structured learning environment; access to the Calm app for mental wellbeing;  and a more flexible workplace. In Seoul in particular, there has been a coordinated effort to add new talent as the firm rebounds from the pandemic, with a focused LinkedIn campaign. Simeon Mellalieu leads the region from his base in Hong Kong, serving as partner for client development across the region, while in Korea market leader Joon Kim has a high profile, enhanced after helping to set the post-Covid communications agenda, and gets support from newly-promoted VP Marcus Kim. 

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Globally, Ketchum has sought to reposition itself at the intersection of business consulting and communications. In Korea, for example, there has been a focus on pandemic education. The firm has been expanding its work in social media and influencer marketing and in the technology sector, particularly emerging areas such as crypto and blockchain. The most notable work, meanwhile, has been conducted on behalf of big clients such as Diageo (focusing on responsible alcohol consumption using innovative techniques such as the DrinkIQ quiz) and Samsung (supporting the electronics company’s presence at the Tokyo and Beijing Games using brand ambassadors and the Samsung Galaxy Media Center).

Arun Sudhaman

PR One (Korea/Independent)

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Befitting a market leader, PR One has broad capabilities that span consumer and corporate, financial and public affairs, digital and creative; sector expertise in financial services, healthcare and tech; and supplemental services that are far from ubiquitous in South Korea, including a focus on employee communications and culture change. Responding to changing client demands, the firm’s digital and social media capabilities are formidable, including content creation designed to reach consumers in immediate and interactive ways, and a dedicated influencer marketing capability.

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From its headquarters in Seoul, PR One's 185-strong operation focuses primarily on the Korean marketplace. The firm has a longstanding partnership with Japanese agency PRAP and is a member of the Worldcom network of independent PR firms.

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PRovoke Media’s 2021 North Asia PR Consultancy of the Year, PR One continued on its upward trajectory in 2021, growing more than 16% into a $33.6 million, 185-person operation. Major clients include Samsung, LEGO Korea, CJ CheilJedang, Hawaiian Airlines, Lotte Nestlé Korea, AXA General Insurance, Nikon Imaging Korea, Atout France, Oakley, Korea Epson, and KB Kookmin Card. New business came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NongHyup Cooperative Banking Depositor Protection Fund, Taiwan Tourism Bureau, Duracell, BNK Financial Group and Yamaha Music Korea. Over the last year, PR One has strengthened its digital and ESG services. 

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For more than a decade, PR One has invested in growing, and keeping, its people through an internal educational program. The agency also puts a premium on work-life balance through the likes of sabbaticals and early leave programs. PR One has made diversity & inclusion central to its recruiting and culture, which includes efforts to deepen employees’ connections to the organization. President and CEO Jaehyung Cho is supported by leading specialists in key disciplines such as integrated comms leader Yeon-woo Cho and digital head Dae-hee Han. Recent staff additions include creative director Yong-hee Kim.

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Highlights of 2021 include PR One’s food safety campaign for instant rice brand Hetbahn, which was named 2021’s best integrated campaign at the Korean PR Awards. Other hallmark work included a social media campaign for KB Kookmin Card, creating a digital strategy for Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and promotional campaign for the country’s Ministry of National Defense. 

Diana Marszalek

Weber Shandwick (IPG)

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Weber Shandwick’s North Asian operations comprise a longstanding Japanese presence, which traces its roots back to 1959, along with a Korean operation that has grown considerably since launching in 2009. One thing that unites them, though, is their trajectory, which has turned the sub-region into a critical growth engine for the firm’s regional operations. The performance was further recognised when North Asia head Tyler Kim was promoted to Asia-Pacific CEO last year.

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There are 79 people in Seoul and 80 in Tokyo.

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Japan grew by around 15% in 2021, an impressive performance that included record profitability, and may well be surpassed in 2022. Healthcare was a key driver — up 53%, while key clients include Amazon, Meta, Ikea, Kioxia, Intel, Takeda and KNTO. In Korea, meanwhile, there was strong organic growth in Asian-domiciled multimarket clients (+58%), which include SK Hynix, LG and Naver, along with 19% revenue growth in the first half of 2022. Korea also retained key clients P&G, Adobe and Disney, and expanded its scope for MSD and Samsung Health, also adding Moderna as multi-market healthcare business grew. 

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Japan is led by MD Campbell Hanley, while Steven Koh took charge of Korea earlier this year following the departure of Juny Koh, and is supported by deputy MD Elizabeth Bae. Other key execs include Ken Hong, who joined Weber Shandwick in Seoul to lead its Asia Go Global practice, after more than a decade with LG. In Japan, healthcare head Kaoru Nakagawa and creative director Tetsu Fujikawa are joined by new hires Megumi Takayama and Kenzo Makino, who oversee public affairs and consumer, respectively. There was a sustained focus on virtual community and learning and development, including increased staff exchanges between the two offices. A new DE&I program has also launched in Asia-Pacific, which includes committees in each market and mandatory training for senior leadership. 

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Campaign highlights included Neurongi’s anti-dog meat campaign for Kevin S. Bright in Korea, which scored several SABRE nominations. 

Arun Sudhaman