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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:
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 is fuelled by the firm’s Greater China operation, which accounts for around half of its regional fee income and a great deal of its intellectual firepower, particularly in terms of integrated creativity (from Shanghai), Chinese tech brands (from the Greater Bay Area), and geopolitical counsel (from Beijing and Hong Kong). BCW’s Indian operation, underpinned by strength in technology, consumer and digital, also stands out, featuring the Genesis, Six Degrees and PPR brands, but there has also been a marked revival of fortunes in Singapore, which has focused on growth industries such as healthcare and technology.
There are more than 500 employees in Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong), and a similar number in India, along with smaller operations in Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia), Australia and Japan.
2021 revenue grew by an impressive 15%, thanks to continued double-digit growth from China and an eye-catching turnaround in Singapore (+28%). Major new business included Grab, Deloitte, TikTok, Airtel, Dyson, Starbucks, De Beers, Line Friends, Perfect Diary and Scoot, joining a client roster that features a number of Chinese brands going global — Alibaba, Huawei, Honor, Lenovo, Midea, Ping An, Skyworth, Vivo and Tencent, along with major MNCs such as Qualcomm, Gilead, GSK, ExxonMobil, AstraZeneca and LinkedIn. The Greater China and India operations also fuel digital innovation, which has been a major factor in BCW’s recent success, alongside geopolitical expertise and the corresponding support of Chinese technology brands going global. Singapore, meanwhile, is on course to grow 60% this year, thanks to a strategy that is propelled by winning growth mandates from such brands as Bottega Spa, Lendlease, JLL, theTradeDesk, G20 Indonesia and Lenzing.
The stability of BCW’s key leadership stands out, with Stafford supported by deputy president Polka Yu and chief digital officer Joe Peng at a regional level. Deepshikha Dharmaraj now oversees the combined BCW India group, while GCI Health's Rikki Jones has proven to be a successful addition as BCW Singapore CEO. The firm’s ‘People First’ promise includes a new learning and development program, along with the IDEA Committee that champions DEI across the network.
Much of the firm’s innovation has centered on its digital and integrated marketing capabilities, which encompass audience experience, data analytics, and digital service — leading to considerable innovation in terms of digital transformation, social commerce and web3/metaverse. All of which has paid off with some stellar 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, data-driven content for HSBC, and global ESG positioning for one of China’s biggest corporates.
— Arun Sudhaman
The world’s largest PR firm was also one of the first US-based networks to launch in Asia, via a Malaysian office in 1984. Since then, Edelman has expanded rapidly, and now employs 1,200 staff across 11 Asia-Pacific markets. And, also in line with its global focus, recent progress has been led by the firm’s ability to blend creative, strategy and a pioneering digital capability for clients across brand marketing, corporate and B2B.
There are 1,200 people across major operations in Greater China (mainland offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well as operations in Hong Kong and Taipei), Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam), Australia (offices in Sydney and Melbourne), Japan, Korea, and India (where the firm has seven offices)—enough to give Edelman one of the largest Asia-Pacific footprints among the multinational agencies.
2020 was a year of two halves, with the pandemic driving down revenues in the first half before a rebound in the last six months—though not enough to prevent an 8% decline for the year as a whole. But 2021 saw the firm win back all of that and more, with growth of 11% to around $107 million, with the two largest practices—healthcare and technology—each contributing more than 25% of regional revenues. And beyond the raw numbers, Edelman has moved to strengthen capabilities in areas such as strategy, diversity and inclusion, environmental and governance issues, and financial communications, as well as targeting more Asia-based clients. Enduring partnerships include clients such as adidas, HP, Mars, Microsoft, Nissan, Paypal and Samsung, while there was new business from Alcon, American Express, Bayer, Fonterra, Kathmandu, MetLife, and SGX.
The big news of the year came this July, when the departure of Asia-Pacific president and CEO Stephen Kehoe was announced after three years in the role. As a result, Edelman’s global vice chairman of corporate affairs, Dave Samson, became interim CEO of APAC and moved to Singapore temporarily while the firm launched an external search for a new chief executive. But beyond Kehoe’s departure there were plenty of people moves designed to position the firm for the future: Michelle Hutton was named vice chair of the region, while Fern Canning was named executive VP of client solutions and Huw Gildon became chief strategy officer — and there was new leadership in Australia, Greater China, and South-East Asia. Meanwhile, the firm has transitioned smoothly to a new working model, with increased flexibility and work-from-home options, and sees its internal net promoter score increase by 7 points. Professional development has remained a priority, with more than 16,000 people-hours of training across the region last year.
Edelman won a total of 76 awards in 2021, a pretty impressive haul. Highlights included the “Celebrating What It Means to Care” campaign for pain-relief brand Panadol in Australia, which received more than 400 nominations from across the country of ordinary Australians who had demonstrated commitment to caring for their communities; the “Listen to Pain” campaign, focused on neuropathic pain for client Viatris, using innovative technology to create ambient music that allowed people to “hear” what the pain feels like to sufferers; customer outreach and engagement for Starbucks via the “It Starts with Your Name” campaign; branded journalism for Telekom Malaysia, as it supported digital connections and community building for local brands during the pandemic; “All in for Love,” which established Marriott as a destination brand for weddings in China; and #LetHerGrow, a Thai campaign that used social media to address the restrictive rules surrounding girls’ hair — including forced haircuts — on behalf of Unilever’s Dove brand. When it comes to thought leadership, meanwhile, it’s difficult to look beyond the firm’s Trust Barometer, almost certainly the most valuable piece of intellectual property in the public relations industry.
— Paul Holmes
FleishmanHillard did not miss a beat after landing Regional Consultancy of the Year honours in 2021, stepping up its focus on client and employee experience to deliver another year of impressive growth. The firm’s presence spans 19 owned offices in the region, and includes two additional brands (BlueCurrent and Vox), under the long-term leadership of regional president Lynne Anne Davis. Fleishman remains weighted towards Greater China and North Asia, but there has been eye-catching growth in Australia, the Philippines and India — underpinned by FleishmanHillard’s core strengths across B2B, consumer, public sector, healthcare and financial/professional services, along with significant capabilities in research/analytics, branding, creative, risk/crisis management and ESG.
Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong) and North Asia (Tokyo, Seoul) together account for around 400 people, while there are also significant operations in Australia, India (Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore) and Southeast Asia (Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore).
Revenues grew by more than 11% in 2021, an impressive performance that was led by growth in Sydney (+52%), Manila (+28%), Seoul (+20%), Singapore (+16%), Jakarta and Bangkok (+13%), India (+12%), and mainland China (+10%). In 2022, meanwhile, the region is currently up 10%, with Manila, India, Korea, Thailand and Hong Kong to the fore. Sectoral growth was led by B2B (up 51%), public sector (+21%), healthcare (+15%), and financial/professional services (+15%). New business included several Asian-based MNCs, such as Esprit, Hong Kong Financial Services Development Counsel, Kumho, Shinsei Bank, Takeda and Tencent, along with international companies like Daimler, EQT, Morgan Stanley, Pimco, Sailpoint and Zuellig Pharma. There was also significant growth from existing clients, which generated 86% of fees, including Alibaba, Emerson, Samsung, Swatch, Govt of Japan, Pfizer, Abbott, L'Oréal, Amazon, Olympus and SAP — while the roster also features major relationships with Corning, Fitbit, Google, Philips, P&G and RB. Plenty of energy has been devoted to turning these relationships into regional assignments, with the vast majority of them now being serviced from more than three FleishmanHillard markets.
Davis is supported by a leadership team that has been reshaped with new regional roles for Hong Kong GM Patrick Yu (also head of FHX client experience and business development), BlueCurrent’s Cheryl Pan (promoted to Greater Bay Area GM), Kaveri Roy (now regional planning director from Mumbai) and Tracey Lao (promoted to head of talent acquisition and strategy). Lexi Penfold was promoted to Australia GM, while Michael Rinaman transferred from the US to oversee the firm’s True Global Intelligence insights and analytics practice. Other significant arrivals included James Choi to lead public affairs in Korea, Cynthia Chan as corporate affairs head in Hong Kong, and Takeo Apitzsch to oversee digital strategy and media platforms from Tokyo. Fleishman’s employee experience focus, includes a comprehensive new e-learning platform and numerous programs to improve leadership, skills and wellness, while there has also been a notable improvement in FleishmanHillard’s efforts to drive stronger DE&I policy and actions. Manila GM Patti Malay oversees the firm’s regional DEI efforts, supported by champions in each market. Notably, Fleishman has gender balanced leadership across its top four levels; half of its offices are led by women, and Korea’s Yvonne Park has played a key role driving gender diversity legislation for Korea’s publicly-listed companies.
Fleishman’s thought leadership offering has been elevated by the rollout of the firm’s TGI global insights and analytics practice in Asia, while there has also been increased investment in creative and planning, and a new media and platforms practice. That is supported by considerable research-based activity, including the FH China Annual Report and Authenticity Gap Global Report, and specific products focusing on such areas as asset management, Korean politics, women’s health and Gen Z. That mindset is reflected in a string of impressive campaigns, including SABRE-nominated efforts for Western Union, NFTree, and Corning.
— Arun Sudhaman
In Asia-Pacific, Ogilvy has built a formidable public relations offering (estimated at more than $150m) that not only led the way for the overall advertising group, but overtook North American PR earnings sometime ago. And under Emily Poon, who became regional leader at the start of 2021, the firm has stepped up its transition into a thoroughly modern entity, blending a formidable digital and social media practice with strategic depth in such areas as public sector and public affairs, technology, consumer marketing and financial communications. A more cohesive network has embraced the opportunities of the past two years to reshape its focus towards business impact, with a specific focus on culture, purpose and creativity across a regional network that arguably remains the benchmark by which other international firms are judged.
There are more than 1,000 staff working across 25 offices in 17 markets, giving it the largest regional footprint of the MNC firms, led by market-leading operations in Greater China (where it remains the biggest MNC PR firm), Australia, Japan, the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
2021 saw high single-digit growth, which is more impressive when you consider the higher base from which it originates. Notably, significant new business accrued from the firm’s focus on innovation, which included AI influencers (VPBank, Dove, Clear, Huawei, MSD, Sabeco), influencer marketing (eBay, HSBC), and content/context hubs (MSD, Mondelez, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Huawei, JLR, Google). None of this should detract from the firm’s continued ability to handle the most complex geopolitical challenges, particularly for such Greater China clients as Baidu, ZTE, Shiseido, AWS and Amazon, along with broader multimarket mandates for Huawei, Moderna, Calvin Klein, Esprit, Triumph, Coca-Cola (as part of the global WPP team), Samsung and Seek Asia. There was eye-catching growth from financial services (+45%), disruptor brands (+165%, thanks to a specific focus in Southeast Asia), health and wellness (+212%) and technology (+55%), much of it driven by an existing roster that features Intel, Daimler, Huawei, Amazon, Shiseido, OCBC clients, AIA, Horizon Robotics, Tencent and GE. And Ogilvy’s social practice remains one of the strongest in the region, helping power numerous integrated assignments for many of these clients.
The elevation of Poon has provided Ogilvy with renewed energy, supported by a regional leadership team that features Andreanne Leclerc (social/performance), Clara Shek (corporate reputation), Wendy Wu (client service), Simon Webb (crisis comms), and DieuCam Nguyen (AI influence). The local market team is similarly stable, featuring Joe Yu (China), Richard Brett (AUNZ), Shek (HK) and Nguyen (Vietnam), while key hires included Tiffany Yu’s return in Shanghai, Pamela Phua as new business director, and Laura Platt to oversee New Zealand. Under Poon, there has been a noticeable elevation in Ogilvy’s focus on culture, a wide-ranging regional wellness initiative that has softened some of the harder edges involved in a network as big as Ogilvy. The firm’s leadership reflects its belief in Asians overseeing its operations, and most are women, reflecting a workforce that is 55% female, with the 30-for-30 Asia effort challenging female talent to reach their full potential. There is extensive investment in training and development, including the pioneering Pacesetters programme for next generation leaders.
Ogilvy’s prolific thought leadership operation has been a key factor in the firm’s Asia-Pacific success, encompassing regular publications that cover influence, public affairs, and Covid-19. 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. A focus on disruptor and DTC brands has paid off in major assignments, while the firm’s social practice demonstrates strong innovation, not least through its AI influencer activity. Ogilvy’s campaign work continues to reflect these strengths, including 30 SABRE nominations, for such clients as AstraZeneca, KFC, Unicef, Tencent, MSD, Google, TamJai International, Hisense, Janssen and Ta Ya Electric.
— Arun Sudhaman
A new era is undoubtedly underway at Weber Shandwick under the leadership of global CEO Gail Heimann, and that is also reflected in an Asia-Pacific operation that has continued to evolve since North Asia chief Tyler Kim was elevated to regional CEO in early 2021. Weber Shandwick’s cohesive regional strategy for the past decade often means that the whole often adds up to more than the sum of its parts, thanks to considerable geographic breadth and specialist depth in such areas as healthcare, digital/analytics, social impact, employee engagement, technology and consumer marketing. Significantly, the firm has devoted considerable energy to an “intersectional” strategy which recognises that today’s PR challenges are complex and cross-functional, across technology, media, health, policy and society.
There are more than 900 staffers across a 10-market regional footprint that features major operations in Greater China (500 people), North Asia (Japan and Korea), Singapore and India. Meanwhile, Weber Shandwick followed the 2021 sale of its Australian agency by divesting its Thailand operation, with more activity expected to follow on this front.
Weber Shandwick returned to growth in 2021, albeit in the modest single digits, and that momentum is continuing into 2022. Much of that is down to increased demand from the agency’s top 40 clients, which include such names as Amazon, Novartis, the Gates Foundation, Nike, Samsung, IBM, J&J, Temasek, ExxonMobil, Daimler and Mastercard. There was particularly robust growth in the healthcare and technology segments, supported by the firm’s growing capabilities in ESG and change management, evidenced by new assignments for Novartis, AstraZeneca, GSK, MSD, Moderna, Naver, SK Hyniz, LG and Samsung. It is also worth mentioning that Weber Shandwick now has 288 Asian-domiciled clients, up from 237 in 2020, and featuring companies such as HSBC, Naver, Bosideng, SK Hynix, Tencent Games, Suki and LG.
While regional chairman and former CEO Baxter Jolly departed this year, Kim has made a series of leadership changes since becoming CEO, and is now supported by a team that includes chief client and growth officer Vanessa Ho Nikolovski, and Albert Shu, who oversees a relatively unique Singapore/Hong Kong hub model. Corbin Hsieh was elevated to China MD, while other appointments included Steven Koh as Korea MD and Ken Hong to oversee the firm’s Asia Go Global practice. The firm also bolstered its healthcare leadership in Japan, China and HK/Singapore and made several creative hires across China, HK, Singapore, India and Japan. As befits its collegial reputation, Weber Shandwick’s focus on employee culture includes a new DEI action group, and specific initiatives to dismantle oppression in India and Singapore. The firm’s ‘Juice’ global initiative remains instrumental in helping Weber Shandwick reimagine the future of work, including enhanced flexible working and leave policies.
Weber Shandwick’s creative capabilities remain in strong shape, reflected in a thought leadership platform that focuses on solving at the intersections, at a time when the overlap between practice areas and sectors calls for a more integrated mindset. That approach has brought particular benefits in terms of Weber Shandwick’s work across healthcare, consumer and corporate issues, along with a strategy and analytics/insights practice that spans ESG, change/employee management, geopolitical strategy/risk and Asian companies going global. That has paid off in a visible uplift in Weber Shandwick’s work, with 20 SABRE nominations, notably ‘Son Rise’ in India, and campaigns for Hotels.com, Vedanta and Kevin S. Bright.
— Arun Sudhaman
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