Midsize Regional PR Consultancies of the Year 2022 | PRovoke Media

2022 Regional PR Consultancies of the Year (Midsize)

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

Archetype (Next 15)

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Archetype was launched in March 2019 following the global merger between technology specialists Text100 and Bite, both part of the Next Fifteen group, and has since flourished across its significant footprint in Asia-Pacific, landing Agency of the Future honours at this year's Innovation SABRE Awards and being named Best Agency to Work For for a third consecutive year. This is at least partly thanks to the regional leadership of Lee Nugent, who has strengthened the firm’s capabilities in creative, content creation, insights and analytics, and accelerated business development. Archetype’s ambition is to set the standard for the next generation of agencies, with all the advantages of a global agency but giving clients access to curious, consultative and collaborative talent at all levels of the business, across the region. New services included the Archetype Audio Podcasting Studio, a digital employee engagement office, a digital transformation consulting practice, and rolling out a full suite of creative services across the region, including embedding creative leads in every market. The agency also expanded its LinkedIn marketing partnership beyond the enterprise tier to support SMEs.

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Archetype Asia-Pacific operates in Australia, Mainland China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia and Singapore, with nine offices across the region, housing 340+ employees.

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Archetype had a record year in Asia-Pacific, growing revenue across the region by 12% year-on-year to around $20 million, and operating profits up 6% compared with pre-Covid in 2020. There were stand-out performances in India (up 25%), Singapore and Malaysia (both up 15%) and China (up 10%). Creative services were a particular area of strength, with APAC income up 22%. The agency won more than 40 new clients across the region, including Disney+ Hotstar, Dow, Symantec, Telstra, Rockwell, Palo Alto Network, Abbott, Agoda and Logitech. It also retained 95% of existing clients (including VMware, Ericsson, Oracle and Nvidia), while growing their revenue by 9% on average, rising to 11% for its top 20 clients. In addition, a number of clients, including Xero, AppsFlyer, AWS and Akamai expanded their briefs to more Archetype APAC offices last year.

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Nugent is supported in his regional leadership by a team including Meiling Yeow, who heads up operations in Malaysia and Singapore, MD of APAC client strategy Marc Ha, and regional creative lead Lee Devine. Archetype’s award-winning employee culture affords its nine offices the opportunity to tailor and add to core benefits to meet local and cultural needs and expectations. In 2021 the agency overhauled its 'People First' approach with a series of new initiatives and programmes, while enhancing existing ones. The firm's recruitment process is guided by its DE&I framework, developed with employees, including ensuring language is inclusive, training on DE&I awareness and microaggressions, and a new onboarding process with an Insta-friendly welcome kit. The agency also launched its flexible hybrid working model, The Archetype Way 2.0; a ‘freedom to work from anywhere’ programme, Archetype Anywhere; and free counselling and support via Archetype Lifeworks. It also launched a new training and development framework, Archetype Academy, which supports development needs in each market while ensuring a rounded curriculum that helps everyone grow professionally and individually. Local training and development runs alongside new modules curated under the region-led L&D programme. 

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Archetype organises regular information sessions open to all professionals in the industry, on trends and to share best practices, such as webinars in partnership with LinkedIn, and a face-to-face session on how brands can engage more effectively with their customers. The agency was shortlisted for 11 Asia-Pacific SABRE awards, and won three Innovation SABRE Awards, including its work for Pizza Hut India, the ‘Momo Mia’ pizza that led to Pizza Hut having its biggest sales spike in India since 2019. In Australia, Archetype’s notable work included the Creator Xchange for ASUS laptops: an open source platform and community for creative and design ideas, inspiration and collaboration, promoted via influencers and NFT artists’ work. The campaign led to an engagement rate of 23% with the platform. The team is also supporting Ericsson’s 5G leadership across the APAC region.

Maja Pawinska Sims

Golin Group (IPG)

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A leadership change in 2020 saw Weber Shandwick veteran Darren Burns return to sister firm Golin as Asia-Pacific CEO, putting him in charge of a group that comprises the Golin and DeVries Global brands. And while DeVries has punched above its weight for several years now, focusing on next generation consumers across a range of sectors, Burns’ arrival has seen a particular elevation in Golin’s profile. The latter firm’s Asian presence has sometimes seemed to lack the verve of its US and UK operations, but a focused approach on consumer, corporate and technology — underpinned by above-average creative and digital capabilities — is clearly moving the needle for the IPG firm. Notably, there is increasing data and back-office integration between the two agencies, even if the brands remain clearly distinct. 

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Golin has around 180 staff across the region in China (50), Hong Kong (30), Taiwan (40) and Singapore (35), along with smaller operations in India, Indonesia, Japan and Malaysia. Meanwhile, there are 100+ DeVries Global employees across offices in Beijing and Shanghai (70 in total), Taipei (20) and Singapore (25).

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Golin’s revenue was up 10% in 2021 to around $16m, with 30% expansion forecast for 2022, and technology responsible for a 35% uptick. Beijing and Shanghai led the way, up 32% in 2021 and recording one of its strongest ever quarters to start 2022. The China operation’s focus on technology, integrated marketing and corporate/public affairs is supported by strong data and creative credentials, helping it land major new assignments for Dell, JBL and Red Bull, joining a client roster that also features Amazon and Texas Instruments. Hong Kong was flat amid challenging market conditions, but has seen solid growth in 2022, thanks to a rebalancing from consumer towards corporate that has helped net new business from Dell, ITCN and Mastercard, to go with a client roster that also includes Collinson, Manulife and Deliveroo. In Singapore, a consumer resurgence underpins an improving topline performance, reflected in new business from Dow, McDonald’s, Micron, and Disney. And Taiwan grew by 10%, led by technology and ESG, for a client base that includes Texas Instruments, Boehringer Ingelheim, Micron, Disney and the Taiwan AIDS Society.

For DeVries, Asia-Pacific also grew 10% in 2021, led by 25% expansion in Singapore/Southeast Asia — where strong credentials in performance PR, consumer health, youth marketing and design is reflected in work for Abbott, Porsche, P&G and Acuvue. Taipei was also up, by 45%, thanks to a compelling focus on social/digital, and influencer marketing for such clients as P&G, Converse, 17Live, Jardine Restaurant Group, Klook and First Aid Beauty. Shanghai and Beijing were up 8%, underpinned by expanded integrated marketing capabilities that have attracted new business from Midea, ByteDance, Novartis and Roche. 

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Burns’ has reshaped much of the leadership since taking charge, with Lydia Shen now overseeing both brands in China, and Chomaine Chai promoted to co-head in Singapore. Other key Golin leaders include Jane Morgan in Hong Kong and Terry Chiang in Taiwan, while Simon Ruparelia and Shouvik Mukherjee oversee regional growth and creative, respectively. At DeVries, Shen is joined by Singapore & Southeast Asia MD Rafidah Rashid, and Taipei head Vivian Liu, with Ruparelia also overseeing growth and several key promotions and appointments at the firm’s Singapore and China operations. 

Both Golin and DeVries benefit from a relatively strong focus on culture. Golin has created a new DE&I Council, and has also elevated its mental health and wellbeing support, which includes a dedicated mental health counsellor in Hong Kong, while launching a top client leaders programme that includes training and professional development — much of which is led by Morgan, and helped grow employee satisfaction metrics at the firm. DeVries also has a strong DEI training focus, supported by numerous health and wellbeing initiatives, resulting in impressive employee scores. 

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Golin’s best work reflects its growing capabilities in terms of data/analytics and creative technology, across such areas as executive impact, trendjacking and social commerce, and helps deliver change for clients — reflected in SABRE-nominated campaigns for Yennefer Fang Studios, Disney, Deliveroo, Seven Seas Worldwide and Micron. DeVries’ retains a particularly compelling focus on culture marketing in Asia, supported by specific research into Gen Z, and a creative incubator — which helped land SABRE nominations for P&G and Abbott.

Arun Sudhaman

Ruder Finn (Independent)

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Ruder Finn’s Greater China operations continued to account for around 85% of its US$42m in regional revenue in 2020, but regional chief Elan Shou (now based in Singapore) remains steadfast in her efforts to build a credible offering for the independent agency in Southeast Asia and India, specifically. The firm boasts particularly impressive luxury, beauty, travel/retail, automotive and integrated marketing capabilities in mainland China, while its Hong Kong office is best known for expertise across financial services, corporate, technology and digital/social. In India, a growing presence is expanding beyond consumer and technology into corporate and public affairs, while the firm’s Southeast Asian operations is eyeing growth from consumer and healthcare.  

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There are 600+ Ruder Finn Asia-Pacific employees, with the majority located in Greater China (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shenzhen), more than 100 now in India, and smaller operations in Singapore and Malaysia. 

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A strong China rebound helped Ruder Finn return to growth in 2021, up 20% to $42m. 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. Elsewhere, India continued to impress, up 40%, with new business from Adobe and Nike, while the firm’s Southeast Asian operations have become considerably more stable while netting new assignments from LiveCom, Fintige Ventures, Bumble, iFly Singapore and Singapore Global Network. Multi-market business has also become an increasingly vital component of Ruder Finn’s operations, with new assignments from Visa, STB, Marriott and Porsche. 

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In addition to Shou, key leaders include luxury head Gao Ming, RFI Asia MD David Ko and global head of risk Charles Lankester, while Atul Sharma and Brian Witte lead India and Singapore, respectively. 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, Budweiser, WazirX and Education New Zealand, and high-profile initiatives for EquitiesFirst, Moet Hennessy Diageo and Clarins.

Arun Sudhaman

Sandpiper (Independent)

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Former Weber Shandwick EVP Emma Smith launched her own firm (The Consultancy) in 2003, before selling the business to become part of the UK’s MHP Communications in 2013. After smartly concluding that the firm had better prospects as an independent outfit, Smith led an MBO of the business in 2019, creating Sandpiper Communications as a 100% employee owned operation. That move helped unlock considerable growth at a consultancy that focuses squarely on the wealth (asset management, insurance, wealth management, ESG), health (healthcare, healthtech, pharma, wellness) and tech (fintech, enterprise tech, cybersecurity) sectors, but has also added significant public affairs capabilities via the acquisition of North Head in China. 

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Around half of the firm’s 95-strong headcount is based in Singapore, with around 13 at the firm’s Hong Kong HQ and a further 25 in China after the North Head deal. There are also smaller operations in Australia and New Zealand although these have seen steady growth since their recent launches. 

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Sandpiper’s performance since the MBO are as good a reminder as any of the merits of independence. The firm is targeting $10m in regional revenue in 2022, after growth of 40% in 2021, and similar expansion this year. All of the firm’s practices contributed to this growth, with ESG and sustainability investment to the fore for such clients as Cisco, Munich Re, MUFG and Schneider Electric. Sandpiper’s healthcare team has grown into one of the region’s best, now including a strong public affairs advocacy component in China, and expected to account for around a third of overall revenues. Many of the firm’s key clients, meanwhile, reflect its financial and professional services depth, including such names as Cigna, Eastspring Investments, Workday, St James’s Place and Refinitiv, along with new business from the Hong Kong Green Finance Association, Kroll and Linklaters. 

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Smith is very much a hands-on CEO, but the firm owes much of its recent success to an expanded leadership team, which also features chief operating officer Kelly Johnston, Singapore GM Sarada Chellam and Hong Kong GM Natalie Siu. Other key figures include CFO Phil Channon and ex-Huawei UK comms head Ed Brewster. The MBO has not only meant increased ownership and partnership opportunities for Sandpiper staff, but has also ensured increased investment in processes and systems, as the firm builds the infrastructure required of a regional agency network. Recent rapid growth has meant an elevated focus on culture, including training and social events, reflected in strong DEI metrics. 

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Sandpiper’s focus on ESG has helped to drive revenue, and reflects the increasing attention the firm is paying to thought leadership and product development, which also features specific research into public health and consumer expectations. Campaign highlights include the  ‘This is Our Shot’ effort for Save the Children.

Arun Sudhaman

WE Communications (Independent)

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Best-known for its technology credentials, WE has undergone a rapid transformation in Asia-Pacific, now under the leadership of international chief Kass Sells. An ambitious acquisition spree added top-rated outfits in China (Red Bridge), India (Avian Media) and Singapore (Watatawa). The net effect of this expansion, along with an earlier deal for Australian agency Buchan, is that WE now possesses a regional network that extends beyond technology through healthcare, consumer, B2B and corporate/public affairs, and has nearly doubled in size over the past five years. There has been considerable recent investment in terms of corporate reputation and brand purpose, along with increasing cross-market collaboration and client partnerships. 

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There are more than 500 WE employees across offices in Australia (65), China (100), India (350) and Singapore (45), along with 15 at corporate consultancy Watatawa.  

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2021 revenue grew by an impressive 22% to $32m, with all offices up in the double-digits, and technology leading the way ahead of healthcare, corporate and digital/analytics. There was also significant multi-market client expansion, from 25 to 28 in 2021, including Adobe, Alteryx, Google, GSK, iRobot, J&J, Lego Education, Medtronic, Microsoft, NetApp, SAP and Trend Micro, while the firm’s data center of excellence in India undertakes global work for the likes of Intel and Microsoft. In terms of local markets, Australia was up 41% to almost $8m, for a client base that includes such names as Adobe, Bayer and NGS, and landed new business (much of it integrated) from Abbvie, Alteryx, AstraZeneca, Capgemini, Cash Rewards, Lilly, NetApp, Sun Cable, Viatris and WorldRemit. In India, Avian WE grew by 22% in 2021 to cross the $10m threshold, powered by healthcare (+44%), financial services, technology, ESG and data/analytics. There was new business from Hero MotorCorp, Oyo, Kia, Zoom, Coursera, Coinswitch Kuber, ITC Foods, Bengaluru International Airport, Janssen, and Bharat Serums and Vaccine, along with specific healthcare expansion from corporates such as Fortis, Nathealth, J&J and Phillips, and public initiatives focusing on tuberculosis, vaccine hesitancy and malaria. 

China’s WE Red Bridge also submitted an eye-catching performance, up 14% to $8.8m, bolstered by its technology and beauty/fashion growth sectors — which added new business from GitLab, Henkel, NCS, Velodyne Lidar, IKKS, Loewe, Noble Panacea, Pomellato and Sweaty Betty. Other key assignments include Dyson, GSK, Fenty Beauty, LVMH, Honeywell and Jetlab, with new offerings in data-driven content strategy and geopolitical counsel helping to underpin 30% growth from retained clients. Singapore has also seen a revival, with social media and content marketing underpinning a client base that includes Google, NCS, SAP, J&J and Medtronic. Also in Singapore, the firm’s Watatawa unit gives it strong corporate reputation capabilities, landing major sustainability comms and change/transformation assignments for such clients as Bloomberg, Olam, FM Global, April, Astra and Sun Cable. 

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There have been many positives from WE’s smart acquisition strategy in Asia-Pacific, but perhaps the most important of these is the leadership team that has remained in place, featuring Penny Burgess (China), Nitin Mantri (India), Simon Pangrazio (Watatawa), and Rebecca Wilson (Australia and Singapore). In China, longtime senior exec Nicky Wang was promoted to CEO, while Daryl Ho arrived in 2020 to oversee Singapore, and Dan Woods was hired as Australia MD. The firm has also named regional leadership in technology (Sara Pereira) and health (Gemma Hudson). WE’s response to the pandemic, meanwhile, has reflected the very best of its independent ownership — with no job cuts or furloughs combining with significantly elevated mental health support and DE&I training.

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Thought leadership played to WE’s strengths, with the global Brands in Motion study, supported by specific initiatives focusing on data and analytics (Australia and India), market entry consulting (China), ESG and LGBTQ+ activism (India), and AI-powered predictive intelligence (Singapore).  All of which was reflected in impressive campaign work for Cashrewards Max Launch, Hearing Australia, Dyson on WeChat, LeLabo influencer management, EdelGive Foundation and McDonald’s India. 

Arun Sudhaman