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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:
Long regarded as the best corporate and financial specialist in the market, Adfactors has diversified its offering in recent years, establishing itself as one of the premier creative agencies in the region as well as a strategic powerhouse. The 25-year-old firm is a leader in high-stakes, high-value communications, primarily in the financial realm but now also more broadly, with thriving consumer and digital practices too, and newer offerings focused on mobility and social impact.
Headquartered in Mumbai, Adfactors has offices throughout India, giving it a genuinely national footprint, as well as a smaller presence in Sri Lanka and Singapore. But it can boast global reach through its membership of the PROI partnership, and the specialist financial services network GFC/net.
Adfactors fared better than most during 2020, when revenues held steady during a difficult year for India. But the firm roared back to growth in 2021, registering record expansion of 45% to $50m. The firm created voluntary Rainmakers’ Clubs to reimagine client value propositions resulting in a stellar new business haul that included Netflix, Byju’s, Ola Electric, Pepperfry.com, Monster.com, Fab India, Zydus Cadila, Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi India and Tata AIA Life Insurance. Just as important to the firm’s success is the relationships it has developed with existing clients such as Tata Group, Mahindra Group, Godrej Group, Apollo Hospitals, State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, Citibank, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, and Larsen & Toubro.
The Adfactors story is not just one of exceptional growth and surprising creativity — the firm is one of the best managed in Asia, with a particular focus on a formal professional development process that has been a key factor in helping it stay ahead of a whole host of trends, from digital and social media growth to the importance of purpose. During the pandemic, not a single job was lost, and headcount grew by 160 to almost 1,000 in 2021. The firm also acted early to address the Great Resignation, deploying stay interviews, facilitating internal transfers, launching a new referral program, and rolling out a ‘millennial board’ to guide its policies. And all of this has been accomplished amid a leadership transition that saw Nijay Nair promoted to CEO while Madan Bahal became chairman.
A great deal of energy over the past few years has been devoted to establishing Adfactors beyond its corporate and financial heartland, and 30% of the firm’s work now comes from the Internet economy. The work, meanwhile, continued to gain international recognition, for such campaigns as #ChangeTheStory for ACC Limited and Ambuja Cements; LEADing the School Edtech sector for LEAD; and, Originals Keep Moving for Skechers.
— Arun Sudhaman
The roots of Archetype India, formed after the merger of tech specialists Text100 and Bite, go back more than 25 years. The agency has evolved into a full-service operation that still works with some of the world’s biggest technology and telecoms brands — as well as clients across the food and beverage, art and culture, media and entertainment, education and pharma sectors — on briefs ranging from pure digital, content or creative to fully integrated PR-led campaigns. In 2021, Archetype extended its creative and content capabilities with new products and services including a Social Exec module to help executives build their social media profiles, an employer branding proposition, and influencer outreach.
Archetype's 200 employees work across three offices in India: in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
Archetype India is the biggest revenue contributor to the firm’s APAC business, with standout revenue growth of 25% last year. Its ten biggest clients include AWS, Vivo, Ericsson, the British Council, Vedantu, Trellix and Pizza Hut, and new additions to its roster over the past year included Slack, Palo Alto, real estate firm CBRE, Indian IT firm Coforge, SaaS platforms AppsFlyer and CleverTap, pharma firm Glenmark and jobs site Indeed.
In 2021, Archetype India, under the leadership of MD Sunayna Malik, introduced a slew of initiatives to support its people, from onboarding to a wholly-redesigned set of people practices. After two years of focusing on employees’ safety and wellbeing, the agency continues to operate in hybrid mode, including covering the costs of everything required to set up home offices. During the second wave of the pandemic, Archetype launched #MyLongWeekend, offering extended weekends during May/June 2021, as well as the Lifeworks initiative, giving access to psychologists and counsellors, and a partnership with telemedicine company SeekMed to allow easy access, at the company’s cost, to specialist doctors. The agency restructured its medical insurance package and absorbed the cost of Covid vaccinations for employees and their families.
Archetype’s recruitment process is guided by its DE&I framework, developed with employees, including ensuring language is inclusive. The agency anonymously surveys employees on gender identity, race/ethnicity, disability status, and other factors to track the diversity of its workforce, has set measurable diversity improvement goals and analyses pay equity by gender, race/ethnicity and other demographic factors and, if necessary, implements equal compensation improvement plans or policies. Regionally, Archetype has been named Best Agency to Work For for three consecutive years.
Archetype continued its content and creative partnership with LinkedIn to help the platform support customers in India; the agency now has more than 16 LI-certified professionals on the India team and was this year recognised by LinkedIn as its best new partner. The team is supporting Ericsson’s 5G leadership in India and across the APAC region, and other stand-out work over the year included multi-SABRE-shortlisted campaigns for Pizza Hut India and smartphone brand Vivo. For the restaurant chain, Archetype came up with the idea of combining pizza with momo dumplings to create the first limited edition ‘Momo Mia’ pizza, leading to Pizza Hut's biggest sales spike in India since 2019. And for Vivo, Archetype completed the third year of its responsible #SwitchOff campaign to encourage people to take breaks from their phone for the sake of their mental health and relationships.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
After rising to become one of India’s top PR consultancies over the past 14 years, few were surprised to see Avian Media snapped up by WE Communications in early 2018 following a lengthy courtship. The zeal of owners Nikhil Khanna and Nitin Mantri instantly turned WE into a far more credible South Asian force, at the same time giving Avian the kind of global network it has long craved. Avian WE’s key sectors are consumer, development, healthcare and technology — supported by impressive credentials in data/analytics, content marketing, public affairs (via its 30-person Chase unit), crisis management, social/digital and ESG/social impact.
There are more than 350 people across New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, while Avian also operates a nationwide affiliate network.
Avian WE grew by 30% 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. Avian WE also saw its new ESG division land assignments from Godrej & Boyce and Amazon, while the firm’s data centre of excellence supports clients like Intel, Microsoft and Kotak in India, along with Capgemini globally. And Avian WE’s crisis management work for startups such as BharatPe, WhiteHat Jr, Trell and Zilingo cannot go unnoticed, either.
While Avian WE’s business performance is impressive, it is the firm’s unique focus on people that probably deserves most praise — including free vaccine camps for the industry at large, flexible working arrangements, and an employee-generated campaign to ensure 90% retention. Mantri’s leadership team also features public policy EVP and Chase head Manash Neog, client centricity EVP Neha Mehrotra and growth EVP Girish Huria. Avian also remains one of India’s highest-profile agency supporters of D&I and social impact initiatives, with pay equity across gender, strong female representation at board level, and a book that addresses unconscious bias around gender and sexuality.
There has been a visible uplift in Avian’s commitment to thought leadership in recent years, demonstrated not only by the ‘Consciously Speaking’ book, but by numerous reports focusing on public policy and social impact, along with involvement in numerous public campaigns tackling a range of healthcare and social issues. There was plenty of SABRE recognition for Avian WE’s campaign work, notably for VMinclusion Taara by VMware; WeStandWithIndia for NatHealth; ‘Be the Change for TB’ for J&J; and the UdyamStree campaign for EdelGive.
— Arun Sudhaman
Assembled through a diverse series of acquisitions, MSL’s overall Asia-Pacific network remains a mixed bag, but the firm’s Indian operations are an undoubted highlight, with 450 people working across three brands: MSL’s full-service flagship brand, 20:20’s technology specialist, and PCA’s consumer tech and startup-focused business. The combined offering is one of the top three in the market, and probably now the largest of the global brands operating in India. Comfortably capable of handling integrated mandates, digital (now numbering 100 people) assignments and public affairs, for a client base that covers corporate reputation and consumer engagement.
There are hub offices in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, along with smaller operations in Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune and Kolkata, part of a 24-city network that is wholly owned.
MSL, in common with almost every firm in India, saw revenues decline during the pandemic — although its performance last year was strong enough to merit our South Asia Consultancy of the Year designation for 2021. Over the past 12 months, the firm has bounced back nicely with revenue growth in the double digits, with significant growth from integrated assignments and the burgeoning public affairs business. Margins have improved too. They were close to 200 new business wins including Salesforce, Skoda, GUS Global Services, Share Chat, and Zetwerk, while the firm continues its work for Amazon, Cred, Netflix, Mondelez, Dell, Coca-Cola, Marico, and Tourism Australia, among others.
Under the leadership of Amit Misra, MSL has placed increased emphasis on its core values—courage, character and creativity—and on three strategic pillars: colleagues, clients and campaigns. A commitment to the first of these has meant increased focus on mental health and work life balance, essential as the prolonged pandemic has delayed a return to the office for many Indian businesses. To create a culture of caring, management has introduced physical fitness initiatives, as well as a vaccination drive and an increased emphasis on digital learning. Diversity and inclusion programs have focused on ensuring equal opportunities for the firm’s female employees. Nisra continues to enjoy the support of a strong and stable leadership team including 20:20 and PCA managing director Viju George; Tushar Bajaj, who now leads Organic by MSL; and chief operating officers Nikhil Lodaya and Vaishnavi Murali.
One of India's most awarded public relations agencies, MSL added to its haul of trophies this year with a South Asia SABRE award for its “Thumbs Up #TaanePalatDe” campaign for Coca-Cola India. Other noteworthy work includes the ongoing #Touchofcare campaign for Vicks; cyber security awareness efforts for Dell; and Amazon’s #DeliverCare pandemic outreach. It is also worth noting the firm’s own commitment to social good, which includes pro bono support for Indian athletes at the Paralympics and planting 451 trees, one for each employee in the market. As for thought leadership, MSL launched several new digital first products, upgraded its influencer marketing offer, and revitalized its Pitstop planning process, and also provided clients with regular briefings on the progress of the pandemic.
— Paul Holmes
Founder by former Ketchum and Avian executive Girish Balachandran in 2017, On Purpose is hardly India’s biggest firm, but it may be its most progressive — thanks to a keen focus on social change. That is reflected in the four portfolio areas that the firm maps against UN Sustainable Development goals, namely — climate action, public health, education and gender equality. That positioning has helped On Purpose attract a younger, more diverse, talent pool — along with a string of development clients that require communications support, content strategy, reputation management and stakeholder engagement.
On Purpose employs 43 people across Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai.
Despite an initial pandemic-induced dip, On Purpose recovered to post eye-catching growth of 72% in 2021, as social change and public health took centre-stage with India ravaged by Covid-19. Key development clients include Dasra, Fernandez Foundation, Smart Power India, WWF, the Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives and ADB, along with corporate players such as Ernst & Young, KPMG, Max Group and Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages. There was also significant new business from Unicef (youth skilling), GIZ (focusing on farmers), Beetel, CHATT, Sesame Street and Veddis Foundation, with much of the work deploying modern multimedia communication to drive change on climate action, and dismantling the patriarchy in favour of better gender parity.
On Purpose’s focus on social change begins with its own people, and has helped it attract talents from outside the industry, such as visual storytelling lead Dhun Chhokar and digital head Shibani Kumar, a dentist by profession. There are numerous initiatives that support inclusion, including leave policies for periods, pets and parents. Balachandran is supported by AVP Shalini Gunashekar and new hires Sneha Sahani and Deepika Batra to oversee Delhi and clients, respectively. The firm’s Purpose Project, meanwhile, invites social change organizations to apply for pro-bono consulting, while #OPDeliberates bring the team together to discuss socially relevant topics — resulting in a new D&I policy that impacts all aspects of the firm’s operations, including a gender pay audit .
On Purpose’s thought leadership reflect not only its progressive mentality, but also Balachandran’s international experience with Ketchum and WE, featuring a leadership series that included top-tier industry speakers from across the globe. The firm’s campaign work, unsurprisingly, benefits from these efforts.
— Arun Sudhaman
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