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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:
Former New Consultancy of the Year, Redhill was founded in 2014 by Jacob Puthenparambil, with the ambitious goal of becoming the PR world’s answer to Singapore Airlines or DBS — a Singapore communications agency that could become a successful global operation. Fast-forward eight years, and those dreams no longer look quite so aspirational, with the firm counting more than 100 staffers across a footprint that includes a significant Southeast Asian presence, along with operations in North Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America. Much of Redhill’s rapid growth has been powered by corporate, technology (startups and enterprise) and finance (VC), but this is supplemented by growing capabilities in creative/production, sustainability, litigation and publishing.
The bulk of Redhill’s 109 staffers are in Singapore, but its Southeast Asian presence also includes operations in Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. Beyond Southeast Asia, Redhill has a presence in Australia, Japan, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, UAE, Germany, the UK and USA.
Rapid growth has become a fact of life at Redhill, helping underpin a culture that rewards entrepreneurialism and risk taking. In 2021, the firm surged by 77% to reach US$6m in fee income, with a new Studio arm helping to handle significant demand for design, web development and video services. The firm’s new ESG practice was bolstered by the acquisition of sustainability content shop VS Story, and Redhill also acquired Hong Kong’s CCG to boost its creative comms capabilities in Greater China. Growth came across the board, from such clients as Dubai Tourism, Danone, InMobi, Voco, Cushman & Wakefield, Pfizer, Singapore Business Federation, Singapore’s Ministry of Law, Ministry of Tourism Cambodia, Softbank Ventures Asia and the World Business Council. Just as important, though, is a long-term client roster that features Emirates, Nokia, Bigo Technology, Busy Bees Asia, VP Bank, Jungle Ventures and Axios International.
Puthenparambil’s leadership team includes COO Ann-Marie Eu, and MDs Pranav Rastogi, Natalie Chua, Tavy Cussinel and Marienelle Castelino. Loyalty and passion are prized by management, in a culture that places considerable trust in employees to manage their leave and flexibility. An agency-wide DEI initiative was launched in May, aimed at tackling pay disparities and bringing best practice to recruitment, appraisals and compensation. 16% of the firm’s hires since then have been returning career women, and deputy MD Charu Srivastava chairs PRCA APAC’s equality, diversity and inclusion committee.
Redhill’s ASEAN Youth Survey examines the drivers of economic, cultural and socio-political change in the region, while there are also regular thought leadership initiatives focused on communications and government affairs. Redhill scored an impressive seven SABRE Asia-Pacific nominations this year, including work for KFC, Singapore’s Ministry of Law, and Cochlear Singapore.
— Arun Sudhaman
Ogilvy PR’s regional footprint, the largest of any international firm in the region, has often been dominated by its strength in Greater China. But that should not detract from a Southeast Asian operation that has stepped up its cohesion under regional CEO Emily Poon, who is based in Singapore. There is a particular focus on influence-led integrated campaigns, combining Ogilvy’s traditional strengths in consumer, corporate, technology and healthcare with its industry-leading capabilities in terms of social media, content marketing, AI influence, data/analytics and behavioural science.
There are 350 employees across six markets in Southeast Asia: Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Ogilvy PR grew its Southeast Asian revenues by an estimated 15% in 2021, a stunning return to form that validates not only the new ‘One SEA’ policy ushered in by Poon, but the focus on disruptive client brands. This has included integrated work for homegrown players such as Gojek, Grab and Lazada, along with international names like Foodpanda and Docusign. Key wins also included Apple corporate in Vietnam, Zippo consolidation across several Southeast Asian markets and the G20 Summit in Indonesia, while there was also global influencer work for Unilever brands from the region, social content for Google across ASEAN, and new business from Triumph, GoDaddy, Electrolux, TCS, MSD and Novartis. The firm retained its top 25 clients in Southeast Asia, which include Unilever, IBM, American Express, Ford, Nestlé, Visa, AIA, Jollibee and OR.
Poon oversees Singapore and Asia-Pacific, supported by regional growth champion Michelle Ang, culture ambassador and Philippines lead Leah Huang, AI innovations/influence and Vietnam lead DieuCam Nguyen, and PR practice/Islamic marketing lead in Singapore Q Akashah. Andrew Thomas also remains in place as a senior advisor to the firm, after previously leading its regional operation. Ogilvy’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, along with a wide-ranging regional wellness initiative that has noticeably softened some of the harder edges involved in a network as big as Ogilvy.
Ogilvy’s thought leadership output is both prolific and broad, including specific research into digital empathy and sustainability responsiveness, and cutting-edge innovation that encompasses AI influence (led from Vietnam), social content (from the Philippines), and digital storytelling. Campaign highlights included OR’s IPO launch, which harnessed behavioural science to deliver strong trading, and the Google for Education initiative.
— Arun Sudhaman
Gutsy independent agency Mutant is led by former journalist and entrepreneur Joseph Barratt, who counts a successful Singaporean craft brewery as a side-hustle from running one of the best of the new generation of Southeast Asian PR firms. Mutant was started in 2012 as an agency focused on getting business results, from leads and sales to employee retention. It has evolved into a regional agency providing PR, content marketing and branding for consumer, corporate, finance and technology clients across Asia-Pacific and globally. New offerings over the year included a proprietary approach to social media and brand strategy for start-ups and SMEs, with a specialisation in employer branding led by brand strategy director Rebecca Lewis.
Mutant's 36 staffers are across offices in Singapore and Malaysia, with plans to open in Indonesia.
Now in its 10th year, in 2021 Mutant recorded 29.5% revenue growth to S$2.98m (compared with 10% growth in 2020), a 60% increase in profit margins and a host of new client acquisitions alongside a staff retention rate of 87%, with 36 employees across the region. Mutant Malaysia, in its second full year, recorded 189% revenue growth (to RM1.2m) with a 160% increase in profit margins. To support clients as the impact of the pandemic continues, it launched an updated special rate card focused on solutions that would lead to quick returns and immediate revenue: rolling out flexible, affordable solutions that drove real business results, turned clients into advocates and won new business. New clients in 2021 included Subway, Experian and Paypal, joining a client roster — with 82% retention rate –— that includes Zendesk, M1, Meltwater, LinkedIn and Disney. Meta, which increased spend with the agency by 179% last year, has been a client across Asia-Pacific since 2017: from a sole project, Mutant now works across 16 different teams, with two Mutants seconded full-time in Meta’s office.
The second year of the pandemic saw Mutant double down on the health and wellness of its team across the region. As restrictions dragged on in 2021, the agency found 46% of its people felt isolated from their colleagues and missed working with them: as soon as restrictions started to ease, Mutant took steps to get people together in small groups. For Singaporean staff members who lacked privacy and individual bedrooms in their family homes, Mutant invested in renting a studio apartment to allow young employees to stay for a week in the central business district. The agency also expanded its flexi-work options and provided two additional mental health days of leave for everyone. Mutant has a progressive maternity policy, allowing new mothers a staggered return to work beyond mandatory maternity leave, and plans to introduce a similar paternity policy. The firm is also a supporter of LGBTQ+ community, to the point of turning away work that doesn’t align with its inclusive values. In 2021, Mutant had a talent retention rate of 87% and an 86% staff satisfaction rate, with 92% of Mutants expressing admiration for the leadership team, of which 66% are women.
Mutant’s thought-leadership contributions included its Cancel Culture Playbook, with additional insights on industry platforms such as Marketing Interactive and Telum, and Mutant’s Guide to the Galaxy — a PR playbook for those new to the industry. SABRE-shortlisted work included the ‘Subway Rendang’ campaign to celebrate Singapore’s National Day with a limited time offer, which led to an 8% increase in sales.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Founded in 2012 by former H+K executive Lars Voedisch, PRecious’ work encompasses four divisions: technology disruptors, corporate advisory, lifestyle/consumer, and startups/investment firms — all of which are part of a distinct focus on the Southeast Asian region. Considerable energy has also been devoted to expanding the firm’s integrated capabilities, which include content marketing, virtual events, community engagement and investor relations consultancy.
The bulk of the 75-person headcount is in Singapore, with around 20 in Indonesia, five in Malaysia and newer operations in the Philippines and Vietnam. PRecious is also a member of the Globalcomm independent agency network.
PRecious grew by 50% in 2021 to S$5m in fee income, and is targeting S$10m within the next three to four years. Those projections do not look too ambitious given solid growth across its Southeast Asian footprint, particularly Singapore and Indonesia. 80% of the firm’s business is multi-market, with much of the growth led by B2B technology, hospitality, established startups/VCs and ESG work for corporates. New clients included Palo Alto Networks and Pan Pacific Hotels Group, joining an existing roster that features Fave, GuocoLand, Mdada.live, AppsFlyer and the Princeton Digital Group.
Voedisch is supported by new hires Arun Saha and Jose Raymond, who each lead strategic advisory for different divisions, while Joey Gan recently arrived to oversee Malaysia. The firm has also focused on talent recruitment and development as a priority in Singapore’s overheated job market, increasing paternity leave and ensuring there is a 50% proportion of female leaders at the firm.
PRecious partners with SwissCham Singapore and Deloitte on Dx Leaders, a monthly webinar series that features perspectives from industry leaders across Asia-Pacific and Europe, and the firm’s senior executives are a regular presence at regional events and publications. Campaign highlights include the Ministry of Health’s Stroke Awareness Campaign, Poh Heng’s ‘Made For Love’ campaign, the #candid gender equality initiative for the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.
— Arun Sudhaman
Launched by Brian Griffin 15 years ago to focus on Southeast Asian markets that bigger players often ignore, Vero has grown steadily to almost 175 people across Southeast Asia. In tandem with that growth, the firm has focused on rethinking its mission, with earned at the center and trust as a focus, one that is supported by specific capabilities in technology, gaming, FMCG, corporate and digital, along with a value proposition that sees employee retention as crucial to client servicing.
Vero does not operate a specific HQ but it's largest office is in Bangkok, while it has a substantial presence in Ho Chi Minh city, a slightly smaller operation in Jakarta and a rapidly expanding presence in the Philippines where it has grown quickly to about 25 people. In Myanmar, however, Vero has suffered a significant decline as political and social unrest has made market conditions difficult for public relations just as for all business.
After growth of about 32% in 2020, enough to earn Vero our South-East Asia Consultancy of the Year nod last year, growth was even better in 2021, with revenues up by better than 33% to around $4.46 million. With the obvious exception of Myanmar, there was consistent growth across all of the firm’s offices, with Jakarta up 92% and providing the strongest performance. The firm now serves more than 100 clients throughout Southeast Asia, about half of them based locally. Among the notable global brands are Booking.com, Dell, Duolingo, Heineken, Intel, Mercedes-Benz, Nestlé, Samsung, Spotify, Under Armour, and the World Wildlife Fund.
Griffin’s team, which includes COO Raphael Lachkar, VP of growth Sasha Alwani, VP of culture and brand Vu-Quan Nguyen-Masse, and VP of client journey Suwanya Tungpanya, reflects the firm’s culture—its focus on growth, client journey and—particularly over the last year, a consistent regional culture. Like so many others, Vero has emphasized mental and physical well-being during the pandemic with several new initiatives including mental health counseling and a hybrid workplace. There has also been an increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion. And a shadow board, with equal representation by gender, sexual identity, and age group, provides input to and feedback on management decisions, helping to create one of the regions most progressive workplaces. Of equal note, Vero has signed the clean creators pledge, vowing not to work for fossil fuel clients.
The firm's service offer has been expanding in recent years and the last 12 months have seen increased investment in areas ranging from public affairs to influencer management to data and analytics, the latter underpinning more and more of the firm’s work. At the same time there has been a plethora of thought leadership activity looking at everything from beauty trends to new developments in crypto and gaming and esports. In Vietnam, the firm has worked on a major public health initiative, “Love is hard HIV prevention is easy,” recruiting celebrities and other influencers to draw attention to a sensitive topic. In Thailand, meanwhile, Vero supported TikTok’s efforts to assist restaurants and other small local businesses impacted by the pandemic. And in the Philippines, an integrated campaign helped to establish Duolingo as the language learning brand of choice.
— Paul Holmes
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