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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:
After 25 years in the region, Hoffman can lay claim to being more of an Asian consultancy than an American one, not least because it makes around twice as much revenue in this region as it does in the rest of the world. Much of that success can be attributed to the firm’s growth beyond its B2B technology roots, particularly over the past five years, to encompass consumer marketing and integrated communications and over the past 12 months some increasingly sophisticated corporate work, with a particularly strong bent towards startups and disruptors. The firm offers support in five broad categories: brand influence, change management, investor confidence, market entry and employer branding and recruitment.
Hoffman has close to 150 people regionally, with operations in nine cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore and Jakarta. The firm also works with affiliates in Australia, New Zealand, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.
With fee growth of 35%, Hoffman concluded its best ever year in the region with fees of close to $13 million (contributing to global revenues of around $20 million). There was strong growth in digital, with services in the space now accounting for 17% of total revenue. Hoffman is equally adept in supporting the international success of Asian companies or helping Western multinationals better understand the vagaries of Asia-Pacific, approaching the latter as the highly diverse region it is, not the homogenous market many newcomers assume it to be. APAC led the global extension of accounts including Trellix, Moloco and Airwallex over the past 12 months, while new business came from brands such as Meta, Visa, Tencent, TSMC, Google Education and Google Cloud.
Proudly independent and with a single P&L, Hoffman is flexible and collaborative, and a strong local management team has turned that into an asset when it comes to recruitment and retention. Caroline Hsu, who joined Hoffman five years ago after serving as CMO of Taiwanese AI unicorn Appier and head of communications for Google Taiwan and Hong Kong, has built on that culture and was rewarded this year with a promotion to the newly-created position of chief global officer (she also became co-chair of the PRCA Asia-Pacific). She has been a vocal advocate for closing the gender pay gap, particularly acute in Asia, and other progressive workforce reforms, in addition to having introduced more flexible approaches to office work in the wake of the pandemic. The leadership team also includes Lydia Lau, global EVP of operations/CFO; Shingo Nomura, VP North Asia Japan; Frank Zhang, deputy GM China/GM Shanghai; and Maureen Tseng, GM, Singapore.
Hoffman’s five-year climb up the value chain has seen it build on its B2B marketing roots, offering both a suite of integrated and digital services and a heaver emphasis on C-suite counseling for both startup clients (such as Shopline, Vizzio and CollabAsia), and of a number of larger brands, many of them dealing with “great resignation” issues in the wake of the pandemic. And over the last year, Hoffman has been the go-to agency for crisis work for clients including Peloton and Demant. The firm’s work for ASML is a good example of its integrated approach to tackling business problems, in this case employer branding and recruitment. The Dutch semiconductor production equipment maker needed to hire large numbers of talented graduates in Taiwan and China in competition with bigger-name tech companies. The firm made ASML’s technology relatable and exciting through interactive live events and online content, attracting hundreds of entry-level STEM graduates.
— Paul Holmes
No longer the new kid on the block after an impressive 10-plus years in business, IN.FOM continues to bring plenty of energy to an offering that has already won multiple Agency of the Year Awards from PRovoke Media. IN.FOM, whose clients include the likes of Samsung and Intel, had planned on 2020 being the year of supercharging the agency, including diversifying its portfolio on the heels of parting ways with anchor client Microsoft in 2019; focusing on next-gen talent; and scaling capabilities that have made the tech firm one of the region’s best. With Covid, though, IN.FOM instead doubled down on innovation and developing new offerings to keep and attract clients, which paid off in 2021, which saw revenue rise by an eye-catching 43%.
IN.FOM's 22 staffers operate out of a Singapore office.
IN.FOM’s focus on innovation and new offerings in 2020 paid off big last year, which saw fee income rise 43% to SGD$5.9 million. Growth was fueled by new business from NetApp, Tencent Cloud, Okta, Hepmil and ByteDance. IN.FOM also kept retainer clients such as Samsung, Intel, Tata Communications, NTUC Income, SAP Concur and Herbalife. The firm’s success stems, in part, from its diligence in creating and rolling out new services that clients needed to make it through Covid — marketing webinars, online communications training and services for startups among them.
IN.FOM has grown by putting its people first, operating under a protocol that includes giving employees direct access to management, collaboration and having no team structure based on, say, accounts or expertise. Additionally, IN.FOM has had a work-from-home option since it opened, doesn’t require the likes of timesheets, and offers biannual performance reviews, salary adjustments and bonuses and allowances for wellness and professional training programs. The package is working when it comes to employee retention. More than half of IN.FOM’s employees have been with the firm for five years or more, and six employees are marking their 10th anniversary there. In 2020, staff salaries were untouched. IN.FOM also continued to pay bonuses and raises and make promotions. Co-founders and managing partners Wong Voal Voal and Mike Liew established the framework for a diverse and inclusive organization from the start. In addition to anti-discrimination policies, staff performance is measured by peer evaluations and candidates aren’t required to have a university degree. Staff is evenly divided between men and women. Half of the firm’s managers are 40 or older. Talent includes a local LGBTQ advocate. The people-first approach is paying off with employee longevity. More than 50% of employees have been with IN.FOM for five years or more, with a quarter celebrating 10 years or more in 2022.
New marketing services — organizing webinars, content marketing and digital campaigns among them — were responsible for nearly 15% of IN.FOM’s 2021 revenue, a testament to the firm doubling down on the offerings clients needed to get through the pandemic. The agency has already produced more than 50 data-driven campaigns. IN.FOM salvaged Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow event by turning the in-person student competition into a virtual one. Heavy media coverage of IN.FOM’s 3,000-person consumer survey for Expedia strengthened brand recognition and led to a Singapore Tourism Board partnership.
— Diana Marszalek
Founded in 2009 as one of a new wave of independent Asian technology PR firms, Rice has grown beyond those roots to work across multiple sectors from its Singapore headquarters. While B2B technology remains the firm’s mainstay — just as well given the growth from those particular clients as the pandemic took hold — the firm also recently inked a joint venture with tech marketing firm AKIN to create Lab360, the latest in a series of industry efforts to better connect content, CRM and lead generation.
In addition to Singapore, which houses the majority of the firm’s 60 people, there are smaller teams in Myanmar and Hong Kong.
Rice was effectively flat in 2020, with B2B technology growth helping to mitigate a downturn in consumer and hospitality, and was just returning to its customary levels of growth when the crisis in Myanmar dealt its second largest office a devastating blow. In context, the low single digit growth of last year, taking Rice fee income to about $4.15m, was pretty impressive. Client loyalty remains impressive, with Hilton (nine years), Palo Alto Networks, Digital Realty and ESET (eight years each) and LinkedIn (six years) among the long-term relationships in the Singapore office, while more recent additions to the roster include Twilio, Salesforce, UiPath, Amplitude. The firm also manages corporate reputation, media relations and social media for brands like Audi, Heineken, Foodpanda, United Nations, European Union, World Wildlife Fund, Zurich.
While founder Sonya Madeira remains the majority shareholder from London, operational leadership is handled by managing partner James Brasher. His team includes Mayda Jutahkiti, general manager of Singapore and partner; Donna Garcia, who started and still leads the Myanmar office; and Phoebe Sou, who has been leading the Hong Kong business, as GM. Brasher has placed a lot of emphasis on nurturing the firm’s culture, with listening — to employees as well as clients — at the center. He says he wants Rice to be “the last agency in people’s careers,” a focus that has helped the firm achieve consistent success in our Best Agencies to Work For research and local surveys in Singapore, where it was the only agency of any kind listed among the top 15 small and medium-sized employers. During the pandemic years, Rice extended insurance to cover hospitalisation, medical, dental and specialist expenses for children and more, and introduced a quarterly health and wellness allowance. It also embraced hybrid and remote working and encourages people to work from overseas for extended periods. There’s also a strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, from unconscious bias and allyship training to more accommodation for nursing moms.
The past 12 months have seen an investment in services supporting brand strategy and insights, delivering audience research and channel audit projects for the likes of LinkedIn Learning and Temasek-backed Real Pet Food Co. Rice has also been handling more integrated work with clients such as LinkedIn, Eaton and EZ-Link—supported by the partnership with digital marketing agency AKIN, which provides a new dimension to complex assignments. Interesting work in 2021 included “A Le Htoe: Taking Action Against Gender-based Violence,” for the European Union Delegation in Myanmar, which engaged Rice to turn a spotlight on a disturbing issue using celebrity influencers and media relations. To mark Eaton’s 25th anniversary in Singapore, meanwhile, Rice designed an integrated campaign that covered owned, shared and earned media to drive conversation. And for Zalora, Rice helped position the company as the driving force behind fashion and lifestyle e-commerce in the region.
— Paul Holmes
Vuki Vujasinovic founded Australian firm Sling & Stone in a shared office 12 years ago with just one client and a compelling positioning as the agency that would “unearth, craft, and share the stories of the most ambitious brands shaping the future.” Sling & Stone doubled in size through each of its first five years and is now one of the biggest PR firms in Australia, along with offices in the US and Asia, helping explain its 2021 acquistion by VCCP Business.
Sling & Stone offices in Sydney, Auckland, Los Angeles and Singapore house a total of 80 employees.
2021 was a busy year for Sling & Stone on several fronts. PRovoke Media’s 2020 Australasian Agency of the Year, Sling & Stone opened a Singapore office in December, propelling its growth as a regional player. That followed VCCP Business’s September acquisition of the firm, making it now part of a $40 million group of PR and communications agencies. The agency registered double digit growth over 2020, and its investment in growing social media, digital content and influencer teams is paying off. Those service areas account for nearly 20% of annual revenue, and 55% of campaigns are integrated. The firm secured 73 new clients last year, with a pitch win rate of 77%. 2021 additions include UBCO, Darrell Lea, Slyp, IRL, Kahoot, Eden Brew and Squarespace which join key clients like Google Cloud, Xero, Stripe, Kogan.com, Hinge and Guzman y Gomez.
Vujasinovic is supported by a management team including global general manager Kya de Rome, global head of consumer Kasi Reynolds, global head of business James Hutchinson, and NZ lead Sian Church. Sling & Stone’s 39 hires last year include Singapore associate director, Rajiv Menon, who in less than a year has doubled the size of his team, and in Australia, Amy Brinker, who spent the year building the agency’s scale-up and enterprise divisions, winning new halo international clients including Anaplan and monday.com. The agency’s culture is defined by its values – “gumption, build, tune-in and play” – which are used to make decisions about every area of the business. In addition to furthering its DEI efforts, Sling & Stone last year revamped training and development programs, offering employees career building opportunities. Last year saw the promotion of 27 team members. The agency also introduced a paid parental leave and compassionate pregnancy loss program. Workplace improvements included meeting-free Mondays, new technology and new remote roles. The firm also rolled out a mental wellness program with training and therapy sessions.
Sling & Stone leaders are visible advocates of furthering the PR industry, particularly in Australia, stepping up around a range of pertinent issues. Vujasinovic last year joined the RCG advisory board (part of PRIA) to further the agency industry in Australia and ran a PRIA/RCG webinar to help Australian PR agencies 'get paid what they are worth'. The agency’s senior leadership team across Australia and New Zealand runs multiple intro to PR sessions to venture capital portfolio groups and startup accelerator programs. Sling & Stone is also focused on making the industry attractive and accessible to a diverse group of next-gen professionals. The firm works with Charles Sturt University, one of the leading PR programs in Australia, to further improve their PR program. Leaders are working with university heads on keeping a degree in PR affordable.
— Diana Marszalek
In 2007, Kunal Kishore launched Value 360 in the midst of the global economic meltdown. Value 360 built its success by serving the specific needs of the startups and entrepreneurs emerging in India at that time, delivering communications that boosted their visibility and brand awareness. The firm capitalized on the need for PR expertise, and practitioners, that could grow with the burgeoning companies, through an integrated and measurable approach to communications. Thirteen years later, Value 360’s business is booming, thanks to the top-tier services and expertise that earned the firm being named PRovoke Media’s 2020 Asia-Pacific tech agency of the year.
Value 360 has an expansive Delhi headquarters, and offices in Pune, Chennai and Chandigarh as well as Singapore.
Value 360’s 2021 numbers say it all, as the firm saw revenue surge 86% to $6.7 million. The agency has racked up a total of roughly 250 clients, a number bolstered by new and key clients such as Audi, MG Motors, Paytm, Tencent, MPL, Elevation Capital, Times WestBridge, Rapido, TCI and Myles.
Dealing with its biggest year yet, and a talent crunch, Value 360 last year courted employees in non-traditional ways, like inviting people who left the workforce to rejoin and hiring and training recruits from outside the PR industry. The agency uses KPI to drive diversity and gender equity, and foster employee engagement. Founder Kunal Kishore is supported by group executive director Paresh Chaudhary; and Vishal Mehra, CEO of Value 360 Group specialty agency Popkorn Communications.
Value 360 Communications started as a PR firm in the year 2007 and slowly diversified into a group of specialist firms focused on delivering unique service offerings under a communication framework. Today, under the group of Value 360, the organisation is scaling up to bring technology to the core of its communication offering. Value 360 launched one of India's first AI enabled influencer marketplaces, ClanConnect.ai, which uses machine learning and data analytics to simplify influencer marketing for brands. The firm is also in the process of launching Hubscribe.ai, a new media-tech company which will allow content writers and journalists to control their own publishing and communities through a subscription model. Value 360 last year produced one of India’s first and most comprehensive studies of how brands are, or aren’t, embracing influencer marketing.
— Diana Marszalek
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