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Founded nearly 40 years ago, WE Communications parlayed its still-critical Microsoft relationship to become one of the world’s biggest, and most successful, specialist technology PR firms. Global reach now stands at offices in 21 cities, including seven in North America, where the firm remains a benchmark in terms of helping brands harness the transformative appeal of technological change. That focus means that WE’s capabilities have broadened beyond the technology vertical to encompass considerable depth in healthcare, corporate, ESG, digital analytics and consumer marketing. Just as important, perhaps, WE continues as one of the world’s biggest independent PR firms, underpinning an entrepreneurial spirit and ‘purpose and people’ mindset that is not often associated with firms of its size.
WE’s Seattle HQ is accompanied by offices in Austin, Boston, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City.
WE’s North American fee income grew by more than 10% to $124m, after 5% growth in 2020. Once again, expansion was led by technology but intertwined, unsurprisingly, with healthcare, corporate, consumer and digital. The resilience of the technology and healthcare sectors no doubt played to WE’s strengths, but so did the changing nature of the work, particularly in terms of the greater focus required on social impact, purpose and employee activism. WE’s insight/analytics capabilities also came to the fore, as did the firm’s expanded corporate and healthcare capabilities in North America. New business included : Alteryx, Compass Pathways, Florentia Village, NetApp, Pomellato, Shopify, Trajan Scientific and Medical, Velodyne Lidar and Wing Aviation, joining a client roster that features Abbott, AbbVie, Adobe, Brother, Capgemini, Horizon Pharma, Intel, McDonalds and Microsoft.
WE’s ability to put people ahead of profits has never proved more welcome than during the pandemic, when the firm moved swiftly to prioritize employee health and safety, investing in mental health, employee assistance and repurposing operating expense budgets for employee development. A 75% belonging score among employees illustrated the benefits of this approach, while WE also stepped up investment in training and development and set up borderless teams to better handle client challenges. The firm’s leadership remains in stable shape, with CEO/founder Melissa Waggener Zorkin overseeing a senior team that includes global COO and international president Kass Sells, North American president and chief client officer Dawn Beauparlant, EVP/DEI head Elizabeth Herrera Smith and chief talent officer Kate Richmond. And WE continued to expand its DE&I focus, increasing BIPOC employee representation to 24% and partnering with such organisations as Lagrant Foundation, ColorComm and Nova Collective to drive change. There were also numerous training programmes to support this effort, including initiatives focused on senior leadership, self awareness and BIPOC mentorship.
WE’s thought leadership went up a level in 2021, when its relaunched Brands in Motion (BiM) study helped support a 74% pitch win rate in North America. The firm has shifted all of its IP to sit under the BiM umbrella, delivering regular insight into how brands adapt to the fast-changing expectations of their behaviour. Campaign highlights, meanwhile, included Cotton On’s Covid-19 vaccine partnership with Unicef; and, record-breaking social engagement for Microsoft 365.
— Arun Sudhaman
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.
Archetype Asia-Pacific operates in Australia, Mainland China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia and Singapore, with nine offices across the region, housing 340+ employees.
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.
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.
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
It was a defining year for AxiCom, which – after a tough 2020 – stepped out of its 27-year-old traditional B2B technology PR comfort zone, expanding from its telecoms and enterprise technology heartland into consumer tech, digital, influencer marketing and creative services. After winning several sports tech clients, the agency launched a dedicated sports tech division, as well as a dedicated influencer marketing practice, led by a consumer team that grew 30% over the year. And to top it off, under the strong, compassionate leadership of longtime AxiCom staffer and now European president, Kate Stevens, the agency formally combined its technology know-how with creativity by recruiting its first creative director, Graeme Anthony, formerly of Frank PR. This transformed AxiCom’s creative approach and client work, and it now offers creative strategy as a new service.
As well as its US offices in San Francisco, Austin, Los Angeles and New York, AxiCom operates in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.
AxiCom’s revenue for 2021 grew by just over 10% on 2020, on even healthier margins. For the first time, UK income was less than half of the European business, as it grew substantially across its other offices. The agency won 63 new clients across Europe, 30% of which are multi-market accounts, including milestones such as the agency’s first all-digital win, Equinix – digital services revenue grew by 27% over the year – and AxiCom’s first pure influencer marketing brief. The agency also has longstanding relationships with many clients, including HMD Global, Kantar, Lexmark, Orange and Belkin, and new clients over the year included Whirlpool, Roku, Prevayl, Avast Foundation, Oppo and Prevayl. The team grew to 112 people across Europe.
AxiCom views itself as a family, and many of its staffers have been around for well over a decade. In a recent survey of words its team associate with the firm, the top three were ‘fun’, ‘flexible’ and ‘supportive’. Stevens is supported by global head of client services Nick Head (previously European MD) and UK managing director Rosie Bannister, both 2020 joiners, and in January this year, after North America president Katie Huang Shin left the firm, the agency appointed Golin’s Matt Lackie as its first global CEO. AxiCom also brought on board global heads of digital (Brian Snyder) and analytics and research (Shannon Lawler), and recently announced Lisa Sullivan as president, Americas. The agency has a -7% gender pay gap in Europe, since across the European team, 55% of the team and 80% of the leadership are women. During 2021, AxiCom launched its Intelligent Working 2.0 flexible working policy, scrapping core hours and reducing contracted hours to give its people complete control of their working life. It also invested in a new training programme, AxiAcademy, designed to support the team across three key areas – compliance, culture and competence – in a range of ways from training sessions to cross-office peer-to-peer coaching. DE&I initiatives include training around unconscious bias, privilege, allyship and exclusion, and overhauling recruitment language and processes. AxiCom was recently named as PRovoke Media’s Best EMEA Network To Work For for the third year running.
The range of AxiCom’s work across the year was perhaps surprising for a legacy tech agency, demonstrating how the business has evolved: from working with celebrities for the first time, to tackle trolling online, to taking over the streets of Madrid to introduce multi-mobility firm GoTo Global to a new market. SABRE-shortlisted work included a campaign for tech sportswear firm Prevayl, which gave the agency two weeks after it won the account to engage the athleisure community. The team recruited 37 Instagram fitness influencers to attend a training immersion workshop at a boutique gym to showcase Prevayl kit, and the resulting coverage beat all KPIs. In Italy, CyberArk tasked AxiCom with securing national press coverage to shine a light on identity security in a crowded cybersecurity landscape, achieved by working with a ‘good hacker’. AxiCom also launched The Ideas Bank: its home for surplus creative ideas, with a downloadable booklet available to prospects for free to provide inspiration and show what tech PR can achieve with creativity at its core.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Former Verisign communications chief and serial investor Tilo Bonow founded Piabo in2006 and has built it over the past decade-and-a-half into one of the leading technology public relations firms in continental Europe, partnering with growth companies to provide impact-driven communication that attracts and engages customers, investors and employees. Its expertise spans a range of tech-related sectors including deep tech, fintech, blockchain, health tech, consumer electronics, AR/VR, artificial intelligence, security and big data.
Headquartered in Berlin, Piabo has 115 people across additional offices in Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Hannover and Stuttgart, from which it covers not only Germany but also adjacent German-speaking markets in Austria and Switzerland. Through its partnership with Millwright Holdings in the US, it has global reach.
Piabo had a spectacular 2021, with fee income doubling to $15 million—likely enough to rank just outside the top 10 in the German market. Growth came from clients in deep tech and blockchain as well as health tech, and added new practice areas including brand positioning and employer branding. The firm held on to almost all of its top clients, including Evernote, Github, GP Bullhound, Momox, Silicon Valley Bank, Sipgate, Stripe and Withings, OMIO and BMW, while adding several significant new clients such as Perfegg, Xempu, Niu, Lieferando and Qonto.
Even before the pandemic, Piabo was working digitally and remotely due to its global client portfolio, and so it handled the change in work pattens with relative ease, emphasizing employees’ mental health, digital connectivity, remote onboarding and more. Bonow continues to lead the firm in partnership with chief operating officer Daniela Harzer and VP client relations and growth Marc-Pierre Hoeft. New faces last year included Juliane Seack, head of people development & employer branding, formerly of Serviceplan, and Timotée Louise Gbaguidi, director digital communications, formerly of Story Machine.
Bonow and other key executives are extremely visible in the start-up and innovator realms across Europe, speaking at events such as the EU Startup Summit and THE GROW in Zurich, addressing issues from technophobia to personal branding for entrepreneurs and business leaders. Bonow also joined forces with Millwright Holdings’ founder Michael Young to launch a $10 million venture fund to fuel new agencies worldwide. As far as the work is concerned, Piabo provided PR and influencer relations support to Vivid Money, a one-stop financial service platform, and helped business finance company Qonto with PR and media relations support in the German market.
— Paul Holmes
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
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