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The 2023 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 2023 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards, taking place in Singapore on 27 September. Analysis of all Finalists and Winners can be accessed via the navigation menu or below:
Ruder Finn’s China operations continue to account for around 85% of its US$52m in regional revenue in 2022. That strength is reflected in particularly impressive luxury, beauty, travel/retail, automotive and integrated marketing capabilities in Shanghai, supplemented by increased depth in consumer electronics and ecommerce. Ruder Finn’s Hong Kong office, meanwhile, features expertise across financial services, corporate, technology, research and digital/social expertise, along with growth in legal communications and brand-building. All of which has added up to double-digit annual expansion for much of the past decade.
The firm boasts more than 450 people across offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
Mainland China was up 8% in 2022, as the firm grappled with the broader market slowdown. Luxury and beauty drove growth, with consumer goods and public sector both expanding by more than 25%. There was new business from Adidas, Ecovacs, Ipsen, Paypal, Ralph Lauren and Shanghai Watch, joining an existing client roster that features Almond Board of California, Audi, Emirates, Equities First, Estee Lauder, Moet Hennessy Diageo, Richemont, Sony, Tencent and Visa. In Hong Kong, furthermore, the firm’s RFI digital unit landed branding assignments for HSBC, Dah Sing Bank and Prudential, along with internal comms work for Marriott.
In addition to CEO Elan Shou, key leaders included luxury head Gao Ming, RFI Asia MD David Ko and global head of risk Charles Lankester. 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, the latter of which includes a new DEI practice under Ko.
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 11th edition, and specific digital tools focusing on crisis simulation and influencer analysis. The firm also supports the Asia-Pacific Communications Index to better understand the in-house communications roles, and benefits from particularly high scores in R3’s regular survey of China client satisfaction. Campaign highlights included launching Sony’s latest wireless EarBuds in China, corporate image work for Emirates in Hong Kong, and interactive AR activity for the Macallan.
— Arun Sudhaman
BCW’s Greater China operation continues to demonstrate the benefits of complementary strengths, with the firm’s corporate and geopolitical heft in Beijing allied to strong consumer and digital capabilities in Shanghai. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, BCW retains an industry-leading focus on technology, particularly in terms of cross-border clients that focus on the Greater Bay Area and beyond.
There are more than 400 staffers across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, along with more than 100 in Hong Kong.
Greater China remains the engine for BCW’s regional growth — accounting for more than 50% of regional revenue — despite the challenges posed by numerous lockdowns and geopolitical turbulence. There has been consistent growth in recent years, including double-digit expansion in 2022. New business included TCL, TikTok and Honor in Hong Kong, along with Infinix and a major confidential tech assignment in China, where the firm benefited from its focus on sectors that align with China’s national growth strategy. Key clients include Huawei, Honor, TCL and Lenzing in Hong Kong — where the firm has become the go-to for China tech brands going global — along with the likes of Boeing, Coca-Cola, Continental, Lenovo, Oppo, Qualcomm, Tencent and Vivo in China.
BCW Asia-Pacific deputy president Polka Yu also serves as Hong Kong market leader, while Qu Hong oversees BCW China and its Beijing office, alongside a leadership team that includes Veeco Tang (Shenzhen), and Cyrus Yeung (Guangzhou). The BCW Grow learning & development program continues to flourish, involving hundreds of hours of training, while its mentorship programme has been exported to North America. There has also been a significant elevation in BCW’s DEI focus in this region, led by chief digital officer Joe Peng, marcoms director Leah Taylor and people head Pallabi Gosh.
BCW houses much of its regional leadership in Greater China, including deputy president Polka Yu and chief digital officer Joe Peng, which has ensured that the markets are a hub of innovation, including a particular focus on integrated creativity, digital transformation and geopolitical counsel. Asia is also an integral component in BCW’s global Age of Values study, while the firm’s work continues to shine — with SABRE nominated campaigns for Dyson, Oppo, Honor, and Lenovo.
— Arun Sudhaman
After an acquisition spree that saw it challenge market leaders among China’s international PR giants, MSL’s divestment of local firm Genedigi in 2018 heralded a more sedate period for the Publicis Groupe network in China. The last few years, however, have seen a significant turnaround for MSL China, driven by a new leadership team that has taken shape under MD Liza Zhang and regional chief Margaret Key. That includes a consolidated ‘One MSL’ approach across the firm’s China offices, and a service offering that has grown beyond its consumer and retail heartland to encompass corporate communications, ESG, digital/social, healthcare, high-tech, B2B and automotive.
There are more than 300 people across Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, along with a smaller operation in Hong Kong.
MSL China submitted a second consecutive year of double-digit expansion in 2022, driven by significant new business from Nippon Pain, Cathay Pacific, Chery, SCB, Jaguar, Volkswagen and Wonderful Pistachios. They join an existing roster that features Huawei, Lixil, Puma, L’Oreal, Sanofi, BMW, Maserati, Procter & Gamble, Sephora and Amazon.
A relatively young leadership team reflects an average age of 28 at the agency, with Zhang supported by digital/social SVP Cathy Cui and a team of practice area VPs that have all been promoted from within. 50% of current P&L leaders are homegrown executives, and the firm has also implemented a flat organizational structure to improve inclusion and empowerment. There are also specific initiatives focused on female leadership, training/coaching, and employee assistance, including mental health.
The firm’s Foghorn and Magnify tools focus on employee engagement and influencer management, respectively, while work is also afoot to develop a global crisis management platform. Campaign highlights included the Fenbid Dream campaign, which drove a 40% sales increase, along with initiatives for TikTok, Oreo and HSBC.
— Arun Sudhaman
With fee income estimated at more than $80m, Ogilvy’s Greater China operations have always benefited from its formidable public relations offering, with mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong combining to deliver consistent depth across corporate reputation, brand PR, thought leadership, public affairs, crisis/issues management, health and wellness, and influencer marketing. In mainland China, the firm is particularly well known for its ability to help Chinese brands manage global challenges, allied to strong technology, public affairs and sustainability expertise, while its Taiwan operation serves as its B2C creative and consumer advocacy hub. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, there has been a significant focus on travel and tourism and public sector.
Around half of Ogilvy’s regional headcount are spread across its Greater China network, which includes offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen (350 in total), Hong Kong (50) and Taipei (100).
Ogilvy PR grew by around 10% in Greater China, a performance that only becomes more impressive when you consider not only the network’s high base, but the broader lockdown and geopolitical challenges in the region. A focus on ‘policy over politics’ supported work for MNCs such as Amazon Global Selling and GE Healthcare, along with Chinese companies like Baidu and ZTE. In Beijing, there are strong tech capabilities for a roster that also features Intel, Tata and Tencent, along with B2B, B2G and advocacy work for the likes of Unicef, China Citic Bank, Bank of China, Sinopec and Energy China. The firm’s consumer communications hub in Shanghai has been rebuilt around expansion into finance, beauty and lifestyle, for a client list that includes Merz, Amway, Ralph Lauren and Coca-Cola, while Guangzhou and Shenzhen have supported Hisense and Arrow on their sustainability and brand purpose positioning. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, there was new business from the Singapore Tourism Board, along with AOR assignments for Ocean Park, the Hong Kong Deposit Protection Board and Mortgage Corp Annuity. In Taiwan, furthermore, the client portfolio features Amazon, MSD, Pfizer, Schneider, FarEastone, Dell and FedEx, bolstered by new business from Covestro, Kirin Beer, Central Weather Bureau, Milksha, Timberland , OpenTable and Pernod Ricard.
Long-term Ogilvy execs Joe Yu and Clara Shek continue to serve as presidents of China and Hong Kong, respectively, while Taiwan is overseen by MD Abby Hsieh. Tiffany Hu returned to lead Shanghai, while new appointments included Houxiao Li, the former Ogilvy Advertising ECD who moved to Ogilvy PR and Health to drive its earned creative work. Almost 100% of the firm’s Greater China leaders are local, and resolutely stable too despite considerable challenges in the broader labour market. The latter was supported by a series of initiatives to remain an employer of choice, including intrapreneurship opportunities, training and coaching, and psychological support.
Ogilvy PR’s thought leadership offering in China continues to give it a competitive edge over many rivals, encompassing regular publications that cover influence, public affairs, and working life. The firm’s leaders are also highly visible in this regard, participating in numerous events and other initiatives that span such areas as education, professional development, business insight and nation branding. The firm’s campaign work remains in fine fettle, including SABRE-nominated efforts for Unicef, Taya, GE Healthcare, Intel, Swire Coca-Cola and MSD.
— Arun Sudhaman
Greater China remains a critical driver of Weber Shandwick’s regional presence, accounting for almost half of its Asia-Pacific revenues. More than a third comes from mainland China, which has rebounded under the leadership of Corbin Hsieh after a quiet 2021. In Hong Kong, longtime leader Albert Shu may split his time with Singapore, but the operation remains stable as the city’s largest international PR firm, amid a challenging operating environment.
The firm boasts more than 450 people across offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
Mainland China was up 9% in 2022, despite the well-publicised difficulties suffered by the broader market. The firm retained 85% of its clients in the market, and also hit the $1m milestone in healthcare revenue. The firm’s Go-Global hub has been instrumental in powering growth for Chinese clients such as Anta, Tecno Mobile and Chow Sang Seng, while the broader roster includes Starbucks, Nespresso, Hoka, Swatch, Richemont, Nike, Nestle, GM, Universal, Sealy, Mundipharma, Victorinox and Remy Cointreau. Hong Kong registered single digit growth, but its healthcare practice was up 38% thanks to integration with Singapore, while 20% consumer growth was driven by UGC, Samsung and the HKJC. Key Hong Kong clients include Pfizer, MSD, Hyatt, Merz Aesthetics, Fresenius and Moderna.
In addition to Hsieh and Shu, key leaders include healthcare EVP Robert Broad, client experience EVP Gavin Goodwin, South China GM Rocky Wang, China group CD Kissa Lin and innovation SVP Ivy Shao. The new Weber Shandwick Collective has four core values—curiosity, courage, inclusion and impact—and “DE&I and values” are viewed as inseparable, with inclusion laying the groundwork for equity and belonging. In Asia, there has been significant progress to empower employees to lead initiatives that foster collaboration, mutual support and belonging — highlighted by three workplace awards in the last year alone.
A new Project X innovation hub has served to galvanise the firm’s innovation community in China, encompassing in-culture tools and a live studio to drive stronger integrated campaigns on behalf of clients. Weber Shandwick’s integrated media and digital capabilities include particularly strong analytics and intelligence capabilities, including the Kloud Infinity influencer offering. All of which pays off in the work, which included SABRE nominated campaigns for Determinant and Expedia, along with eye-catching initiatives for Starbucks and MSD.
— Arun Sudhaman
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