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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:
Weber Shandwick’s cohesive regional strategy for the past decade often means that the whole often adds up to more than the sum of its parts, with healthcare emerging the firm’s key growth driver in recent years. Significantly, the firm has devoted considerable energy to an “intersectional” strategy which recognises that today’s PR challenges are complex and cross-functional, and nowhere, perhaps, is that more important than for its healthcare practice — which regularly combines expertise from the firm’s formidable technology, corporate and consumer operations. In addition to pharma, there is significant depth in therapeutic, regulatory/compliance, medtech, consumer health, brand, and medical education, along with new offerings focused on women’s health, health strategy, and arming Asian doctors with relevant Asian data. Meanwhile, Weber Shandwick’s ESG, employee engagement, creative, digital/analytucs and public affairs expertise are also proving increasingly critical to its healthcare growth.
There are more than 100 people across Weber Shandwick’s Asia-Pacific healthcare practice, with Japan serving as the biggest market, followed by significant depth from the Hong Kong/Singapore cross-market hub and smaller operations in China, Korea and India.
One year after securing Healthcare Agency of the Year honours, healthcare was again Weber Shandwick’s strongest-performing sector in 2022, growing at double-digit rate across the region thanks to specific expansion in Japan (+37%), Korea (+27%), China (past the $1m mark) and Hong Kong (+38%). Expanded business from MSD (across corporate, policy, consumer, digital and employee engagement) makes it the firm’s biggest regional healthcare client, but there were also major new assignments from Moderna, Merz, Viatris, Ferring, United Healthcare, Fresenieus, Boehringer Ingelheim and Unisys. Much of that reflects Weber Shandwick’s ability to provide creative and strategic insight, along with counsel into such areas as as ESG, DEI and employee engagement, for a client roster that also features Novartis, Abbott, Illumina, Pfizer and BMS.
Key figures include Hong Kong/Singapore healthcare EVPs Robert Broad and Windcy Chan while Kaoru Nakagawa and Wei Wei head healthcare in Japan and China, respectively. 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.
Weber Shandwick’s creative capabilities remain in strong shape, reflected in a thought leadership platform that focuses on solving at the intersections, at a time when the overlap between practice areas and sectors calls for a more integrated mindset. That approach has brought particularly benefits in terms of Weber Shandwick’s work across business/society, health and brand, along with a strategy and analytics/insights practice that spans cultural relevance, ESG, change/employee management, geopolitical strategy/risk and Asian companies going global. In the healthcare space, it is particularly notable in the Women’s Health offering that includes proprietary data, in-culture workshops and female-focused campaigns.
— Arun Sudhaman
Interpublic agency DeVries Global has progressed far beyond its roots as a P&G spin-off to become a regional boutique that is focused on cultural marketing across a range of sectors, with lifestyle and healthcare to the fore. Now under the leadership of Darren Burns, DeVries’ efforts to become a global consumer comms agency with an Asian lens has been bolsted by strong social commerce and marketing capabilities at its Shanghai office, along with creative depth in Singapore, and influencer marketing expertise in Taipei. But it is the firm’s healthcare capabilities that have risen to the fore over the past couple of years, particularly in terms of its expansion from pharma into OTC/consumer, bolstered by strong cultural expertise and an ability to drive behavioural change for a range of major health and wellness companies.
There are 100+ staff DeVries Global employees across offices in Beijing and Shanghai (70 in total), Taipei (20) and Singapore (25).
Healthcare grew by 53% across the region, accounting for almost a quarter of DeVries’ regional revenue, and particularly notable from Shanghai and Beijing, where healthcare expansion reached 30%. The firm’s work spans such areas as oncology, hematology, rare disease and chronic disease, for a client roster that features BMS, Roche and Sanofi as key names — alongside new business from MSD, Zeiss, Organon, Korea Ginseng Corp and Sanofi. Other key healthcare clients include J&J (consumer health lead duties in Singapore), GSK, BMS, Takeda, Abbott, Roche, Daiichi-Sankyo, Medtronic, Alliance and P&G.
Burns’ leadership team includes mainland China leader Lydia Shen, Singapore & Southeast Asia MD Rafidah Rashid, and Taipei head Vivian Liu. DeVries also has a strong DEI training focus, supported by numerous health and wellbeing initiatives, resulting in impressive employee scores.
DeVries’ retains a particularly compelling focus on culture marketing in Asia, supported by specific research into Gen Z, and a creative incubator. Indeed, much of the firm’s best work is based on cultural insight research, including the SABRE-nominated flu pendant programme for Roche.
— Arun Sudhaman
WPP’s GCI Health may be an established name elsewhere, but in Asia-Pacific, it’s only just shedding its start-up status to establish itself as a force to be reckoned with. The agency opened its doors in Singapore at the start of 2019 to provide a regional hub for WPP’s only global specialist health PR agency and has since grown rapidly across the region under the leadership of Rikki Jones, who also oversees parent firm BCW in Singapore. GCI Health’s regional expansion is reflected in a service offering that has evolved beyond health communications into medical strategy and education.
GCI Health has around 81 people across offices in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and India. And, of course, GCI has a strong global network, ranking among the market leaders in healthcare in the US and the UK.
GCI Health grew its Asia-Pacific revenue by a stellar 54% in 2022, comfortably making it one of the largest healthcare firms in the region. The firm’s medical strategy and education helped support this expansion, accounting now for 15% of regional revenue. CI is now partnered with eight of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the region, with AstraZeneca, Baxter, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, GSK, Gilead, Jansen, Merck and Novartis among the big names on the firm’s client list.
Jones, who previously headed the firm’s EMEA operations through their start-up phase, has built out an Asia-Pacific leadership team that includes regional MD Sophie Asker and global medical communication head Glen Halliwell, along with local market MDs Chitose Yamada (Japan), Hemali Bhutani (India), and Maria Cheong (Hong Kong). Significant new hires included Mike Tegg to lead the firm’s new public health policy practice, and Tumshie Smillie and James Keng Lim to oversee media and creative strategy, respectively. This team has been very focused on internal and cultural issues, with the launch of a “PeoplePact” that emphasizes both personal development and meaningful work, resulting in an 90% retention rate last year — well above the regional standard — and placement on several Best Agency to Work For lists.
A major key to GCI’s success in the region is its ability to move rapidly beyond traditional public relations, offering clients a blend of scientific communications, medical education, medical affairs strategy and publications expertise in an integrated way. That approach has helped the firm make a difference on some major challenges, resulting in SABRE nominated work for AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine rollout against a backdrop of skepticism; and helping Cipla tackle the stigma attached to asthma inhalers in India.
— Arun Sudhaman
In the decade since its launch, SPAG has already established itself as an industry game changer in the Asia-Pacific region — a hybrid firm operates at the crossroads of healthcare communications and advocacy. And that expertise was further recognised when the firm was acquired by leading US independent Finn Partners in mid-2022, giving it the access to the kind of global scale and expertise that are already helping its regional growth aspirations. Finn, of course, is one of North America’s best healthcare agencies — and adds formidable research, digital, creative and medical content expertise to SPAG’s existing capabilities in pharma, medtech, public health, wellness and corporate.
SPAG has grown beyond its three Indian offices to now operate a growing Singapore presence, along with offices in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Greater China, adding up to 175 people in total.
SPAG rebounded from a slow 2021 to post 20% growth in 2022, with India up 30% thanks to continued expansion into health tech, employee engagement and internal comms. A growing China presence has also helped, along with broader content capabilities and a health pipeline from Finn’s US operations. There was new business from Astra Zeneca, Roche, GE Healthcare, Practo, Medika Bazaar, Alkem, Mankind Specialties, Avantor, Reckitt and Allo Health, along with John Hopkins’ tobacco control mandate in Asia — reflecting SPAG’s ability to extend work across its growing Asian footprint. Key existing clients are Roche, Varian, GIPS, Herbalife, Bayer, Janssen, Aum Biosciences, Novo Nordisk and Abbott.
Founders Aman and Shivani Gupta continue to oversee SPAG, ensuring a highly entrepreneurial flavour to the firm’s culture, supported by president Ritika Jauhari and Southeast Asia head Priyanka Bajpai.
There has also been a notable uplift in the firm’s thought leadership output, most notably the Digital Health Report with Galen Growth, along with specific research into younger employees and health change agents. Notable work included SABRE-nominated work for AUM Biosciences, along with sexual wellness initiatives for Allo Health, mental health support for Janssen, and breast cancer treatment innovation for Roche.
— Arun Sudhaman
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