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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:
Founded in 2000 by Jason Yeo to recognise the fusion of ‘PR and ‘Brain’, Prain has grown to become not only Korea’s biggest PR firm, but one of the largest in Asia, ranking 57th in PRovoke Media’s Global Rankings. The firm owes much of its growth to a smart expansion strategy that has included significant M&A, resulting in nine subsidiary companies that span its four divisions: PR, sports marketing, talent management and luxury.
Prain’s 300+ people are headquartered in Seoul, but the firm has made specific strides to build its global network in such countries as Indonesia, Singapore and Japan via strategic partnerships.
Prain grew 10% to $54m in 2022, despite continued turbulence in Korea’s broader marcomms market. Over the last five years, the firm has surged by 76%, reflecting the benefits of its diversified portfolio, which includes major MNCs such as SK Innovation, SK Hynix, Naver Cloud, and TikTok. In addition, with an expanded focus on digital PR and the growth of the sports marketing business sector, the company has seen a substantial increase in its workforce, with a 41% rise from 219 employees in 2020 to 308 employees in 2022. Digital and integrated work accounts for more than half of the firm’s overall revenue, while Prain’s overall client roster is heavily weighted towards the CPG and healthcare sectors, including Samsung Electronics, SK Telecom, Kakao, Incheon International Airport, Volvo, TikTok, Riot Games, Zespri, MSD, Novartis, and GSK. New business, meanwhile, has come from Mohegan Inspire, HotelsCombined/Kayak, Hong Kong International Airport, Allergan, SK Biopharmaceuticals, Naver Cloud, Epson, SK Innovation, SK Hynix, Samsung Asset Management, SK D&D, and Kia Motors.
Donna Kim joined Prain as president and CEO in 2022 after several years with WPP, working alongside founder Yeo to bring a stronger focus to the firm’s international expansion plans. New talent includes Sangwoo Paul Lee to lead the firm’s research institute, while media specialist Yoonkyoung Kim oversees the issues management division. 72% of Prain’s workforce are women, and policies reflect a focus on gender equity, including flexible working, parentl leave, D&I training, and supplier diversity.
Prain has recently several thought leadership initiatives, including an ESG Communication Index in collaboration with academia and KADPR; an global PR alliance bringing together independent firms from 20 countries; and, a blockchain business unit that aims to lead digital transformation. Campaign highlights included SABRE nominated efforts for Daewoong Pharmaceutical and Yuhan-Kimberley.
— Arun Sudhaman
While Ketchum is celebrating its 100th anniversary in the United States, the firm’s Korean operation is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Ketchum established itself in the Korean market through a merger with Omnicom sibling InComm Brodeur, a strong local brand that can trace its heritage back to its founding as an independent agency in 1993. The firm's expertise encompasses consumer brand-building and corporate reputation, with the requisite digital and social media capabilities that are table stakes today, and works across sectors including technology, consumer goods, food, transportation, travel, retail, lifestyle and luxury, and financial and professional services.
The Seoul office is part of an Asia-Pacific network that is more about quality in key markets than it is about comprehensive coverage. There are offices in China (Beijing, Shanghai); Hong Kong; and India (Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai) as well as Korea. And of course an extensive global network with operations in key markets throughout EMEA and the Americas.
Ketchum Korea’s net revenue increased 28% over the previous year, driven largely by Samsung’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games as well as growth from clients such as Morgan Stanley and IPX (formerly known as Line Friends). The firm is currently working with global leading companies such as Delta Airlines, Maserati, and Air Premia, and with the pandemic driving even more digital marketing, clients such as Google, Oracle, HPE, 3M, and New Relic have been leading significant conversations about the future of technology. And new business has come from Google, YouTube, Google Play, 3M, KLA, Maserati, Tim Hortons Existing Clients: Delta, Oracle, Morgan Stanley, Siemens Healthineers, Tyson, Diageo.
Ketchum’s values call on the agency and its people to be curious, brave, inspiring, and most importantly, a force for good, producing “work that matters to the world.” The global roll out of a new employee value proposition (Better For Being Here) earlier this year, has been embraced by APAC offices, where much of the emphasis has been on empathy and purpose; a more structured learning environment; access to the Calm app for mental wellbeing; and a more flexible workplace. The firm’s leadership team has evolved significantly in recent years: tech specialist Erica Oh joined in January 2020, joining Kevin Kim and other local leaders. New in February of 2023 is former journalist Jenny Lee, a veteran of Arirang TV who is leading a number of client storytelling initiatives.
In Korea, Ketchum has distinguished itself through its willingness to look to the future, invest in new skills and encourage innovation. In 2019, Ketchum Korea embarked on a data-driven digital marketing transformation journey emphasizing integrated solutions and behavioral change. As part of its centennial anniversary event, Ketchum has launched “100 Acts,” a global, purpose-driven employee participation movement that encourages 100 acts of giving back from team members across the globe. At the local level, under KSR (Ketchum Social Responsibility) initiative, the firm is fostering conversations about universal design, meeting the needs of all users including those with disabilities. Highlights of the client work including the Google DMZ Project, a new launch in partnership the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice. The firm also helped to launch the iconic Canadian brand Tim Horton’s in Korea, and handled the Diageo Smashed Campaign a CSR initiative to reduce teen alcohol consumption.
— Paul Holmes
Founded by in 1985 by Etsuko Tsugihara, who was just 17 at the time, Sunny Side Up is a top three player in the Japanese public relations market, which continues to be dominated by domestic agencies—generally regarded as better connected to the Japanese media and better attuned to the Japanese consumer. Sunny Side Up is perhaps best known for its work in the events space, and in sports marketing in particular. But more recently, the firm has expanded into broader consumer and corporate PR activities, adding digital expertise to its experiential core and focusing heavily on social purpose. (It also operates several other businesses, in areas as diverse as human resource management, athlete management, and restaurant management.)
Headquartered in Tokyo, Sunny Side Up has the bulk of its operations in Japan, but also has a subsidiary in Korea and is active in Hawaii.
Sunny Side Up ranked 30th in our global agency rankings last year, thanks the nearly 9% growth in revenue that made it a $137 million operation. The agency added top-tier clients to its roster including major sports leagues and entertainment platforms, which joined existing clients in tech, retail, beverages and spirits sectors. For the first full year, the agency ran two divisions around promoting social good — one that supports human resources and project creation and another that creates and executes its own projects, like a one to raise awareness of women’s issues.
Etsuko Tsugihara, president, founded the company in 1985 at 17 years old, and has built it into the force it is today. Having tested positive for Covid at the end of 2020, she was one of a handful of business leaders to speak out about it, disseminating information to help other infected citizens and becoming a social media influencer on the topic. In June 2021, Tsugihara, was appointed chairperson of the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) committee on diversity & inclusion. The appointment was in recognition of Tsugihara’s long-standing commitment to DEI in her own organization. She also became the first Japanese woman to be appointed as the President of IPRA (International Public Relations Association). Since 2015, Sunny Side Up has supported employee organizations, provided subsidies for egg freezing and granted leave to employees in same sex or common law marriages. In 2022, the firm started providing financial help to cover the costs of AMH fertility and semen tests.
Highlights of 2022 include Sunny Side Up’s promoting diversity and inclusion including the W Society project — the first effort coming out of Good & Co., which the firm created in 2021 to promote social issues through PR. The project included designing physical and mental wellness plans for participants boosted by online seminars featuring physicians and influencers. Each seminar was attended by roughly 400 people from roughly 100 companies.
— Diana Marszalek
When Keiji Nishie launched Vector in 1993, public relations as a marketing tool was still largely a novelty in Japan, prompting Nishie to create a business by offering clients services that, until then, were more commonly provided by US or European agencies. Thirty years later, Vector is a Tokyo Stock Exchange-listed PR powerhouse that in 2022 was the 7th largest PR firm in the world — and the only Asia Pacific agency to make the top 10 list, according to our Global PR agency rankings. With more than 40 subsidiaries serving 1,000-plus clients, Vector grew a remarkable 69% last year, which it capped off as a $494 million operation.
In addition to its Tokyo headquarters, Vector has offices in Osaka and Fukuoka. Outside Japan, the firm has operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Shanghai, Beijing, Canton, Thailand, Malaysia, Ho Chi Minh City and Hawaii.
2022 was nothing short of a stellar year for Vector, which saw its revenues rise by 69% to $494 million, making it the 7th largest PR firm in the world (up from 14 the year before) — and the Asia Pacific agency in the top 10, according to our annual global agency rankings. Vector grew its headcount to 1,421 from 1,155 to serve new and key clients including the Pokémon Company, Unilever, L’Oréal, Nestlé, Burger King, Volkswagen and Expedia.
Founder Keiji Nishie, who continues to run Vector as president and CEO, has guided the agency’s growth into the powerhouse it is today, from deciding to hone the agency’s focus on PR in the year 2000, which accelerated its rise, to listing it on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2012. Nishie is supported by executive VP's Hajime Hasegawa and Saori Kiryu. Hasegawa, who co-founded Vector with Nishie as a university student and today oversees growth strategy, offices outside Japan and group subsidiaries. Diversity, inclusion and belonging has been part of Vector’s ethos since launch. Women account for 55% of Vector’s workforce, and 32% of managers. In April 2022, Vector extended the full array of benefits to LGBT employees in relationships not documented under Japan’s family registration system. In March of this year, Vector joined the 30% Club Japan in support of a global campaign to achieve gender balance in key decision-making bodies such as board of directors and management teams.
Among Vector’s most high-profile campaigns in 2022 was its work for venture company Next Innovation, whose goal was making sanitary pads as prevalent as toilet paper in women’s restrooms after deeming the lack of the pads a social problem. Vector’s initiative on behalf of the Osaka company included making free sanitary napkins via dispensers inside women’s restroom stalls in high-traffic areas like Tokyo and Osaka malls and train stations, available to women via a QR code posted on the wall. Public response (as well as a widely covered press conference held in a one of the restrooms) resulted in permanent installations of the dispensers, which backers hope will help address period poverty as well as help women in unexpected need.
— Arun Sudhaman
Weber Shandwick’s North Asian operations comprise a longstanding Japanese presence, which traces its roots back to 1959, along with a Korean operation that has grown considerably since launching in 2009. One thing that unites them, though, is their trajectory, which has turned the sub-region into a critical growth engine for the firm’s regional operations. The performance is further reflected by former North Asia head Tyler Kim’s status as Asia-Pacific CEO.
There are 81 people in Seoul and 87 in Tokyo.
Japan grew by around 12.5% in 2022, a second consecutive year of double-digit expansion that demonstrates the operation’s succession expansion beyond corporate and social impact into healthcare — the latter of which was up 37%. Indeed Weber Shandwick now serves as the largest international healthcare agency in Japan, with the global Moderna win serving as a major driver amid significant awareness and reputation issues in the market. Key clients in Japan include Expedia, Novartis, BMS, Alnylam, IHG, 3M, Takeda, Amazon, US-Japan Council, Ikea, Sonos and Abbott. Korea had a more sedate year, but once again there was strong organic growth in Asian-domiciled multimarket clients (+39%), which include SK Hynix, LG Chem, and Samsung, along with 63% expansion from its ‘go global’ practice, and 27% uptick in healthcare for such names as MSD and Moderna. Significant new business included ESG content strategy for Samsung.
Japan is led by MD Campbell Hanley, while Elizabeth Bae serves as MD in Korea. 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 focus on ‘intersection’s between different business challenges has given it a strong thought leadership positioning, helping it solve issues that often span business, society and behavioural trends. That work is supported by an intelligence operation that is as strong as any in the region. There were numerous campaign highlights from Weber Shandwick’s North Asian operations, include SABRE nominated campaigns for Hotels.com, and Expedia.
— Arun Sudhaman
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