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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:
It is easy to take BCW’s status as one of the region’s strongest networks for granted, given the track record of the two firms that combined five years ago to create the current entity. But that would probably do a disservice to the work of regional president Matt Stafford’s leadership team, who have worked relentlessly to make the whole greater than the sum of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn and Wolfe, landing Regional Consultancy of the Year in two of the past three years. BCW now weighs in at more than $100m in revenue in Asia-Pacific, and much of that remains fuelled by the firm’s Greater China operation, which accounts for around half of its regional fee income and a great deal of its intellectual firepower, particularly in terms of integrated creativity (from Shanghai), Chinese tech brands (from the Greater Bay Area), and geopolitical counsel (from Beijing and Hong Kong). BCW’s Indian operation, underpinned by strength in technology, consumer and digital, also stands out, featuring the Genesis, Six Degrees and PPR brands, but there has also been a marked revival of fortunes in Singapore, which has focused on growth industries such a technology and the internet economy, and Australia.
Weighing in at 1,200 employees in total, there are more than 500 in Greater China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong), and a similar number in India, along with smaller operations in Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia), Australia and Japan.
BCW’s growth story in recent years has been nothing short of spectacular, reaching 18% in 2022 after 15% expansion in 2021. Singapore shone as the firm’s fastest-growing market (+72%), supported by excellent performances by Australia (where public affairs firms HawkerBritton and Barton Deakin joined BCW), China, Japan, India and Hong Kong. Major new business included Appier, DeBeers, Ericsson, Google, Grab, HCL, Kirin, Lincoln, TCL and TCS, joining a client roster that features a number of Chinese brands going global (Alibaba, Huawei, Honor, Lenovo, Oppo, Ping An, Vivo and Tencent), along with major MNCs such as Boeing, Bosch, Coca-Cola, Continental, Diageo, Dell, Deloitte, Emirates, J&J, Lenzing, and Under Armour.
The stability of BCW’s key leadership stands out, with Stafford supported by deputy president Polka Yu and chief digital officer Joe Peng at a regional level, and Australia head Pamela Klioufis elevated to chief client officer in addition to ANZ leadership. Deepshikha Dharmaraj oversees the combined BCW India group, while GCI Health Rikki Jones has proven to be a successful addition as BCW Singapore CEO.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. And BCW’s focus on happy staff continues to pay off, with strong scores for employee pride, inclusion, diversity and safety.
Much of the firm’s innovation has centered on its digital and integrated marketing capabilities, which encompass audience experience, data analytics, and digital service — leading to considerable innovation in terms of digital transformation, social commerce and web3/metaverse. Asia is also an integral component in BCW’s global Age of Values study, while the firm’s work continues to shine, with 19 SABRE nominations, for such clients as Haleon, Dyson, Brittania, Oppo, Honest Eggs, Honor and Diageo. <
— Arun Sudhaman
Once a perennial contender on this shortlist, MSL retreated for several years following the exit of former regional chief Glenn Osaki. But Margaret Key’s arrival as APACMEA CEO in 2020 has led to a steady turnaround, with the firm returning to the kind of cohesive presence that befits its scale across the region. Australia, China and India remain the firm’s key markets, but there has been a specific focus on building more multi-market business across Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. All of which adds up to strong capabilities across consumer, corporate, healthcare and technology, supported by significant depth in sustainability, digital and influencer management.
There are more than 300 people in China and almost 500 in India, giving MSL enviable scale in the region’s two biggest markets, supported by a large presence in Australia and New Zealand, and smaller operations in Southeast Asia and North Asia.
There was double-digit growth in 2022, with the same rate again forecast for 2023, underlining MSL return to regional form under Key. Headcount grew by 12% too, spurred by significant multimarket remits from P&G, Huawei, Lixil, OnePlus, IB, Fujifilm, GSK, TikTok, Changi Airport and Standard Chartered Bank, along with local mandates from the Singapore Tourism Board, ClubMed, Heineken, Wonderful Pistachios, VW, Nippon Paint, LG and Jaguar. These join an existing client roster that features P&G, Amazon, L’Oreal, Kering, Diageo, Sanofi, Haleon, and Align Tech.
Key’s leadership team is notably strong, including South/Southeast Asia CEO Amit Misra, China MD Liza Zhang, Japan head Tomoko Akizawa and Herd MSL CEO Skye Lambley in Australia. Important hires reflect Key’s determination to build a stronger regional structure, including Suzy Goulding as head of sustainability for APACMEA and Ajit Ramaswamy to lead corporate in the region. There has also been a 43% increase in female leadership, while MSL also meets its parent group’s commitments to equal pay, increased diversity, flexible working and employee exchanges.
India serves as the source for much of MSL’s product innovation, including the Foghorn and Magnify tools that focus on employee engagement and influencer management, respectively. Work is also afoot to develop a global crisis management platform. Campaign highlights included SABRE nominated work for P&G Whisper, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, Lenovo, Tourism Australia and Mondelez.
— Arun Sudhaman
In Asia-Pacific, Ogilvy has built a formidable public relations offering (estimated at more than $150m) that not only led the way for the overall advertising group, but overtook US earnings sometime ago. And under Emily Poon, who became regional leader at the start of 2021, the firm has stepped up its transition into a thoroughly modern agency, blending a formidable digital and social media practice with strategic depth provided by its operations in Greater China (geopolitical counsel, sustainability and B2C creative and consumer advocacy), Southeast Asia (influence, social content and integrated marketing) and Australia (consultancy, public affairs, brand marketing and investor relations). A more cohesive network has embraced the opportunities of recent years to develop six new growth offerings, including AI, B2B, health, TikTok, creators and ‘borderless’ reputation, demonstrating an innovative spirit that belies Ogilvy’s scale as the benchmark by which other international networks in the region remain judged.
There are more than 1,000 staff working across 25 offices in 17 markets, giving it the largest regional footprint of the MNC firms, led by market-leading operations in Greater China (where it remains the biggest MNC PR firm), Australia, Japan, the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
2022 saw growth of more than 13%, the firm’s second consecutive year of double-digit expansion. The global Coca-Cola mandate probably serves as the key new business highlight, along with Changi Airport Group, Baidu, Skyscanner, L’Oreal, AIA, Snap, British Council, Moderna, InvestHK, DestinationNSW, AWS, Microsoft, VinaMilk and NBN. In Greater China (+10%), 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 Southeast Asia (+16%), there was also multimarket omnichannel support for such clients as AIA, TCCC, Unilever and the newly-won L’Oreal, while Ogilvy’s focus on the disruptors and disrupted alike also continues to pay off, supporting digital banks Trust’s and Tonik’s communications from scratch to support their respective launch; helping AirAsia with the global launch of its first flight subscription; and Toyota’s work with its EV pivot. There was standout growth from the firm’s CoE’s in Vietnam and Manila, driven by social content expansion (+120%) and influencer revenue (+13%), while Australia’s double-digit expansion included new business from Aldi, Coca-Cola, Destination NSW, Janssen, NBN Co, Novartis, Ørsted and Samsung. There has also been a notable uptick in multimarket assignments, for a client roster that features Coca-Cola, Samsung, TikTok, Yum, Amazon, Ford, Jollibee, Intel, OCBC Bank, American Express, Tencent and Microsoft.
The elevation of Poon has provided Ogilvy with renewed energy, supported by a long-tenured leadership team that features market heads Joe Yu (China), Richard Brett (AUNZ), Clara Shek (HK), Dieucam Nguyen (Vietnam) and Abby Hsieh (Taiwan). Brenda Ho and Anggie Apriilia lead the firm’s influence and content CoEs in the Philippines and Vietnam, respectively, while there were also several promotions and hires that focused on Ogilvy’s creative, content and strategic planning capabilities. Ogilvy’s leadership reflects its belief in Asians overseeing its operations, and most are women, reflecting a workforce that is 55% female, with the 30-for-30 Asia effort challenging female talent to reach their full potential. New research from the firm’s Philippines office is driving a broader inclusion focus, including a region-wide Inclusion Empowerment Committee, and there is Ogilvy’s usual extensive investment in training and development, including the pioneering Pacesetters programme for next generation leaders, along with a wide-ranging regional wellness initiative that has noticeably softened some of the harder edges involved in a network as big as Ogilvy
In tandem with its impressive product innovation around AI influence, creators, content and B2B, Ogilvy’s prolific thought leadership operation has been a key factor in the firm’s Asia-Pacific success, encompassing regular publications that cover such areas as sustainability, believability, future PR trends and politics. 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. A focus on disruptor and DTC brands has paid off in major assignments, while the firm’s social practice demonstrates strong innovation, not least through its AI influencer activity and content/context hubs. Ogilvy’s campaign work continues to reflect these strengths, including 31 SABRE nominations, for such clients as Aldi, KFC, Unicef, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Unilever, Taya, GE Healthcare, Atlassian, Intel, Swire Coca-Cola, Sabeco, and Mind You Mental Health Systems.
— Arun Sudhaman
Double-digit expansion for much of the past decade meant that Ruder Finn crossed the $50m barrier in 2022, earning it a spot on this shortlist for the first time in its Asia-Pacific history. The firm’s China operations continue to account for around 85% of its earnings in region, 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. In India, a fast-growing presence has expanded beyond consumer and technology into corporate and public affairs, while the firm’s Southeast Asian operations are benefiting from increased management attention.
There are 700 Ruder Finn Asia-Pacific employees, with the majority located in Greater China (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shenzhen), almost 150 now in India, and smaller operations in Singapore and Malaysia.
Regional growth reached 10% in 2022, thanks in large part to 8% expansion in China and strong performances from Hong Kong, India and the firm’s RFI digital operation. There was new business from Adidas, Ani Technologies, Ecovacs, Florentia Village, IPSEN, Paypal, Ralph Lauren, Royal Golden Eagle, Shanghai Watch and Shopify, joining an existing client roster that features the Almond Board of California, Audi, Emirates, Equities First, Estee Lauder, Moet Hennessy Diageo, Richemont Group, Sony, Tencent and Visa. A greater focus on multi-market mandates is helping to create a more cohesive regional presence, exemplified by work for Vivo, Oppo, L’Oreal, Equities First, Estee Lauder, Moet Hennessy Diageo, and Visa.
CEO Elan Shou has brought considerable energy and ambition to her leadership of the network, supported by a collaborative leadership team that features luxury head Gao Ming, RFI Asia MD David Ko, global head of risk Charles Lankester, and India/Middle East head Atul Sharma. In Singapore, Phoebe Shen arrived to lead the expansion of the RF Thunder subsidiary, focusing on integrated mandates and Chinese brands going global. Unsurprisingly, Ruder Finn benefits from its independence; 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
A new era is undoubtedly underway at Weber Shandwick under the leadership of global CEO Gail Heimann, and that is also reflected in an Asia-Pacific operation that has continued to evolve since North Asia chief Tyler Kim was elevated to regional CEO in early 2021. 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, thanks to considerable geographic breadth and specialist depth in such areas as healthcare, digital/analytics, social impact, employee engagement, technology and consumer marketing. Significantly, the firm has devoted considerable energy to an “intersectional” strategy which recognises that today’s PR challenges are complex and cross-functional, requiring subject matter expertise in such areas as ESG, Asian brands going global, healthcare and C-suite consultancy. In this, the firm is helped by an outstanding healthcare practice, supported by a network that features impressive operations in China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and India.
Weber Shandwick’s overall Asia-Pacific headcount has contracted somewhat in the past two years, thanks to MBOs of its Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand subsidiaries. That leaves around 650 staffers working across a regional footprint that features major operations in Greater China (350 people), North Asia (160), Singapore (100) and India (200).
After returning to growth mode in 2021, Weber Shandwick expanded topline revenue by 8% in 2022, propelled by its top 40 clients (+11%), which include such names as Amazon, Microsoft, GM, Richemont, Anta, Pfizer, Shiseido, Comcast, Nike, Nespresso, Samsung, Meta, Moderna, Mastercard, MSD and Novartis. There was double-digit growth from Greater China, Japan, Singapore and India, while the firm’s healthcare, integrated and digital capabilities (often working in collaboration) have played a key role in Weber Shandwick’s recent progress. Expanded remits reflect the agency’s focus on intersectional challenges, for such clients as MSD, Zuellig Pharma, Samsung, Nestle, Cartier, Expedia, Hyatt, Moderna and MSD. It is also worth mentioning that Weber Shandwick’s Asian-domiciled client base continues to grow, including HSBC, Naver, Bosideng, SK Hynix, Tencent Games, Samsung, Suki and LG.
Kim has made a series of leadership changes since becoming CEO, and is now supported by a team that includes chief client and growth officer Vanessa Ho Nikolovski, Albert Shu, who oversees a relatively unique Singapore/Hong Kong hub model, corporate affairs head Carolyn Devanaygam, strategic planning and intelligence head Wong Hin-Yan and market leaders Elizabeth Bae, Corbin Hsieh, Campbell Hanley and Valerie Pinto. 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. That has paid off with another strong year in terms of campaign work, including SABRE nominated efforts for ABB, Abbott, Hotels.com, Expedia, Koala, Determinant and Nespresso.
— Arun Sudhaman
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