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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:
Former Weber Shandwick EVP Emma Smith launched her own firm in 2003, before selling the business to become part of the UK’s MHP Communications in 2013. After smartly concluding that the firm had better prospects as an independent outfit, Smith led an MBO of the business in 2019, creating Sandpiper Communications as a 100% employee owned operation. That move has helped unlock spectacular growth at a consultancy that focuses on the financial and professional services, healthcare, technology and energy sectors, bolstered by the acquisition of public affairs specialist North Head in China.
Sandpiper’s 115 staffers are spread across its largest operation in Singapore and its traditional HQ of Hong Kong, supported by smaller outfits in Beijing, Shanghai, Australia and New Zealand.
Sandpiper’s performance since the MBO are as good a reminder as any of the merits of independence. The firm has quadrupled in size since 2019, growing 83% last year alone to crack the $10m barrier. Much of that has been powered by an entrepreneurial investment strategy that has seen strong returns from such as areas as ESG and energy, international crisis and media, and research — while Sandpiper’s China business also submitted a strong performance last year. The firm’s FSPS business, covering insurance, fintech and professional services, accounts for almost 40% of revenue, with new business from ING Bank, Standard Chartered, ERM, Sun Life, Kroll, Schroders, Lazarad AM, All Funds and University of Chicago joining a client roster that features Linklaters, Kearney, MUFG Bank, LSEG and Cigna. In healthcare, new clients included Roche, Smith & Nephew and Ninety One, joining AstraZeneca, GSK, Sinovac and PhArma, while the firm’s tech practice features expanded remits from Cisco and Workday.
Smith is very much a hands-on CEO, but the firm owes much of its recent success to an expanded leadership team, which also features chief operating officer Kelly Johnston, Singapore GM Sarada Chellam, Hong Kong GM Natalie Siu, COO Phil Channon and head of brand Ed Brewster. New hires included strategy/innovation head Rob Van Alphen, public affairs director Ling Jin, and Craig Young and Paul Chong to lead Sandpiper’s new research unit. Keeping pace with its rapid growth, the firm has recognised the need to elevate its workplace focus, and now invests 1% of revenue in a formal training and development curriculum, supported by salary benchmarking and competitive benefits. The board is 75% female, reflecting a conscious focus on promoting women, and there are numerous initiatives to support employee development and inclusion, including a three-tier employee ownership and reward structure.
Sandpiper’s research arm has quietly developed into a formidable competitive edge, helping it develop proprietary intellectual property across such as areas as consumer expectations, financial services reputation, and — perhaps most notably — AI in comms, the first global survey of its kind. There are also regular insight newsletter and reports into ESG, healthcare, public affairs, China finance, and sustainability — all of which helps explain why Sandpiper launched a formalised research and insights business earlier this year. There has also been a noticeable improvement in Sandpiper’s campaign work, exemplified by SABRE nominated efforts for ViiV Healthcare, Schneider Electric, and Rita Ku & Ser.
— Arun Sudhaman
Allison+Partners growth into one of the world’s best PR firms has not always been as apparent in Asia, where it’s network has progressed at a more sedate pace, but recent years have seen a marked sharpening of its focus in the region. The firm now owns operations in China, Japan, Singapore and Thailand, but makes much of its branded affiliate model which promises the same experience and solutions across a further three markets in the region. In common with Allison’s offering elsewhere in the world, there is considerable breadth to its portfolio, whether B2B, automotive, consumer and finance in China, influencer, employee engagement, technology and consumer in Singapore, or consumer, entertainment and crisis in India. While Allison’s owned revenue adds up to a healthy $16.5m in the region, that swells to $36.5m once its branded affiliates are taken into account.
Allison has around 70 people across five offices in China, along with 23 in Singapore and a smaller presence in Japan. There are a further 130 from its branded affiliates, including 30 in India.
Allison’s growth in the region has been powered by its China and Singapore operations, which were up by 30% and 39% respectively. In China, the firm has benefited from expansion into automotive, consumer and finance, adding new business from Volkswagen Group, Dyson, Estee Lauder, AIA and Munich Re. There is also more integrated work for BOE, while the firm’s consulting and advisory capabilites — for BMW, AIA, Honeywell, Lam Research, ASML, Omron, VF and Decathlon — have also come to the fore amid geopolitical tensions. In Singapore, meanwhile, there was new business from Adyen, Alibaba Cloud, Unilever, GWI, Sennheiser and Suntory, along with organic growth from Booking.com, IHG and TikTok, much of which was supported by expansion into executive comms, employee engagement, employer branding and influencer marketing. And, in India, the firm has won new business from a slew of global brands, including TikTok, ResMed, Fifa 2023, Pokemon Go and WB Discovery.
Allison’s regional leadership team features COO Jeremy Seow in Singapore, along with market heads Jerry Zhu (China), Adeline Goh (Singapore), Pranav Kumar (India), Ichise Akemi (Japan) and Mina Jeong (Korea). And its workplace and DEI policies reflect Allison’s global focus on these areas, including a range of health, wellness, learning and development and flexibiility initatives, along with investment in a comprehensive DEI research and planning process to determine the best path forward for each Asia-Pacific market.
Allison’s geopolitical offering has always given it a competitive edge, thanks in part to senior counsel David Wolf, who sadly passed away earlier this year. The firm continues to advise WOFEs and MNCs alike on how best to navigate China’s communications landscape, while there are also specific units focused on sports marketing, realtime cultural relevance of brands, and research/strategy. Campaign highlights included SABRE nominated efforts for Booking.com, BOE Technology, and Cartoon Network.
— Arun Sudhaman
A leadership change in 2020 saw Weber Shandwick veteran Darren Burns return to sister firm Golin as Asia-Pacific CEO. And the switch appears to have worked out well, with a particular elevation in Golin’s profile and growth across the region. While Golin’s Asian presence has sometimes seemed to lack the verve of its US and UK operations, a focused approach on consumer, corporate and technology — underpinned by above-average creative and digital capabilities — is clearly moving the needle for the IPG firm, best reflected by new products that better reflect Golin’s ability to innovate across Asia.
Golin has around 200 staff across the region in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, along with smaller teams in India, Indonesia amd Japan.
Golin’s revenue grew by an impressive 17% in 2022, its second consecutive year of double-digit growth, taking it to more than $17m in fee income. That expansion was powered by the firm’s healthcare (+38%) and technology (+35%) units, while corporate also grew by a credible 18%. On a geographic basis, Greater China (+18%) was the standout performer, thanks to a focus on technology, integrated marketing and corporate/public affairs in Beijing and Shanghai (+56% combined), and technology, corporate, healthcare and social impact in Taipei (+16%). Key new business wins included Manulife, Red Bull, Dell, Hoegaarden, Terrazas, Moderna, Humansa, Zuellig Pharma, McDonald’s, The Peninsula, Avalon Steritech, LinkedIn, Oanda and Allianz, joining an existing client roster that features Texas Instruments, Micron, Dell, Harley-Davidson, Samsung, Unilever, Mastercard and LinkedIn.
Burns’ has reshaped much of the leadership since taking charge, with Lydia Shen now overseeing Shanghai and Beijing, and Terry Chiang and Chomaine Chai in charge of Taipei and Singapore, respectively. Carol Yeung replaced Jane Morgan as Hong Kong MD, while other key leaders include chief creative officer Shouvik Mukherjee, Beijing corporate head Rhoda Adams, Singapore strategy lead Andrea Tesorero, and Zita Wang, who oversees integrated marketing for Shanghai and Beijing.
Golin also benefits from a relatively strong focus on culture, which includes a DE&I Council that spans clients work, awareness, upskilling and ERGs. Taipei leads the firm’s impressive LGBTQ efforts, while a shadow board has helped to localise much of its approach based on market needs. Golin’s academy logged a record number of learning and development hours in 2022, all of which has helped boost employee scores for happiness, fairness and workload.
There has been a noticeable uplift in Golin’s innovation offering under Burns, including a new creative intelligence unit overseen by Mukherjee, which brings analytics and AI tools to deliver stronger creative campaigns. Two new products have also been developed in this region, one focusing on executive thought leadership and the other on AI incubation, while Golin’s thought leadership has included a specific focus on ESG, industry associations and United Women Singapore. Campaign highlights included the SABRE-nominated effort to help change the law in support of the Taiwan AIDS Society, along with initiatives for McDonald’s and Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department.
— Arun Sudhaman
Best-known for its technology credentials, WE has undergone a rapid transformation in Asia-Pacific,
following an an ambitious acquisition spree added top-rated outfits in China (Red Bridge), India (Avian Media) and Singapore (Watatawa). The net effect of this expansion, along with an earlier deal for Australian agency Buchan, is that WE now possesses a regional network that extends beyond technology through healthcare, consumer, B2B and corporate/public affairs, and has doubled in size over the past five years. All of the founders remain involved, none more so than Avian CEO Nitin Mantri, who was elevated to regional MD of WE in an effort to provide more cohesive direction, supported by several regional appointments, and a dedicated ‘borderless’ experience team that has secured new business from FSC and Takeda.
There are 631 WE employees across offices in Australia (58), China (95), India (406) and Singapore (71), the latter of which includes around 20 from corporate consultancy Watatawa.
2022 calendar year revenue grew by 2% to $33m, although fiscal year growth of 6% better reflects WE’s progress in recent years. India led the way, up 37% in 2022, while Singapore also performed credibly (+19%), but WE was hampered by more sedate returns from its China and Australia operations. Investments in corporate reputation, public affairs and healthcare continue to pay off, as do WE’s impressive capabilities in terms integrated marketing and DEI counsel. In India, there was new business from Sequoia, Vedanta, Ford Foundation, Pepsico, Maruti Suzuki, UB Group, IPA and ITC Limited as the firm continued its successful expansion into such areas as ESG and public policy, the latter bolstered by the 50-person Chase public affairs unit that has increasingly regional aspirations. Australia suffered from key client Adobe’s decision to pause several large projects, but there were new mandates from BlackBerry, CapGemini, Ford Asset Management, Hireup, with corporate reputation and brand purpose driving much of the momentum. China retained 90% of its clients and benefited from increasing digital transformation work, including new business from Henkel, Dow, Four Seasons, Courreges, Remy Martin and Li-Ning. Singapore’s growth has relied on sophisticated content capabilities, for such clients as Takeda, Infocomm MDA, Sentosa, Singapore Tourism Board, Medtronic, Amazon, Adobe and SAP. And Watatawa’s 5% growth included new offering focused on change and transformation, leading to increased ESG and sustainability work from Heineken, Sun Cable, Astra International and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. WE’s key clients in the region include Janssen, Scoot, Reckitt, Heineken, Abbvie, Adobe, Dyson, Amazon, Bloomberg, Celine and Samsung.
WE’s fiercely independent employee culture has given it a credible claim to putting people first, and in Asia this is further underpinned by a strong leadership team that includes Mantri, China CEO Nicky Wang, Singapore head Daryl Ho and Australia MD Dan Woods. There have also been several regional appointments as WE aims to build a stronger multimarket offering, supported by specific hires focused on integrated, DEI and AI expansion. The firm’s DEI approach empowers local leads to shape programs that are most meaningful to their people, while there is also significantly elevated mental health support and professional development, including flexible working and mentorship.
Thought leadership played to WE’s strengths, with the global Brands in Motion study, supported by specific initiatives focusing on sustainability and greenwashing (Australia), public policy (India), and AI-powered predictive intelligence (Singapore). All of which was reflected in impressive campaign SABRE nominated work for J&J, Vedanta, Oyo, VMware and numerous trade associations and public sector bodies in India.
— Arun Sudhaman
In recent years, Zeno has emerged as the fastest growing firm in the DJE Holdings family, snatching the spotlight away from its much bigger sibling. But that growth has largely favoured North America; in Asia-Pacific, the firm went through three regional leaders in three years, ultimately landing on Text100 and Allison+Partners veteran Paul Mottram to help it carve out a credible and distinct growth story in this region. 2022 saw that vision brought to life, with Zeno showcasing impressive progress across consumer, corporate, financial and technology — supported by above average capabilities in digital and analytics.
Zeno’s 120-odd staffers are located in Singapore (42), Malaysia (38), India (21), Australia (13) and China (12), while there are also Zeno teams under DJE in Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
Zeno grew by an impressive 29% in 2022, crossing the $10m barrier earlier this year, led by strong performances in Malaysia, Australia, China and Singapore. The firm’s corporate practice netted new business from LG Energy Solutions, ESG work for LSH Auto and HSBC, while there were also consumer wins in Coway, Heineken, GWM, AXA Malaysia, Ikea and Yorkshire Tea. In technology, there were new assignments from Microsoft, Amadeus and Cloudera, and the regional Western Union win reflected Zeno’s financial capabilities too. Other key clients include Lenovo (up 90%), the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, BCG, Goodyear, UPS, Sentosa, Motorola, FIS and Worldpay.
Mottram has significantly reshaped Zeno’s leadership team since taking charge, and is now supported by regional growth/innovation MD David Lian, regional client services head Ekta Thomas, regional corporate affairs head Rosemary Merz and regional strategy/finance head Nathan Hawley. Zeno aims to measure its success not just in financial terms, but in terms of positive impact on people’s lives, reflected in industry-leading policies on work-life balance, mental health and DEI
Zeno debuted its first ESG report in 2022, reflecting the firm’s focus on building a better society. The firm’s Singapore performance hub has long served as one of the region’s strongest analytics and intelligence operations, reflected in significant transformation work for Finnish equipment manufacturer Wartsila, and bespoke data infrastructure for UPS. Campaign highlights reflect this spirit of innovation, including SABRE nominated efforts for Lenovo and Ikea.
— Arun Sudhaman
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