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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:
Our reigning South Asia Consultancy of the Year, and multiple winner of this award, Adfactors has long been regarded as the best corporate and financial specialist in the market. But it has diversified its offering in recent years, establishing itself as one of the premier creative agencies in the region as well as a strategic powerhouse. The 25-year-old firm is a leader in high-stakes, high-value communications, primarily in the financial realm but now also more broadly, with thriving consumer and digital practices too, and newer offerings focused on mobility and social impact.
Headquartered in Mumbai, Adfactors has offices throughout India, giving it a genuinely national footprint, as well as a smaller presence in Sri Lanka and Singapore. But it can boast global reach through its membership of the PROI partnership, and the specialist financial services network GFC/net.
After a record expansion of 45% (to more than $50 million) in 2021, Adfactors enjoyed a more modest 2022 with fees up by about 4% in US dollar terms, which translated into a very respectable 16% growth in local currency. The firm ranks among the top 60 in the world, the largest headquartered in India, and one of the top 10 based in Asia. The firm continues to work for a who’s who of Indian companies, as well as some blue-chip global brands. Long-term clients include Tata Group, Mahindra Group, Godrej Group, TVS Group, State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, Citibank, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, Larsen & Toubro, while there were new assignments from Aditya Birla Group, Air India, NSE, Dabur, Glenmark, Bain Capital, Tata AIG, Delhivery, Uber, and Vistara.
When we named Adfactors one of the Agencies of the Decade in 2020, we noted its commitment to professional development, which remains as strong as any in the region. The firm also acted early to address the Great Resignation, deploying stay interviews, facilitating internal transfers, launching a new referral program, and rolling out a “millennial board” to guide its policies. The firm also has a strong commitment to DEI, including its support for Pride events in the region. Last year’s transition in leadership, with founder Madan Bahal becoming chairman and Nijay Nair promoted to CEO appears to have proceeded seamlessly, with a strong leadership team still in place, and supplemented last year by the addition of Gaurav Mishra as director of the digital practice.
Six Adfactors campaigns are among the finalists for the South Asia SABRE Awards, ranging from sustainability work for Schneider Electric to shaping a new corporate narrative for Aditya Birla Group to crisis communications for Vistara/Tata Sia Airlines. Those campaigns showcase the firm’s traditional strengths in corporate, financial and crisis work, but over the past few years the firm has developed its digital and creative muscle, and expanded its client base: about a third of Adfactors’ work now involves clients in the Internet economy.
— Paul Holmes
Avian WE’s progress since its acquisition by global PR firm WE Communications in 2018 represents an ideal example of how the right deal can work to everyone’s benefit. Avian turned WE into one of South Asia’s leading players, while at the same time getting the kind of global network it has long craved. Indeed Avian now plays a leading role in terms of WE’s regional presence, with Avian CEO Nitin Mantri elevated to Asia-Pacific MD earlier this year. In India, the firm continues to progress in impressive fashion, thanks to strength across consumer, development, healthcare and technology — supported by deep expertise in data/analytics, content marketing, public affairs (via its Chase unit), crisis management, social/digital and ESG/social impact.
There are more than 450 people across New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Pune, while Avian also operates a nationwide affiliate network.
Avian WE grew by 37% in 2022 to around $12m, solidifying its stats as one of India’s biggest PR firms. There was eye-catching expansion across digital, public policy and social impact, with the firm’s integrated services, insights/analytics and ESG/healthcare particularly prominent. New business included Sequoia, Vedanta, Ford Foundation, Pepsico, Maruti Suzuki, UB Group, IPA and ITC Limited, joining an existing client roster that features Samsung, J&J, Amazon, VMware, Deloitte, Reckitt, Rockefeller Foundation, Fortis, EdelGive Foundation, Sony Pictures Networks and Microsoft. The firm’s Chase subsidiary is playing an increasing role in terms of policy development in the fintech sector.
While Avian WE’s business performance is impressive, it is the firm’s unique focus on people that probably deserves most praise — including a hybrid work model, mental/physical health support, employee assistance programmes, and period leave for female employees. Mantri’s leadership team includes India MD Neha Mehrotra and Chase Asia-Pacific MD Manash Neog, while Girish Huria serves as Asia-Pacific head of growth and founder Nikhil Khanna remains in place as executive chair. Avian also remains one of India’s highest-profile agency supporters of D&I and social impact initiatives, with pay equity across gender, strong female representation at board level, a book that addresses unconscious bias around gender and sexuality, and continued support for the Rainbow Lit Fest.
There has been a visible uplift in Avian’s commitment to thought leadership in recent years, demonstrated not only by the ‘Consciously Speaking’ book, but by numerous reports focusing on public policy and social impact, along with specific involvement in such initiatives as India’s Climate Dialogue Series and Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance. There was plenty of SABRE recognition for Avian WE’s campaign work, notably for VMware’s equitable workforce programme; Godrej & Boyce’s 125 years campaign; ‘Oyo For All’; and Johnson 7 Johnson’s TB work.
— Arun Sudhaman
Assembled through a diverse series of acquisitions, MSL’s overall Asia-Pacific network has become more cohesive in recent years, but the firm’s Indian operations are an undoubted highlight, with 500 people working across five brands, including MSL’s full-service flagship brand, 20:20’s technology specialist, PCA’s consumer tech and startup-focused business, and Organic’s digital offering. The combined offering is one of the top three in the market, and probably now the largest of the global brands operating in India. Comfortably capable of handling integrated mandates, digital (now numbering 100 people) assignments and public affairs, for a client base that covers corporate reputation and consumer engagement.
There are hub offices in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, along with smaller operations in Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune and Kolkata, part of a 24-city network that is wholly owned.
MSL grew by around 10% in 2022 to an estimated $14m, powered in part by strong returns from its integrated, digital/social media and public affairs practices. Key wins included OnePlus, Tinder, Budweiser, EY GDS, USC, Vietjet Air, Mastercard, Daimler, Stripe, P&G Health and McKinsey — although MSL also lost its key Coca-Cola mandate thanks to Publicis Groupe’s decision to consolidate with rival Pepsico. The firm’s existing client roster features long-term relationships with Netflix, Dell, Gates Foundation, Panasonic, Amazon, Skoda, Lodha, California Almonds, Royal Enfield, Mayo Clinic and Salesforce.
Under the leadership of Amit Misra, MSL has placed increased emphasis on its core values—courage, character and creativity—and on three strategic pillars: colleagues, clients and campaigns. 2.5% of revenue is invested in HR/talent initiatives, most notably in a string of programmes that have helped develop a vibrant and inclusive staff culture. Diversity and inclusion programs have focused on ensuring equal opportunities for the firm’s female employees. Misra continues to enjoy the support of a strong and stable leadership team including 20:20 and PCA managing director Viju George; strategy MD Parveez Modak; Tushar Bajaj, who now leads Organic by MSL; chief operating officers Nikhil Lodaya and Vaishnavi Murali; and, chief client officer Schubert Fernandes.
MSL’s thought leadership offering is one of the market’s strongest, including a series of new products and services that aim to keep pace with changing stakeholder needs. Accordingly, Foghorn is focused on executive communication, Motivate on employee engagement, Magnify on data insights, Magnet on multimedia content, and Mojo on influencer engagement. The firm’s Cockpit intelligence reports, furthermore, delve into consumer and corporate transformation, while PRogress focuses on PR careers and competencies. Campaign highlights included SABRE nominated work for P&G Whisper, Tourism Australia, and Mondelez.
— Arun Sudhaman
Founded by former Ketchum and Avian executive Girish Balachandran in 2017, On Purpose is hardly India’s biggest firm, but it may be its most progressive — thanks to a keen focus on social change. That is reflected in the four portfolio areas that the firm maps against UN Sustainable Development goals, namely — climate action, public health, education and gender equality. That positioning has helped On Purpose attract a younger, more diverse, talent pool — along with a string of development clients that require communications support, content strategy, reputation management and stakeholder engagement — helping to power 85% average growth since its launch.
On Purpose employs more than 70 people across Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai.
On Purpose crossed the $1m milestone in 2023, thanks to 60% growth last year, as social change and public health continued to play an increasingly prominent role in India’s development. The firm’s biggest client is the Global Energy Alliance, a clean energy transition organization backed by Rockefeller Foundation, Ikea Foundation and the Bezos Earth Fund. Other important relationships include YuWaah/Unicef, GIZ, Max Group, Dasra, Nasscom Foundation, Women’s World Banking, Beetel, Veddis Foundation, and the Indian Institute for Human Settlements. The past 12 months, furthermore, saw new business in the areas of clean air for children (Bernard Van Leer Foundation and Clean Air Fund), battery storage for electric vehicles (RACEnergy), capacity building for 500 NGOs to help rebuild India post pandemic (Dasra Rebuild India Fund), engaging youth to solve global SDGs (UNLEASH and Dalberg media), building prominence for the 30th edition of India's largest telecom event (Convergence), the rise of impact investing (ACT) and community building for one of India's oldest and largest public sector banks (State Bank of India Foundation).
On Purpose’s focus on social change begins with its own people, and it is surely not overstating things to say that the firm is one of the most advanced in terms of DEI, not just in India, but on a global basis. Benefits include paid period leave and parental leave, while there are also specific initiatives focused on workplace D&I, unconscious bias and mental wellbeing. In 2022, Balachandran established the firm’s first executive team, featuring two executives — Shivani Sharma and Dimple Chandwani — who bring considerable big agency experience. The broader senior team includes public affairs, social impact and digital expertise — while 86% of the firm’s senior leadership comprise women.
The Purpose Project is On Purpose’s commitment to support a grassroots NGO every year - which has resulted in covering issues such as justice for child-victims of sexual abuse, promoting non-traditional livelihoods for women and raising awareness of the health and reproductive rights of young girls. To mark its fifth anniversary, On Purpose signed an MoU with Dasra's Rebuild Fund to commit to provide communications capacity building to 500 NGOs over the next five years. Campaign highlights included Antara’s senior care work; supporting Smart Power India’s clean energy transition; and helping empower the youth for YuWaah, Unicef.
— Arun Sudhaman
It has been almost a decade since Valerie Pinto took charge of Weber Shandwick India and, during that time, the firm has evolved its offering to notable effect — thanks to a strong creative culture that underpins work across consumer enegagement, corporate reputation, public policy advocacy, culture building, social impact, employee engagement and C-suite advisory. In the process the firm has positioned itself as a vehicle for social change, best exemplified by its pioneering work with Indian filmmaker Vibha Bakshi to change how authorities and people in India see and treat victims of sexual violence.
Weber Shandwick comprises 200 people across three offices in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi, while also covering 40 further markets nationwide.
Over the past eight years, Weber Shandwick’s revenue has nearly doubled, growing 16% in the last year alone. That was driven by a 53% uptick in new business, including Bacardi, Rothschild, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Sahaj, Deliveroo, Coca-Cola, CEEW, Huhtamaki, Cummins, Paymate and Power Foundation India. They join an existing client roster that features Goldman Sachs, Tata Motors, Nestle India, National Skill Development Corporation, Snap Camera India, South Africa Tourism, Abbott Healthcare, and Toyota Kirloskar. Weber Shandwick also garners more than its fair share of briefs from C-suite leaders in such companies as Tata and Kotak, along with crisis management support for manufacturing companies and CXO positioning.
Pinto’s leadership team includes MD’s Rohan Kanchan (Mumbai), Karan Bhandari (integrated comms), and Shashikant Someshwar (Current Global), while new hires included EVP Sushmita Bandopadhyay to focus on client experience and Deepak Kanulkar to lead the Powell Tate public policy unit. The firm’s employee culture reflects Weber Shandwick’s global focus on this area, including a range of engagement and inclusion policies.
Weber Shandwick’s focus on solving at the intersection of traditional practice areas is particularly evident in India, where its work includes helping Vedanta increase participation of women in STEM fields; establishing strong consumer relationships for Nestle; and the Son Rise initiative with Vibha Bakshi. Thought leadership is led by specific reports into investment and economic development, along with workshops and events to elevate the industry as a whole. Campaign highlights included SABRE nominated campaigns for ABB, Abbott and Meta.
— Arun Sudhaman
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