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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:
Readers of a certain vintage may be surprised to see BCW on this shortlist, so thoroughly had the firm’s Singapore operations receded during the past decade. But, since coming under the leadership of GCI Health supremo Rikki Jones in 2020, there has been a significant renaissance in BCW’s offering and reputation in the market, spanning technology, internet economy, public affairs, policy comms and corporate/digital. Crucially, this has finally given BCW credible scale in the key hub for regional clients, providing a welcome counterweight to its already strong North and South Asia operations.
BCW’s Southeast Asia operations are focused on Singapore, where there are more than 70 people, but also include smaller operations in Indonesia and Malaysia.
BCW’s Singapore office grew by 72% in 2022, after 28% growth in 2021, with 200% headcount growth since 2020. A 72% new business conversion rate helped secure mandates from Grab, Lendlease and Estee Lauder, joining an existing client roster that features Dell, TikTok, Diageo, Accenture, Bloomberg, Rolex, the Special Olympics and Orange.
Jones’ leadership team features MD and market leader Cindy Lim, senior director and client services head Cindy Lim, new senior director Suman Saurav (deep tech) and public affairs director Alex Charnock, and integrated comms director Desmond Cher. 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 Singapore’s focus on happy staff continues to pay off, with strong scores for employee retention, fulfilment and rewards.
BCW’s thought leadership includes a particular focus on integrated creativity, digital transformation and geopolitical counsel. Asia is also an integral component in BCW’s global Age of Values study, while the firm’s work continues to shine.
— Arun Sudhaman
Gutsy independent agency Mutant was founded in 2012 by former journalist and entrepreneur Joseph Barratt, still CEO of one of the best of the new generation of Southeast Asian PR firms. From its inception, Mutant was focused on getting business results, from leads and sales to employee retention, and has evolved into a regional agency providing PR, content marketing and branding for consumer, corporate, finance and technology clients across Asia-Pacific and globally. Beyond expanding its content and social media offerings last year, the agency launched Mutant Branding to help create strong identities for brands. It also expanded to Indonesia, under the leadership of regional comms veteran Tanya Tresnasari, who previously led Golin and Weber Shandwick.
Mutant’s 45 staffers are based across its offices in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Now in its 11th year, in 2022 Mutant recorded 17% revenue growth to $3.6m. Its Malaysia business saw 163% revenue growth, and its newest office in Indonesia quickly won a string of projects and retainers with brands such as Desaru Coast, Bank Jago, JBL, JobStreet Indonesia and Ula. Nearly all pitches won – 95% – were inbound, organic leads, with 73% being referrals from current clients. New wins included National University Hospital Singapore, Bridgestone Asia Pacific, Bumble, Blackbird.AI, School of the Arts Singapore, Marriott Hotels Malaysia and DBS Singapore. The agency retained 81% of its clients, with top accounts including Meltwater APAC, Singapore SportsHub, Meta/Facebook, Disney, Zendesk and Subway.
Mutant has a talent retention rate of 86% (96% in Malaysia) and an 86% staff satisfaction rate, with 92% expressing admiration for the leadership team, of which 70% are women. A champion for diversity and inclusion, the agency walks away from clients who have shown racism, unethical business practices, or who don’t align with its progressive values, uses gender-neutral language in jo descriptions and welcomes neurodiversity. Mutant’s long-running gradual maternity return policy allows new mothers a staggered return to work beyond the mandated leave period, and a similar paternity return policy was rolled out in 2022. The agency puts in place career development plans for every staffer and its Mutant Mentorship Program maps senior staff to juniors.
In 2022, the team created two ebooks: Leading on LinkedIn, a guide to creating authentic thought leadership content, and the Content & Public Relations Planning Playbook. Last year the agency invested SGD$100,000 into the launch of Mutant for Good, with its first corporate social responsibility initiative around ocean conservation featuring a collaboration with five Singaporean writers. Standout work included the Subway Big Museum of Taste experiential campaign in Singapore, which cut through the National Day season with installations and limited-edition merchandise to generate community engagement and more than 10,500 visitors in three days and made the Singapore Book of Records.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Ogilvy PR’s regional footprint, the largest of any international firm in the region, has often been dominated by its strength in Greater China. But that should not detract from a Southeast Asian operation that has stepped up its cohesion under regional CEO Emily Poon, who is based in Singapore. There is a particular focus on influence-led integrated campaigns, combining Ogilvy’s traditional strengths in consumer, corporate, technology and healthcare with its centers of excellence for content and influence also operating from the sub-region.
There are approximately 350 employees across seven markets in Southeast Asia: Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar.
Ogilvy PR grew its Southeast Asian revenues by an estimated 16% in 2022, following on from 15% growth in 2021, a stunning return to form that validates not only the new ‘One SEA’ policy ushered in by Poon, but the focus on the intersection between brand and reputation. This has included multimarket omnichannel support for such clients as AIA, TCCC, Unilever and the newly-won L’Oreal. 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%). And Ogilvy’s corporate reputation work also increased by an impressive 37%. New business included L’Oreal, Skyscanner, HK Tourism Board, Changi Airport Group, Colgate Palmolive, Inchcape, Microsoft, Vinamilk and Novo Nordisk, joining an existing client roster that features the Coca Cola Company, OCBC Bank, AIA, J&J, PTT, Google, Huawei, Globe, Nestle, Ford, Toyota Motors Asia Pacific, Trust Bank, Unilever, Nestle, Gojek, MSD, Triumph, SABECO, Zuellig Pharma and Apple.
Poon’s Southeast Asia leadership team includes Q Akashah, elevated this year to Singapore/Malaysia market lead; Malaysia and Indonesia growth champion Michelle Ang; culture ambassador and Philippines lead Leah Huang; AI/creator and Vietnam lead DieuCam Nguyen, and senior advisors Andrew Thomas and Pamela Phua. 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.
Ogilvy’s thought leadership output is both prolific and broad, including new research into the ‘Secret Lives of Singaporeans’; customer trends, small business and women’s empowerment insights from the Philippines; and numerous events led by the firm’s leaders across the region. Campaign highlights reflect how Ogilvy’s work is among the strongest in the region, with SABRE nominations for the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Dove, Mind You Mental Health Systems, and i-Tail.
— Arun Sudhaman
Launched by Brian Griffin a little more than 15 years ago to focus on Southeast Asian markets that bigger players often ignored, Vero has grown steadily to become a leader in the sub-region, with more than 200 people across multiple office. In tandem with that growth, the firm has been focused on rethinking its mission, with earned at the center and trust as a focus, one that is supported by specific capabilities in technology, gaming, FMCG, corporate and digital, along with a value proposition that sees employee retention as crucial to client servicing. All of that has earned regular recognition in these awards, and status as a thought leader in its market.
Vero does not operate a specific HQ but its largest office is in Bangkok, which accounts for slightly more than half of its business, while it has a substantial presence in Ho Chi Minh city (which doubled in size last year), a slightly smaller operation in Jakarta and a rapidly expanding presence in the Philippines. In Myanmar, the firm is bouncing back from a significant decline after political and social unrest made market conditions difficult for public relations.
After two consecutive years of 33% growth, Vero had an even better year in 2022, with fees up by close to 47%, ending the year with revenues of around $6.5 million, enough for it to force its way onto out list of the world’s 250 largest public relations firms. There was new business from Coursera, Bosch, Kasikorn Bank, GEAPP (Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet), and Amazon Prime while the firm continues its work for a host of blue-chip clients that includes Duolingo, Intel, Samsung, Nestle, Jameson, TCL, Grab. Spotify, and Booking.com.
Griffin’s team, which includes COO Raphael Lachkar, VP of growth Sasha Alwani, VP of culture and brand Vu-Quan Nguyen-Masse and VP of insights and performance media Skylar Thwe, reflects the firm’s culture—its focus on growth, client journey and particularly over the last couple of years, a consistent regional culture. Like so many others, Vero emphasized mental and physical well-being during the pandemic with several new initiatives including mental health counseling and a hybrid workplace. There has also been an increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion. And a shadow board, with equal representation by gender, sexual identity, and age group, provides input to and feedback on management decisions, helping to create one of the regions most progressive workplaces. Of equal note, Vero has signed the clean creators pledge, vowing not to work for fossil fuel clients.
With its increased focus on strategic consulting services, Vero has established itself as a thought leader on the issues impacting corporate reputation in the region, expanding its array of services with a focus last year on reputation metrics with its Reputation.IQ offer and on influencer marketing with its InFluent suite of services, including a KOL database and a TrueVibe process that identifies influencers authentic to each brand. The firm has also been producing thought leadership reports like a recent effort focused on “Greenwatching, A Playbook for Authentic Sustainability Communication in Southeast Asia.” Among its client work, that expertise in sustainability issues is evident in the “Grow Green Stay” campaign for Booking.com and its “clay house” property. Other highlights include work for TikTok in Vietnam, where Vero sought to connect its core users with older citizens through traditional music and culture and launching an “English for Tagalog speakers” program in the Philippines for Duolingo.
— Paul Holmes
Weber Shandwick’s Southeast Asian presence may have contracted from a geographic perspective, thanks to MBOs in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, but its regional influence has grown in recent years. That is not only down to Singapore’s status as a hub for its regional operations, but also because of the integration between the office and Hong Kong, particularly in terms of its formidable healthcare offering. Added to that is a business that supports strength across consumer, corporate and technology with significant depth in such areas as sustainability, fintech, analytics and employee engagement.
There are 106 employees in Singapore, while Weber Shandwick retains branded partnerships with its former subsidiaries in Indonesia (198 people), Malaysia and Thailand.
Weber Shandwick grew 10% in Singapore in 2022, its second consecutive year of double-digit growth. Driving that was the firm’s healthcare offering, which includes such clients as Illumina, Moderna and Ferring, along with expansion in sustainability, analytics and fintech. Indeed, much of the firm’s work now carries the kind of integrated focus that reflects Weber Shandwick’s focus on ‘intersectional’ challenges, not least for Expedia, Moderna, Cathay Pacific, Harley Davidson and Mastercard. Other key clients include Shiseido, Netflix, ServiceNow, Ion Orchard and Royal Caribbean.
Longtime Hong Kong leader Albert Shu now oversees Singapore too, giving the two markets a more cohesive offering that is relatively unique in the agency world. Other key leaders include chief growth and client officer Vanessa Ho Niklowski, who is also based in Singapore, strategic planning and intelligence head Wong Hin-Yan, Hong Kong and Singapore healthcare EVP Robert Broad, and regional corporate affairs head Carolyn Devanayagam. 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 ‘intersections’ 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. Campaign highlights include SABRE nominated campaigns for Nespresso and Expedia.
— Arun Sudhaman
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