HONG KONG — Sandpiper Communications has acquired North Head, the China public affairs consultancy founded by John Russell in 2010, PRovoke Media can reveal. 

The deal adds considerable mainland public affairs and government relations expertise to Sandpiper's existing offering, at a time of significant geopolitical issues management. It  takes Sandpiper to more than US$7.5m in fee income, according to PRovoke Media estimates.

Sandpiper had previously partnered with North Head for several years. Both firms' leaders — Sandpiper CEO Emma Smith (pictured) and North Head MD Russell — previously worked together at Weber Shandwick.

“Our offerings are incredibly complementary, and the acquisition will strengthen our Greater China presence and network-wide public affairs advisory capability," said Smith. "With the increasing complexity and uncertainty across the global business environment, it is critical that strategic communications efforts consider and align with government agendas and North Head’s experience will bring a deeper perspective to our expertise in this area."

Sandpiper reported revenue of $3.7m in 2020, and has grown rapidly since Smith led a management buyout of the firm from Engine Group in 2019. After expanding by 47% in 2020, the firm is forecasting fee income growth of more than 35% in 2021, not including North Head's contribution. 

Named Asia-Pacific Corporate/Public Affairs Consultancy of the Year this year by PRovoke Media, Sandpiper focuses on the financial services, healthcare and technology sectors, across an Asia-Pacific network that includes substantial operations in Hong Kong and Singapore. The addition of North Head's Beijing office takes Sandpiper's total headcount to around 80 employees.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed but North Head will be fully-owned by Sandpiper and is rebranded to Sandpiper North Head. Russell now reports to Smith, and North Head's management team, which also includes Robert Magyar and Joyce Li, remains in place. 

"This is a win-win move, with many synergies given the complementary profiles and strengths of Sandpiper and North Head," said Russell. "The outcomes will be a stronger offering to our clients and enhanced opportunities for all our employees."