APAC Top Consultancies 2021: BlueFocus towers over the region, large networks decline

The pandemic had a noticeable impact on agencies’ financial results, but the China market showed to be have bounced back with little effect.

Margaret Key, MSL
Margaret Key, MSL

Today, we reveal the APAC Top Consultancies, a ranking of the top-earning agencies in the calendar year of 2020. Expectedly and justifiably, the pandemic threw the industry off, with many large networks reporting declines or marginal growth. These include heavyweights Ogilvy, MSL, Weber Shandwick, Edelman and BCW. 

An exception to the pandemic-related blow was Chinese comms giant BlueFocus, which emerged as the highest-earning agency in the region, pocketing over US$335 million last year. This isn’t only indicative of China’s quick recovery, but also of immense growth in the sectors that the agency specialises in—namely gaming, ecommerce and tech.

The agency attributes its core source of revenue last year from expansion outside of China as well as its fast-growing short video business. On top of that, it launched a smart marketing platform in September last year which combines services and SaaS-based marketing platforms for B2B clients.

“Covid has brought an unprecedented impact on global economic and social development, and has also had a certain impact on the integrated marketing and international business of BlueFocus,” a spokesperson at the agency told PRWeek Asia. “In the case of international business being affected, the growth of BlueFocus' emerging business [managed to] offset the negative impact [of the pandemic] to some extent, and we achieved operating income that exceeded expectations.”

MSL, which managed to inch over Weber Shandwick to take fourth place this year, emerged healthy from the pandemic. The agency said that while the pandemic impacted all markets in APAC, it was surprised that some markets were able to pick up work that it had either lost or were asked to stop or temporarily pause because of budget concerns.

“We were able to transition offline events to online platforms quite quickly and we saw a very strong pick up in employee engagement, CEO communications and strategic counsel. We have managed much better than we originally thought,” the agency said in its submission.

Margaret Key, MSL’s APAC CEO, told PRWeek Asia that positive growth was seen in markets such as Australia, China and Singapore, mostly due to organic and new business specifically in corporate reputation. Across the board, MSL relied on corporate clients in automotive, consumer and tech.

Edelman, which dipped in revenue by six per cent, said that it managed to stay resilient during the pandemic, largely guided by putting wellbeing of staff front and centre despite having had to let go of seven per cent of global staff. A spokesperson told PRWeek Asia that staff wellbeing “requires real commitments and actions, and not just token gestures”.

“It is because of this focus on our people first that our business has experienced a V-shaped recovery. As a result of our relentless focus on our own team, we have driven our clients to navigate their own periods of uncertainty with leadership, empathy and trust,” said the spokesperson.

In 2020, the agency first looked at cost-saving measures and letting revenue downturns go straight to its bottom-line. However, management pay cuts were temporarily introduced and restored within four months. All junior staff received bonuses in February 2021.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies, which claimed 2020 to be “much better than expected”, said that the region managed to record between five to nine per cent growth over the last few years, with three markets in APAC showing more than nine per cent growth. The agency opened an office in Indonesia, elected Jun Xu as new CEO in China, and merged with BCW in Korea under a combined H+K branding.

“Across the region, but especially in China, we have seen brands seeking out PR partners who can help them grow their social commerce capabilities,” the agency said in its submission. “We believe this is due to consumers demanding corporations for authentic, transparent and purpose-driven comms.”

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