Staff Reporters
Nov 18, 2020

40 under 40 2020: Kelly Johnston, Sandpiper Communications

A slew of promotions and astounding business growth are just a few things that seem to gravitate in the direction of star performer Kelly Johnston.

40 under 40 2020: Kelly Johnston, Sandpiper Communications
Top-tier talent transforming APAC media and marcomms 

Kelly Johnston

Chief operating officer and general manager, Southeast Asia
Sandpiper Communications

Kelly Johnston has churned out hit after hit in an illustrious comms career so far. Starting at Bell Pottinger in London, she moved to PPR in Australia and was promoted three times in five years. In fact, the agency’s biggest client, Emirates, was so impressed with Johnston, she was seconded to client side where she oversaw corporate comms, brand PR, sponsorships, and crisis and issues management while casually growing revenue for the agency by 40% in 12 months.

In 2018, upon moving to Singapore, she was fronted with a new challenge altogether: building an office and business from scratch. For MHP Communications (now Sandpiper), she built an MBO (management by objectives) which led to a profitable practice with 18 staff and current fiscal year revenues of US$2.2 million after just three and a half years.

And following the separation from MHP, Johnston led the transition and improvement of the firm’s central functions including marketing strategy, finance systems, human resources, culture building, and career planning, as well as digital, design and research services. She managed this while juggling a hands-on role with clients—aligning with Sandpiper’s commitment to have its most senior people work directly with clients every day on their accounts.

Johnston was deservedly promoted to COO, a role she took on in addition to head of Southeast Asia. And in the last year of this position, she drove the firm’s strategy and growth globally, expanded the Southeast Asia practice by 50% despite the undertainty of Covid, and oversaw the securement of top-tier brands such as AstraZeneka and Cisco.

To add to the seemingly endless list of Johnston’s victories, she helped expand Sandpiper’s presence in China, securing anchor in-market client work and identifying and recruiting talent to lead the business. During Covid, she also set up an enterprise for the firm in China and facilitated the launch of the Beijing office. CEO of Sandpiper Emma Smith says she has never seen anyone work harder. Perhaps the agency’s 35% revenue growth to date for 2020 can attest to that. 

Top-tier talent transforming APAC media and marcomms 


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