WE Communications has acquired two firms in China: Singapore-based corporate and financial affairs consultancy Watatawa, and Shanghai-based integrated agency Red Bridge Communications.
"We have a passion for Asia and believe a lot of our growth in the future is going to come from Asia," said Alan VanderMolen, WE president of international. "That is why we wanted to do these deals at the same time. We feel the complementary nature of both of these deals brings us tremendous benefit to our existing client and employee bases."
Founded in 2009 by managing partner Penny Burgess, independent comms agency Red Bridge will merge with WE China and rebrand to WE Red Bridge. Providing brand marketing and corporate positioning counsel, the firm specializes in delivering integrated campaigns to target China’s middle class.
With the deal, Burgess becomes China head for WE Red Bridge. She will report to EVP for Asia-Pacific Matthew Lackie, who is based in Singapore. Managing partner Nicky Wang will be responsible for driving the combined agency’s integrated marketing and digital capabilities across China. Judy Guo will continue to run the Beijing office under WE Red Bridge, while Miranda Cai, based in Shanghai, will be responsible for building out corporate and health capabilities across the business and overseeing existing WE Shanghai operations. The combined agency boasts more than 110 employees.
Combined clients include: Aruba, Cargill, Caterpillar, Club Monaco, DFS, Honeywell, Insearch UTS, Lululemon, TaylorMade adidasGolf, Melia Hotels International, Roche, Swire, Thomas Cook, Value Retail China & Europe, WeWork, and ZTE.
"In the case of Red Bridge, we are bringing on an integrated marketing firm in China to complement our strong technology and earned media capabilities," said VanderMolen. "We want to expand into a full-service capability in China."
Melissa Waggener Zorkin, CEO and president of WE Communications, noted that Red Bridge being a female-owned business is important.
Meanwhile, Watatawa will become a subsidiary of WE and will continue to operate under its own distinct brand and leadership. Watatawa, established in 2010, provides CEOs, boards, and other senior-level client execs with consultancy in corporate communications, IR, financial communications, and issues and crisis management.
Watatawa founders include Bill Rylance; Simon Pangrazio; and Bryan Matthews. Pangrazio will continue to lead the business regionally from Singapore in consultation with Watatawa chairman Rylance, who is based in London. Rylance will also take on a parallel role with WE internationally, focused on expanding and deepening the firm’s corporate offering in existing and new markets.
Watatawa clients include Asia Pacific Resources International Limited, IHH Healthcare, PACC Offshore Services Holdings, and Real Capital Analytics. The firm is also retained by several world-leading global financial services firms.
"With Watatawa, we believe that in Asia and emerging markets broadly, having a C-suite capability to complement our broad-based comms capability is critical to our growth and we think Watatawa brings that to us in Asia and beyond," said VanderMolen.
The deals officially closed on Wednesday. Financial terms were not disclosed. No layoffs or client conflicts will result from either deal.
"Most important is what these companies have already done in the marketplace and looking at where they are and their level of maturity," said Waggener Zorkin. "Our own people want to work on more diverse clients, and want to have more global experiences, so the timing works well for that."
WE Communications announced on Wednesday the addition of Scott Friedman to its technology sector team as EVP. Friedman will play an executive leadership role across the Microsoft account. Most recently, Friedman served as founder and CEO of his own company, The Lede Agency.
WE Communications grew 4.2 percent in 2016 on a constant currency basis. Key growth drivers were North America (5 percent growth), led by technology and consumer sectors and social and digital (20 percent growth).