/ 4 August 2023

PR’s Brightest Stars Shine at 2023 PRISM Awards

Flow Communcations
Flow Communications won 13 awards. Featured are Caroline Smith, Khaya Thwala and Allison MacDonald.

Celebrating the storytellers behind the brand campaigns that captured SA

In a dazzling display of ingenuity, creativity and market-focused brilliance, the 2023 PRISM Awards, organised by the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA) in partnership with the Mail & Guardian, showcased the best of the best of South Africa’s public relations (PR) and communication landscape. Held at the prestigious Galleria in Sandton on July 29th, this highly anticipated event brought together the industry’s brightest stars, shining a spotlight on the exceptional talents and remarkable campaigns that have redefined brand communication and dominated audience hearts and minds over the past year.

The competition was fierce as a panel of 70 judges meticulously evaluated more than 390 qualifying entries — the highest number of entries in the 26-year history of the awards. 

This, according to PRISA’s General Manager and PRISM Awards Chairperson Landiwe Manana, is a testament to the resilience of the industry. “This year’s theme, ‘Tell A Story’, ignited a creative flame and led to an outpouring of captivating, passion-infused entries that masterfully blended strategy and creativity,” she explains. “As PR specialists, we tell stories in various shapes and forms, and storytelling is where we thrive. I have no doubt that there are many more stories to tell, and many more opportunities to use those stories to engage with diverse audiences across South Africa.” 

Paddington Station PR
Laylaa Trevor and Dirk Slabbert from Paddington Station PR. The agency won 11 awards.

PRISM Awards Chief Judge Paul Reynell says that the sheer volume of entries means they had their work cut out for them: “To win a Prism Award, the campaign can’t just be great — it must also demonstrate impact for the client or brand. It also needs to deliver those results in a way that stands out and sets it head and shoulders above the rest. The judging process was filled with debate because of the exceptional quality of the entries, and to that end, the winners should be proud of the outstanding campaigns well-deserving of recognition.”  

Big wins 

This focus on tangible results and real-world impact that extends far beyond metrics is one of the key factors that set the PRISM Awards apart. The two biggest winners of the evening were Tribeca Public Relations and Flow Communications, each raking in an impressive 13 awards. 

Co-founder and Managing Director of Tribeca, Nicky James, says the agency’s success cannot be attributed to a single factor: “Instead, it’s a myriad of elements that, when combined, have a significant impact and ultimately set us apart. Winning awards is a by-product of having a happy and engaged staff, along with an environment that fosters success. Understanding our client’s business objectives is always the starting point; without this, we cannot create work that truly makes a difference, sparks creativity or leads to award-winning results. 

She says their people-first policy, which prioritises the wellbeing of every consultant and empowers them to achieve greatness for our clients, has had a profound ripple effect on the agency’s overall success. “This approach has opened doors to collaborate with incredible brands and businesses, enabling us to deliver exceptional results for them.” 

Caroline Smith is Head of PR at Flow Communications, which also took Silver in the Best Large PR Consulting Category. She agrees that while awards are an incredible way to honour the professionals driving industry excellence, the real rewards are seeing how their passion and dedication drive real change for the brands they engage with: “It’s important to remember that brilliance in PR is always a result of collaborative synergies and that success is measured not in monetary value, client spend, or equivalent print ad space, but in real-world impacts and results. Alignment of values and a mutual understanding with clear objectives and measurable goals are important precursors to any excellent work.”

Coming in hot on the heels of Tribeca and Flow Communications was Paddington Station PR with 11 awards, including a remarkable sweep of Gold, Silver and Bronze in the Food & Beverage Categories for their groundbreaking campaigns in the highly competitive alcoholic beverage sector. 

Tribeca’s Nicky James, Davina Malan and Nicola Tarr. Tribeca took home 13 awards.

The agency was also awarded Gold for Best Small PR Consultancy. Managing Director of Paddington Station PR, Paul Reynell, says this is a testament to his team’s deep understanding of consumer profiling and its ability to break through the content clutter in the digital space to deliver impactful results for their clients. 

One of these clients, beverage company DGB, was the biggest brand winner of the evening with seven awards. “Both the cream liqueur and cocktail sectors are extremely competitive and cluttered, but we’re incredibly fortunate to be working with a client that shares our vision and excitement about the possibilities available to them,” explains Reynell. 

“This is evident in the quality of their products and projects we partner on, and we love pushing the limits and conceptualising new campaigns and content, year after year.” 

The Presidential Awards saw Bridget von Holdt and Palesa Madumo take home Gold for Outstanding Legacy of Achievement, while Bradly Howland received Gold in PR and Communications Industry Advancement.

Changing perceptions and winning hearts 

The coveted South African Campaign of the Year was awarded to Levergy for the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup. 

Jessica Porter, Head of PR at Levergy, says the past year has been a pivotal one for women’s sports in South Africa, adding that the ICC Women’s World Cup that was hosted in South Africa in February was at the heart of this. 

“This was an opportunity to step-change the perception, coverage, engagement and attendance, but in reality, our biggest challenge was to ensure that the spotlight didn’t fall on South Africa’s disappointing progress in women’s sport, compared to global trends,” she explains. “Locally, brands, tournaments and teams were begging for support for women’s sport, and in doing so inadvertently removing the power wielded by the teams and athletes.” 

This, she adds, is where strategic communication and creativity came in to quite literally change the game: “We did this by shifting the narrative from female empowerment to pure power instead, ensuring that the tournament is heard through a campaign called ‘Turn it Up’.

By leveraging our national pride and South Africans’ need to get involved we were able to position this tournament as a global sporting showpiece of the highest standard, while South African sports fans have a sense of ownership regarding the event.” 

The campaign was an overwhelming success, and the tournament shattered all previous records in viewership, engagement and attendance records, changing the way women’s sport is viewed in South Africa, and resulting in a local and global shift in the perception of women’s cricket.

Manana believes this overwhelming response reaffirms the vibrant growth in the industry and the general acknowledgement of the crucial role played by strategic communications professionals, and says that PRISA will continue to push boundaries to inspire an even greater commitment to excellence within the industry. 

One of her personal highlights of the judging process was the PRISM Young Voices programme, which afforded young and up-and-coming industry professionals the opportunity to be part of the judging process itself. 

“This is an initiative dear to my heart, as we need to hear from those just embarking on their careers and let them see what is possible and can be achieved,” she explains. 

And while it was announced that the 2024 PRISM Awards will be held in Cape Town, Manana says PRISA also has plans to extend the awards regionally and include the rest of Africa in the near future: “We are approaching a point of critical mass where it makes imminent sense to open up and expand the PRISM Awards. It has established itself as the benchmark for PR and communications excellence and best practice, and we look forward to growing it even further.”