By Adam Wakefield

In short, why does South Africa’s PR and communication industry need the PRISM Awards?

Recognition for exceptional campaigns executed with measurable results, benchmarking among peers both local and international, and exposure and profile building.

When did planning begin for this year’s PRISM Awards, its 20th edition?

Planning begins 12 months ahead of the next year. It is about reviewing the last event from every perspective: the entries, the entrants, the judges, the processes, the sponsors, the exposure, the impact and so on. There is a lot to do and the full team is made up of volunteers.  

I’ve been informed by those in the industry that winning a PRISM Award is actually quite difficult, and if you do win, it is very much a recognition of skill and talent in the industry. What about the awards makes it a hallmark for excellence in the industry?

You are judged by experts in the field or category and by your peers. Your campaign has to be exceptional, not just ‘business as usual’, we want the ‘wow’ factor[KH1] . Your results need to be measurable – not just about the number of views, or clippings, but how it impacted the objectives and the target audience. What were the tangible results? You are judged among a number of entries and your entry needs to stand out, through the storytelling, the meeting of criteria, and the proof of results.

How does the judging work and who is selected as judges?

The 60 judges are selected based on their expertise, industry knowledge, their standing in the industry or the industry in which they operate. In each cluster – various categories are clustered together – there is a cluster chief judge, usually a judge that has judged the PRISM Awards for more than three years with knowledge of the process and the implications of judging, and then there are a minimum of five cluster experts as judges. 

Marilyn Watson, who has been involved for more than 15 years, is the chief judge and should there be any queries or challengers, she is the go-to person.

For the first time this year, we will be bringing on young judges with the express purpose of providing the youth with an insight into what happens with the judging, access to some of the greatest campaigns, and to have their insight into campaigns and the impact on them as the youth. 

The young judges is part of the 20th Initiative to introduce more youngsters to the profession, behind-the-scenes activities, and access to a stellar array of judges and professionals from the industry. This year, we will also have the president of the International Communication Consultants Organisation (ICCO) as an international judge in the Campaign of the Year.

More details on how to apply to be a Young Judge are available here.

How do interested parties make submission for the awards?

This year, the entries will be submitted online via the website and the judging will also be online. The entries are limited to 1 200 words – so the impact of storytelling will be vital in attracting the attention of the judges. Images, in the form of pictures, graphs, and infographics, can be used to illustrate the story.

You can imagine how a judge sitting with 20 or 80 entries in their cluster must really need to be impressed by the entry in front of them: the impact, the results, the grammar, the style, and the story. We appeal to all entrants to bear this in mind. Make your entry stand out.

What events are taking place leading up to the awards in May?

We have already held the How to submit an Award-winning PRISM Entry workshops in KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Town and Johannesburg. We were excited that delegates from both the corporate and consultancy environment attended these workshops, but what was very exciting is the number of students who attended the programmes. 

Students are invited to participate in the student category, and any of the other categories, free of charge. We want to encourage students to be part of the PRISM Awards and to submit their campaigns. To this end, we have also encouraged all the university and learning institutions to encourage participation from their students.

Entries close on Friday, 17 March and then the judging process begins.  

What is the most rewarding aspect of being involved with the awards, and the most challenging aspect?

For every judge and for the organising committee it is rewarding to see how the PRISM Awards has grown in stature. It is a great honour to receive a PRISM Award. It is also an honour to be associated with the PRISM Awards, whether as a judge or as a sponsor. There are learnings from the campaign submissions and, finally, to see the public relations profession coming together at an event to rub shoulders with the top achievers and to simply network or even brag. 

More and more users of PR – the clients – are recognising the value of participating and attending the event, of receiving an award or recognising their consultancy’s achievements.  

The challenges would be relying on volunteers who make this all happen. Every one of those involved is a volunteer and day jobs can sometimes be very onerous and the responsibilities of this event are not a priority. Attracting young people to participate in the event organising and the overall planning has been a difficult task, and, sometimes, they are not included in the preparation of submissions.

The PRISM Awards will follow directly after the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA) Annual Conference. What led to the change from last year when the two events were separated?  

It is PRISA’s 60th anniversary and they have a great line-up of speakers and topics. It seemed like a good idea that those attending the conference also have the opportunity to be part of the 20th PRISM Awards.

South Africa is also hosting the first ever visit by the board of the ICCO, of which I am the president of the Africa Region, and this will be happening at the same time.  

For more information, visit

Read more about PRISM”s young judges in our article, JumpStart’s Thabiso Makhubela on PRISMs' youth focus.