SABRE Awards Asia-Pacific 2020,
a judge’s view

October 22, 2020

Motoko Kunita
Dentsu Public Relation


Hi everyone. Another year, another judging panel appearance!

This is the first of two pieces I’ll be writing about SABRE Awards Asia-Pacific 2020, the regional installment of this year’s SABRE Awards, one of the world’s biggest PR-focused awards programs.

A year ago, nobody could have foreseen the COVID-19 pandemic and the dramatic impact it has had on the PR and advertising industries. High-profile cancellations have included June’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity—perhaps the largest annual awards event for the creative industries—along with its regional spinoff Spikes Asia.

Against this backdrop, the SABRE Awards (whose name stands for Superior Achievement in Branding, Reputation and Engagement) attracted particular attention as they went ahead according to schedule (albeit with virtual ceremonies for the various editions). And, in keeping with the name of the event, the candidates included numerous campaigns with impressive achievements in the arenas of branding, reputation, and engagement.

Hosted by international PR industry news source PRovoke Media (known until a rebranding earlier this year as the Holmes Report), the inaugural SABRE Awards were held in the US in 1989, with SABRE Awards Asia-Pacific making its debut in 2009. With prizes for the region’s best PR campaigns, agencies, and networks, SABRE Awards Asia-Pacific attracts a broad range of entries—from PR agencies as well as non-PR-focused businesses, and organizations including educational institutions and government bodies—with the crème of the winning campaigns going into the hat for the Global SABRE Awards.


NEWSFLASH: Dentsu PR-supported campaign places 21st overall from a field of 5,500 at Global SABRE Awards! (Read more)


The online judging process

On a personal note, SABRE Awards Asia-Pacific 2020 marked my fourth time as a judge for this event, and this year’s panel of 60 included directors and top management figures nominated from various agencies, along with the in-house communications departments of various businesses. A distinguishing feature of the SABRE Awards is the broad range of over 100 award categories for different industries, geographical regions, practice areas, and more (and this can be seen as one reason for the large number of entries and prizes). Each judge is assigned three or four categories, voting for their top five in each via an online interface.

The process is somewhat less demanding than Spikes Asia’s online voting system, which calls for detailed grading of each entry. Also unlike Spikes Asia, even in normal years there is no need for judges to gather for a second round of deliberations regarding their choices. With other steps—from drafting the shortlist to choosing the eventual winners—conducted by the organizers, it is rather a different approach.

But whereas in a typical year judging three or four categories would mean appraising anything from 100 to 150 entries, this year I was surprised to find that I only had 35 or so to get through. As a result, though I was mentally prepared for a full week of judging, in the end I was done in just three days. According to the organizers, the 1,600 or so entries they would typically expect to receive for this regional edition was closer to 1,000 this year, which seems like yet another impact of COVID-19.

SABRE entries can be sent in any format, including Word and PowerPoint, along with supplementary materials like visuals and short case films, which are a blessing for judges as they make it much easier to grasp the intricacies of a campaign than by simply deciphering reams of English text. Unfortunately, this year entries supplied with case films were in the minority, which I presume is because many businesses chose not to plough as much time and money into production following the cancellation of Cannes and Spikes. Either way, there were certainly a lot of entries with no video.


Saving Laundry from Zombie Odors, a campaign executed for Japanese lifestyle goods manufacturer Lion Corporation, placed 21st overall at Global SABRE Awards 2020
After a strong showing at SABRE Awards Asia-Pacific 2020, Dentsu PR-supported campaign Saving Laundry from Zombie Odors placed 21st overall at the Global SABRE Awards.

Campaigns reflect the new normal 

The three categories I was assigned this year included two industry sectors, Technology: Software & Services and Not-for-Profit Organizations, and one practice area, Digital Campaign.

Overall, I’m afraid to say I felt the entries were not of quite the same standard as usual, and I think this can be attributed to the lower total number of entries, along with the social conditions created by the pandemic, which no doubt made it difficult to realize campaign ideas to their fullest. There were some standout entries though, as well as various campaigns that responded to COVID-19, an approach that produced several winners, including in the Software and Digital Campaign categories that I was judging.

The award announcements and ceremony were conducted online on September 24, and the virtual setup was a major departure from the usual gala dinner and presentation at a Hong Kong hotel. Of course, with an in-person event, air fares and other costs can be a barrier to participation. One benefit of online events is that even with a fee, many more people are able to take part, and official figures placed virtual attendance at around 300, which is somewhat higher than usual. For Dentsu PR’s three shortlisted entries (all of which picked up silverware), that included our own project leads, who were able to proudly witness the announcements in real time.

On that note, that’s all from me for now. But look out for next time, when I will go into more detail on some of the winning campaigns.


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About the author

Motoko Kunita, Executive officer with Dentsu Public RelationsMotoko Kunita
Dentsu Public Relations
Executive Officer, Information Design and Corporate Communications Director
In over 20 years as a PR consultant, Motoko Kunita’s work has spanned corporate and marketing PR for clients in various sectors. Her involvement in numerous high-profile and award-winning communications campaigns has brought invitations to join the judging panels of some of the PR industry’s leading award programs, including SABRE Awards Asia-Pacific (2015, 2016, 2018, 2020), PR Awards Asia (2018), and SPIKES Asia (2019). In 2017, she was also selected by the Holmes Report (now PRovoke Media) for inclusion in Innovator 25 Asia-Pacific 2017, its list of influential PR professionals. She holds a BA in Social Sciences from Hitotsubashi University and an MA in Communications from the University of Delaware, and is also a PRSJ-accredited PR planner.


This article was adapted from original Japanese content published October 6, 2020 (view original article)

Banner image courtesy of PRovoke Media





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