Published in Jul-Aug 2023
On June 24, 2023, the seventh edition of the Pakistan Digital Awards (PDAs) was held, with notable winners, including Adamjee Life (Best Website of the Year), BankIslami (Best BioTechnology), Jubilee Life Insurance (Best Social Media Campaign), Walee (Best Digital Innovation & User and Entity Big Data Analytics), Zindagi powered by JS Bank (Best Start-up of the Year) and TPL Insurance (Best Mobile App). Synite Digital received the most prestigious award, Best Digital Agency of the Year.
It was Ashifa Paracha who founded the PDAs, leveraging her 25 years’ worth of experience in digital marketing and advertising to shine a light on a fastincreasing and significant sector of the marketing industry. A year later, she was joined by Sami Qahar; the awards were launched in 2017, with the goal of rewarding advertising performance and effectiveness in the digital realm.
The Awards’ motto is ‘We believe in Pakistan’s digital industry and encourage the best digital innovation,’ and the PDA team see the event as ‘a conversation starter’ in Pakistan’s digital environment.
“The 2021 government and its policies brought a lot of foreign funding to Pakistan and this resulted in a lot of digital start-ups,” Qahar explains. “While economic setbacks and the subsequent failure of many start-ups dented investor confidence in the years that followed, they also gave rise to tenacious success stories like Bagallery and Daraz, and we are here to make these success stories a part of the conversation.”
Looking back, Qahar recalls that the first PDAs were held in 2017 with just two jury members. However, since then, the awards have grown in terms of categories, jury members, competitors, and sponsors, as well as credibility.
The first PDAs comprised 25 ‘simpler’ categories, such as Best Digital Start-up, Best Social Media Campaigns, Best Digital Campaign and Best Digital Innovation. These categories were fine-tuned over the years to recognise the use of technology in innovative ways to enhance marketing, and have increased in number to 40 with sub-categories that include Best Digital Payment Processor, Best Digital PR Campaign, Best User and Entity Big Data Analytics, Best Meme Marketing, Best Influencer, Facebook Community of the Year and TikToker of the Year.
Furthermore, the PDAs not only recognise digital communication efforts but innovation and talent in the broader digital sphere. Several categories are targeted at apps, technology-based startups, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software and technological adaptations that help companies improve their customer services.
On another note, initially, jury members were from Karachi only, but the evaluation procedure now takes place in Lahore as well.
“The speed with which the digital sphere is evolving has compelled us to open up new categories,” says Qahar, adding that while the Effie awards have been honouring advertising effectiveness, “digital marketing and innovation can no longer be restricted to a single category – the digital landscape needs to be identified as a separate domain of marketing communications.”
For Qahar, the USP of the PDAs is merit-based selection. The jury performs detailed evaluations on all entries and works according to the Competition Rules established by PDA.
Participants have to ensure that their entries meet the PDA’s requirements, which include the budget of the campaign/project, target audience, implementation mechanisms, results, challenges, and the team’s reason for considering a campaign a worthy candidate. Based on these criteria, participants submit their cases that are evaluated in phase one by the jury members and in the second phase they receive seven minutes to present their case to them. The winners are chosen based on the scores assigned by individual jury members.
As the event expanded, so did the number of sponsors as brands could see that the event was providing them with exposure. “This year’s sponsorship funding was three times that of last year,” says Qahar. Bank Al Falah, Invictus Brands and Jubilee Insurance are among the organisations that have consistently supported the event over the last seven years.
When it comes to other initiatives organised under the PDA banner, Qahar points to the Digi Leaders Conference, which has had two editions so far. The Creataverse Mentorship Platform is another endeavour for digital content makers such as TikTokers and Instagram influencers. A panel at this event advises budding content makers on how to increase their digital presence.
Organising an annual award programme while maintaining the legitimacy of its meritbased selection procedure is not without its obstacles. “Initially, our credibility as a forum that evaluates digital marketing success was called into question,” Qahar continues. “However, over the years, we have established our credibility by assuring participants that evaluations are conducted by a jury of impartial experts. Another challenge we still face, unfortunately, is that some participants try to buy an award in a specific category. When we reject them, we feel pressured, but we have grown even more focused on delivering a transparent jury-based evaluation process.”
In the future, the PDAs intend to expand the scope of the awards and organise more editions of the Digi Leaders conference and Creataverse in Pakistan as well as in Silicon Valley. Furthermore, the team hopes to represent Pakistan’s digital landscape on an international level in the near future.