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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed below belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Vulcan Post.

Let me preface by saying that this article is by no means trying to undermine (or hype up) the legitimacy or prestige of The BrandLaureate SMEs BestBrands Awards.

What this is, though, is an honest look into what happens there so SMEs and entrepreneurs can know what to expect.

We should know, because we attended the event this year as media representatives. I’ll get into why we were invited in the first place later.

A majestic ceremony

Entering The Majestic Kuala Lumpur, where this year’s SMEs BestBrands Awards was held, we were greeted by a wall of photographers snapping away in the photo zone next to the red carpet.

The lobby was busy that evening

Attendees were dressed to the nines, taking the Black Tie/Elegant Wear theme very seriously. Even in my nice clothes, I felt underdressed amidst the sequined evening gowns and double-breasted suit jackets.

After skirting around the “paparazzi”, we made our way to the second floor, where the grand ballroom is located. It was absolutely packed here, with plenty of attendees taking pictures.

Along the path to the ballroom, tacky inspirational quotes were put up everywhere. One banner read, “Always be the brand champion. No matter what, no matter how, no matter when.” Erm, the value of that quote may be lost on me.

During his 20-minute speech, he quoted himself at least 10 times, with his own quotes projected behind him

What was even more inspired (not necessarily inspirational) was all the quotes by Dr. KKJohan, the founder and world president of The BrandLaureate.

The man is full of quotes, if you didn’t already know that he has a published quote book. Throughout the night, he was dishing out quotes attributed to himself.

Some of my favourite quotes from him were: “Be a brand phenomenon through phenomenal branding” and “Show your brand leadership by building a great brand”. Perhaps these are meant to be riddles of some sort that only specific entrepreneurs and brands may ever know the answer to?

At first glance you might think it’s the same picture in different colours, but they actually each hold a nugget of wisdom

Don’t forget, “Brand success, the ultimate dream for your brand”. That’s admittedly probably true for a lot of SMEs, at least.

It all sounds funny now, but walking around the event, I had been beyond myself with nerves. These were all affluent business people, and I was… well, not. Because of that, I was nervous to initiate conversations with others, but then I realised, people weren’t even socialising in the first place.

Rather, most were just hanging out with their own team. There wasn’t much opportunity to mingle once the event started too.

A winners-only party

A month ago, we came across a Facebook posting by Cake Tella, a local cake brand. It said: “We are selected for The BrandLaureate SMEs BestBrands Award 2023 in the category of F&B Artisanal Cakes, but… we have to pay RM40,000 to stand a chance to win the award.”

Cake Tella also shared some pictures that detailed the pricing of the event.

Image Credit: Cake Tella

However, it’s important to note that these prices aren’t just dinner for 10 and a 24K-plated trophy. If you pay for a table in Zone B for RM39,000, you’ll get:

  • An NFT trophy and certificate (who knows how much that could be worth down the road),
  • A shoutout of your logo in the newspaper and souvenir programme
  • A write-up on The BrandLaureate e-Coffee Table book
  • A feature on The BrandLaureate’s social media and e-newsletter
  • An invitation to The BrandLaureate networking session and brand seminar
  • Congratulatory ads on digital billboards in the Klang Valley

For the Zone A tables, priced at RM49,000, you’ll get all that as well as a brand interview posted on The BrandLaureate TV’s YouTube channel, and a two-page spread on their Business World Review e-magazine.

Don’t forget, VIPs also get a “complimentary” run of a full-colour, full-page advertisement in the souvenir book programme. According to The BrandLaureate team though, this souvenir book is only given out during the event day to recipients and guests.

We were seated at table 75

Jokes aside, it takes a village (and a bunch of funds) to host an event of this scale, so it’s kind of understandable why they would charge quite a bit.

And this was a point argued by The BrandLaureate team itself when responding to Cake Tella’s Facebook post.

“We understand your concern on the branding and media package, but allow us to share with you a bit more about what we do as The BrandLaureate Awards,” the lengthy comment started.

The BrandLaureate Awards’ response to Cake Tella’s post

It went on to explain that The BrandLaureate Awards isn’t a government-funded organisation but a foundation—The World Brands Foundation. With that, the team invited Cake Tella to visit its International and National Gallery to understand the “blood and sweat” put into the organisation.

Other than all the branding and marketing the team carries out to promote the gala, The BrandLaureate also has an education arm (The Education League), a tech arm (The Laureate League), and a publication that features award recipients (The BrandLaureate Business World Review Magazine).

All recipients of the award will supposedly be included in future collaboration programmes with any of those business arms.

“Similar to your business, you have a team that works hard to make Cake Tella where it is today,” the comment continued. “We have a team that works tirelessly so that every brand that are nominated and worthy of the award will get the best celebration they deserve during the award gala dinner and the post-recognition.”

All of that checks out. However, it’s important to remember that the event also had sponsors, which would’ve covered parts of the cost.

In any case, it was great that The BrandLaureate transparently responded to this comment, rather than ignoring Cake Tella’s post. Plus, this also confirms that the document and figures posted by Cake Tella were accurate.

More curious than ever to find out how the programme and its pricing actually works, we reached out to The BrandLaureate to get some clarification.

While we haven’t gotten a better picture of how it works internally, we did get an invitation to see what actually happens at the awards, which is how we ended up at The Majestic Kuala Lumpur on a fine Thursday evening.

Dinner and a concert

If you’re paying that much for a dinner gala, there better be some good food, so here’s a rundown of what was actually served.

Here’s the menu

To start us off, we had bread and butter. Good, but nothing worth calling home about.

For appetisers, we were served seared tiger prawn with avocado, bread crumb, balsamic, extra virgin oil, and lemon cream. The sauces on this were good.

Next was cream of saffron seafood chowder pesto crouton, followed by the goma marinated salmon with roasted asparagus and pineapple mango relish. The salmon really popped off, with the mango relish elevating the dish.

Yes, the presentation leaves something to be desired, but it was delicious

To top it off we had a dark chocolate bar with fresh strawberry and the option of coffee or tea.

Throughout the evening, we were offered wine (red or white—though the white ran out less than an hour into the event) and the waitstaff tirelessly filled our apple juice and cucumber mocktail every time a single sip was taken.

Dinner aside, expect to be thoroughly satiated in terms of entertainment.

The icon of the evening for me was definitely the singer, ICE. From the moment she appeared on stage vocalising, “The hills are alive,” I knew she was going to be great.

She returned to the stage thrice more after that, donning three different outfits in total throughout the evening, and I have to give her major props for that.

An icon, really

The other performers were phenomenal too, including the saxophonist Razak Rahman, violinists Martin and Jessica Loo, and singer Clara.

That said, during the performances, many of the attendees were just talking amongst themselves over the music.

The event registration starts at 6PM but the event itself starts at 8PM and lasts till 11PM, so if you’re planning to attend, be sure to strap in for a pretty long ride.

The benefit of the doubt

There were a lot of things during the event I found a little silly and pretentious, from the admittedly tacky quotes and weirdly motivational speeches to some NFT initiatives and media presentations that I don’t think many people in the room cared for.

Yes, it felt like a very self-serving event, but if I’m honest, there’s nothing wrong about wanting to celebrate your own achievements.

Talking to some of the winners after the event, I heard one word frequently tossed around—prestigious. This was clearly a momentous journey for these businesses and their teams.

Everyone dressed to the nines, holding their awards

It was an evening for them to celebrate each other and their achievements, and how much they might have paid to do it is honestly none of my business. To them, it might be completely justified and reasonable.

I genuinely found many of the companies celebrated at this event to actually deserve it. (You can read about some particularly interesting homegrown names in our other article.)

While the everyday consumer might not feel like this award makes a brand so much more trustworthy or important, I find that it is critical in proving a brand’s legitimacy especially with business partners.

All the brands recognised across various categories this year

For some businesses, it may also be a completely justified spend as it helps with marketing and also morale, but for other businesses, especially SMEs, it’s money that can be better spent elsewhere.

Perhaps there can be a better solution for this, where only the brands who can afford to attend can still attend and enjoy the fanciness of such an event with their team members. But for those who can’t, don’t they deserve a shoutout and a trophy or certificate still?

After all, by The BrandLaureate sending out invitations to selected brands, it is already giving some sort of recognition to them, regardless of whether the brand attends or not.

It’s just a pity that no one else will know, unless the non-attending brand reveals that they were actually selected, like Cake Tella did.

But if Cake Tella hadn’t posted its invitation by The BrandLaureate, we as consumers would be none the wiser to its achievement. That begs the question, how many more brands have there been out there have made the cut for the award, but couldn’t pay to attend?

Well, even though they couldn’t make it to the gala itself, at least Cake Tella and other businesses know that they have what it takes to be awarded as a “Best Brand”.

  • Learn more about The BrandLaureate here.
  • Read other opinion pieces we’ve written here.

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(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)