Cambodian Newspaper Moving Towards Financial Stability

09 Borom Case Study 2Six months after Borom Chea joined Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post in 2012, he was promoted from sales manger to head of an entire department with a staff of 30. Since then, the inner-workings of his department have changed dramatically to allow for a sharp uptick in sales, greater responsibility for all staff members, and more acknowledgment when achievements are made.

Chea attributes much of this success to his participation in WAN-IFRA’s Media Professionals Programme (MPP) Southeast Asia. For two years, he was an active participant in workshops on leadership and media management skills, receiving executive training and learning the latest cutting-edge trends of the industry as a sponsored participant to WAN-IFRA events around the world. Alexandra Waldhorn caught up with Chea to learn more about his time in MPP and what’s ahead for him as he starts the WAN-IFRA Twinning Programme.

You have seen your career advance a lot since you first started at the Phnom Penh Post. What have been some of the highlights so far?
The highlights are building my team’s unity through better dialogue and understanding their problems and taking action. Also, launching a weekend in edition in both our papers. Growing our revenue on our websites has been a key accomplishment. Lastly, being involved in the MPP program and learning from all the lecturers and fellow participants is the best highlight so far.

How much do you attribute this to being a participant of the MPP Programme, and more recently the Twinning Programme?
I can attribute at least 50% of my highlights was either a direct or indirect outcome of being involved in the WANIFRA programs.

Before jumping into how MPP has helped your own career, has there been a larger impact on Cambodia’s media market as a whole?
I couldn’t say for sure that it has helped the whole media market in Cambodia but has helped my company, which sets the trends here so it could definitely be a motivating factor for other media organisations in the near future.

Earlier this summer you started the Twinning Programme. What are your initial thoughts?
I think it’s an unbelievably helpful thing that WAN-IFRA is doing. It has helped me in a number of ways to learn about media management in different parts of the world. That’s already in its self a very good thing. You get valuable experience that you really can’t get anywhere else in the world.

Are there specific areas in your work where you are looking for expertise?
I’ve connected with a few people already and I’ve been introduced to a few people working out of the UK and Australia. Those are markets that are definitely more mature than my local market. Learning from them is kind of leap frogging all of our problems, which is a great thing to do. We don’t have to go through the process of learning through it. If they’re doing it now then in turn, I can implement things that would be more receptive because of that knowledge exchange.

Looking back at your time in the MPP Programme, are there precise tools or methods that you have integrated into your work?
I took a lot of what the different speakers said and tried to apply it to my job right now. Some bits of it have worked while some bits haven’t worked as well. It’s a learning curve so it’s great to have ideas and try to implement them. My department is the most well run department in the business now, and that speaks really highly of the programme and how involved I am in it. I don’t think it’d be that way if I weren’t part of it.

What are some specifics that you learned or replicated at home in Cambodia?
The metrics behind how I measure my staff’s performance and how can I compensate them in regards to that or how I motivate them. It’s a more precise measurement than me just comparing the sales numbers. Sometimes there is a lot of effort behind but they don’t bring enough sales in. But with the measurement tools that I learned from MPP, it’s been helpful to have me gauge them more correctly. I took the idea from WAN-IFRA and then just kind of tweaked it and came up with my own measurement tools here.

Has it motivated your staff?
They definitely like the transparent nature of it all. Before I came into the company there was a culture of winging everything. There weren’t any policies in place or any kinds of real measurements so people were just basing their compensation or salary rises on non-important factors, I would say. They really like the fairness of it all now.

Are there any other precise elements of your job that were acquired during time in MPP?
Sarav, a presenter from India, did a really good job with all the practical advice he had. There is theory and then there is practical advice. One is about being a leader and not just a manager. That is one thing I really took into account when I got back from one of the first conferences, which was in India. He spoke about the difference between being a leader and a manager and I came back and evaluated myself and learned that I needed to be more of a leader than a manager.

Can you describe some of the activities that you were part of during MPP?
There were presentations, question and answer sessions, and we would work together on an hypothetical project. It was more interactive and not just preaching, which is definitely better than me sitting there for a few hours and just listening. I liked the interactive nature of it and the key point, I would say, is the presentations made by the lecturers. It is very important. For myself, I grew up in the US so comprehension of English is much better than my peers but the other people in the programme I know that they had a hard time with certain presenters because they had a language barrier. It’s all in the presenter. If they can convey their messages in less abstract and more practical terms, that’s when the breakthroughs happen.

Is there a spread of information when you return to the newsroom?09 Borom Case Study 1
I inform them on what I’m doing. Everyone is really behind me in it because the increase in ad revenue has been tremendous. Now I’m just a personality that fits that. I don’t keep all the information from WAN-IFRA in a box. As soon as I’m back I’m sharing it and all the ideas that I have with them. The interactive nature and the worksheets and stuff like that are also really helpful.

Were there any challenges that you were facing in the job that MPP helped you with or gave you clear results?
One of the evaluators was very helpful to me with an older gentleman in my department who has been there for many years. He is much older than myself and is a senior member of the sales department but I am the boss and I’m a bit younger and I’ve just come in. Sometimes there is a misunderstanding of sorts and he doesn’t take directions as well as other staff. So the speaker with WAN-IFRA sat with me and talked to me about how to address those needs. When I came back to work, I talked to him and it was much better. But, it’s not just about talking it’s also about understanding what his views are on whether it be compensation or more bonuses. I think that really helped.

You’ve recently overhauled the website. Can you tell me about that process?
We have two different websites, one in English and one in Khmer. There was a lot of thinking behind it. My CEO is very in tuned-in with the rest of the world so he knew we had to change our platforms and then make it more easy for the editorial side, and then also for our side to get more business. We addressed that quickly and got it online as quickly as possible. We basically put all the ads on one specified section so it didn’t clutter up all the articles. And I think that really helped with traffic. We are number one or two in the country, traffic-wise, so those things definitely helped. And we have really good digital directors putting things in place and putting video in place. That’s the direction we want to go because that’s where the world is going.

Has the revamped website impacted sales?
Initially I wasn’t part of the sales for digital but they transferred me about a year and a half ago and our sales have jumped. I opened it up to all my other staff. The problem that they had before was that there was a separate digital sales department, which really didn’t help because it was just two or three people versus a staff of 25 or 30. I opened it up to my entire staff, which was ten times the amount than before so they can basically canvass the whole community and get the ads in. That’s why there was a major increase and then of course we did different promotions for it. And that’s really been helpful. We’ve seen a 70-percent increase in sales.

What was the timeframe for seeing this 70-percent increase?
The website was first introduced about eight months ago, in November 2013. The 70-percent increase is from when I took over, not since the revamp of the website. All I can gauge is from before and after I took over.

The website has a bilingual interface. Do the English and Khmer language websites share the same results?
More companies tend to chose to put ads on the English website just because it seems for many people that the Post is an English paper. That’s our flagship product so they want to put their ads on there. We get maybe half as many ads on the local language website.

How does improving the stability of your newspaper through the ads department affect the larger media scene in Cambodia?
I believe that in any business revenues sets the objectives for a company thus as we continue to be profitable, other media outlets will take notice and follow suit.

Overall, what has been the main takeaway for you as a participant in WAN-IFRA’s programmes?
I feel really lucky to be part of its programmes and not just because I get to travel to all these different places. It’s more about the learning aspect of it. I have always been kind of a sponge. As soon as I go somewhere I try to seep it in. When I get back to my country I’m always going through my notes. That’s a real important factor. Then I can share all the information with my team so it spreads out. I feel like a tool for my staff because I can tell them what I learned and then whatever they can get out of it is great. The results are exponential.

-Alexandra Waldhorn

The Media Professionals Programme South East Asia (MPP SEA) equips emerging media leaders with the strategies, skills and support networks to advance their careers and contribute to the growth of financially viable and editorially strong media enterprises in the region.

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