Kim Benjamin
Nov 23, 2016

Opportunities rife in Cambodia’s young PR market

The profession is establishing itself as necessary and distinct from other aspects of communications, while the demand for strategic planning rises, according to in-market experts.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital
Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital

The Cambodian economy is one of the fastest growing globally, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Its Outlook 2016 report, released in May, said the country’s GDP had recorded steady growth of 7 percent or more since 2013, and that this would continue throughout 2017.

Findings from the World Bank meanwhile, released in April, said that Cambodia continues to enjoy “robust growth”; the garment sector, together with construction and services, are the main drivers of its economy. It noted, however, that the country faces some significant challenges, such as an ineffective management of land and natural resources, environmental sustainability and good governance. 

The ADB report added that “while the economy shows signs of becoming more diversified within and across sectors, the base for growth remains narrow”. It concluded that Cambodia needs to further diversify its economy if it hopes to maintain the high growth rates it has enjoyed in recent years.

The media landscape

There has been a huge uplift in internet users in Cambodia – according to the country’ telecoms regulator, internet users grew from about 320,000 in 2010 to 6.7 million by the end of 2015.

Facebook ranks as the number one website, with a recent IMS Media Viewership Research study indicating 65 percent of internet users most commonly access Facebook, with YouTube ranked second (19 percent). Further IMS findings show that the print media market has continually expanded over the past few years in terms of the number of publications and total ad spend. It says these traditional sources of news content still inspire a greater degree of respect and confidence than online news outlets.

Fast facts

  • Population: 15.9 million
  • Urban population: 20.1 percent
  • GDP: US$54.2 billion
  • GDP per capita: US$3,500
  • Unemployment: 0.3 percent (high underemployment)
  • Life expectancy: 64.5 years
  • Poverty ratio: 17.7 percent
  • Language: Khmer
  • Capital city: Phnom Penh
  • Ruling party: Cambodian People's Party
  • Currency: Riel 

Smartphones are by far the most common means of accessing Facebook; only 3 percent of users access the social network solely through computers, while 80 percent access it exclusively through phones, according an Asia Foundation report on mobile phones and internet usage in Cambodia in 2015.

Its findings also showed that internet/Facebook use has risen to become the second most important channel for Cambodians to access information in 2015—trailing only television (30 percent versus 24 percent), having surpassed radio (20 percent) and continuing to increase market share.

Expert analysis

Nicolas Trinquier (pictured) is PR and engagement manager at Vero, based in Bangkok, with clients including the Cambodian Automotive Industry Federation. He previously worked at Cambodian-based All Public Relations. From a PR perspective, Trinquier has seen a growing need in Cambodia for agencies that provide communications strategy and planning.

“PR companies in Cambodia have long been seen as ‘execution’ agencies, able to implement a strategy already in place,” he says. “With a fast-changing society, companies are now looking to hire agencies with a real understanding of the market as well as of consumers, covering not only implementation but also strategy.”

For Trinquier, the main challenge facing the industry lies in developing the local workforce to create effective and modern PR practices. Social media and content marketing, he says, will be the main pillars of growth for the PR industry in Cambodia.

“With regards to industry, agencies need to keep an eye on federations and associations, which will grow in the following years,” he adds. “The Rice federation and the Automotive Industry Federation are great examples of entities that need wider PR support, including media relations, influence, social media and events.”

Julian Rake is managing director at Quantum Communications in Cambodia, which has devised campaigns for brands including Prudential (Cambodia) Life Assurance, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Unilever.

Rake (pictured below) says PR in Cambodia is beginning to establish itself as a service distinct from advertising, marketing or branding, as professional service industries in general are beginning to get a foothold, with more local companies beginning to understand the value that PR can bring to their operations.

"Digital and social media are taking off in a big way in Cambodia, particularly around Facebook which has quickly established itself as the go-to platform for a tech-savvy young population increasingly geared up with the latest smartphones and access to fast mobile networks,” he says.

To capitalise on this, the agency launched a digital/social video service earlier this year. For Quantum, the biggest challenge continues to be the differentiation of PR services from other forms of brand communications and advertising.

“Slowly, the understanding of how professional PR services are a valuable part of a company’s marketing and communications plan is beginning to take hold, but there is still room to build on this,” Rake believes.

He says property is booming and developers are looking for ways to differentiate their projects from the many other ones in the pipeline, all of which PR is helping with. Agriculture and food processing industries are also growing in Cambodia, with more external players entering a sector that needs to develop quickly.

Rake adds that financial services, professional services and education are also strong growth areas where companies are exploring possibilities.

Hannah Wahyuni (pictured) is former PR and account director at All Public Relations*. One of its major clients is the Cambodia Automotive Industry Federation, for which the agency recently launched the ‘Same Same But Better’ campaign, an educational drive to develop an awareness of only buying cars from authorised dealers instead of the grey market, due to safety concerns.

She believes that few PR agencies in Cambodia are able to execute a strategy to the next level through multimedia, digital and social media. “[In terms of social media] only Facebook is really popular here – we’re still not there yet with a comprehensive social media strategy across platforms such as Twitter or Instagram,” she says.

Growth opportunities, she adds, lie more in private sectors such as automotive, property, telecommunication, consumer goods and food and beverages.

“The growth area is within branding – a company starts to implement a simple integrated marketing and PR campaign as part of their strategy, which seems a simple plan,” she says. “But due to the increment of multi-national companies coming to the country, it elevates the need for brand maturity.”

* Wahyuni has changed jobs since this interview took place. She is now director of communications at the Rosewood Phnom Penh.

Campaign Asia

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