Telum Talks To... Gabriel Tan, Chief Communications Officer, Prince Holding Group

Telum Talks To... Gabriel Tan, Chief Communications Officer, Prince Holding Group

We caught up with Gabriel Tan, Chief Communications Officer of Prince Holding Group who is currently based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. With a career spanning almost two decades across regions, he shared with us his secret sauce to doing communications in emerging markets.

You were based in Singapore, Malaysia, Shanghai and Hong Kong prior to moving to Cambodia in 2021. Could you share some tips to do comms in an emerging market using established international comms' best practices?
First and foremost, don’t be too quick to implement changes, but neither can one be too slow either. For the first month or so when I came back to Cambodia (I used to work here as a younger professional), I observed and learnt first, then I orientated my team and capabilities. I then moved into the decision-making stage and we finally acted on the initiatives. We evaluated and repeated the whole process continuously.

A leader must also truly believe in the power of diversity as diverse teams lead to better decision-making and business outcomes. Studies have shown that a homogenous team tends to be more certain about its decisions while faring poorer than more diverse teams. In practice, it means respecting the local know-how and insights of local employees while foreigners also bring in best practices they learnt elsewhere. 

Thirdly, it’s good to figure out the media and social media landscape in your particular market. In Cambodia, Facebook still dominates discourse when it comes to social media campaigns. Tiktok is fast gaining ground particularly among the youths. We launched our Tiktok (@princegroup_kh) six weeks back and have garnered more than 100,000 fans through short videos (romantic and comedic themes work well locally) which are lightly branded. 

Could you share with us the biggest challenge you encountered when developing comms plan in Cambodia compared to other regions, and how you solved it?
The biggest challenge is not really about developing the communications plan but in recruiting the right mix of expat communicators, while also ensuring there’s knowledge transfer and capacity building for local colleagues, as many of them are learning to do communications based on international standards for the first time ever. 

Our communications team, which currently includes seven local and four international members, has been up and running for the past 12-16 months (I joined Prince Holding Group in January 2021) and I couldn’t be prouder of them. In 2021, we won eight international awards, including an APAC Stevie, so we are now well-placed to achieve even more in 2022.  

With a career spanning almost two decades, what has shaped your career and what would you say has been the highlight thus far?
Helping others be their best selves has shaped my career.

Most people are motivated to be empowered to do their job, see how their professional development is tied to corporate goals and, lastly, want to be fairly remunerated for their efforts. I’m glad I have had the chance to enhance my teammates’ capabilities as communicators and it’s very rewarding to be able to maintain contacts like old friends even though we have moved on to different firms.

I am also honoured to be given the opportunity to help oversee Prince Foundation, my firm’s philanthropic arm. The goodwill generated by the foundation has certainly aided our communications work and we have dispensed about US$4.5 million on education, healthcare and community engagement initiatives in 2021 alone. The foundation also oversees Prince Horology, Cambodia’s first watchmaking school which will see the first batch of six Cambodian watchmakers trained to Swiss standards graduating in late 2022.

A key recent highlight has been the Chen Zhi Scholarship (named after our Chairman, a strong advocate for education as many successful entrepreneurs are). We are giving out 400 university non-bonded scholarships and stipends over the next four years to deserving Cambodian youths. 

As a communications professional, where do you get your news from?
I’m a paying subscriber of The Economist, NYT and Bloomberg and like to read their morning newsletters while on the treadmill. I subscribe to the Telegram channels of Straits Times, Business Times, Phnom Penh Post, Fresh News, Khmer Times and Cambodia Investment Review. I’m also subscribed to Trivium (a Chinese public policy-focused think-tank), the China Africa Project and others.

What would you say are three skills a PR professional should have in order to thrive?
At junior level to mid-level, it’s media relations management, story pitching, event management and, finally, messaging, and that usually involves crafting compelling, credible and relatable copy.

At mid to senior-level, it’s important to get stakeholder management right, execute effective and measurable communications strategy in support of business objectives and, lastly, know how to build and manage teams (building the right team invariably helps execute one’s communications strategy). 

For agency leaders, I would add that pitching for new business is crucial. I like to use the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire and Action) model framework. You need to present a compelling pitch based on your awareness of your prospective clients’ desires / pain points, provide them insights into how you have solutions to their problems and generate desire for your services (it could be based partly on agency and personal branding but, most importantly, the strength of your ideas). Lastly, give a clear and urgent call to action for the prospective client to sign across the dotted line.  

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