From countryside to capital: Meet Riverorchid Cambodia’s head of media Sitha Nuon

Sitha NuonSitha Nuon is the head of media at Riverorchid Cambodia. She is one of the country’s most senior Khmer media executives, having worked her way up from receptionist to department head in seven years with the IndoChina specialist agency.

In this interview, she tells the story of her journey from the Cambodian countryside to the offices of Riverorchid in Phnom Penh, how life in rural areas compares with the city, what ordinary Cambodians think about people who work in media, and why media owners need to adopt a more ‘can do’ attitude.

Give us a bit of background about your life and how you came about your current job at Riverorchid.

I was born in Krol Ko Village in Svay Rieng province in the Southeast of Cambodia. When I was 18 I moved to Phnom Penh, and for four years worked in a Minimart to earn enough money to study English. But the work was boring and gave me no chance to improve myself. I worked 12 hours a day, with two days a month off. But I stayed there because I come from a poor family and needed the money to study, and because I have no degree it was hard for me to find a new job. I always wished that I could find another job.

In front of the shop where I worked was the office of Riverorchid. At the time I thought it was the Nestlé company because they had lots of trucks with Nestlé branding on them. In December 2004, I met some people from Riverorchid and I was so happy when I heard that they would give me the chance to work as a receptionist. But when I started I found the role was more than receptionist, because I was also asked to help the media team on Spot Monitoring reports. I found it was a great chance to meet media suppliers and meet different people… and then in August 2005 I was promoted to media assistant.

Since then I have had many jobs. Every step I moved up there were always new learnings for me, and every boss I have had has taught me something different. I have also had training from the group, including coaching from our Orchid Slingshot HR Consultancy business in Bangkok. And I was able to spend time with Initiative media learning TV ratings tools. I also paid for my own courses, such as communication skills and business writing skills. From all of this I feel very proud to be with Riverorchid Media and appreciate all the opportunities given to me.

Media is a tough job with long hours. But how does it compare to life in the countryside? Which would you say is harder, and what are the main differences?

There are some obvious differences. In most jobs in the city – like media – we work in offices and spend hours looking at computers. The countryside is obviously more outdoorsy. But what is nice about working in media at Riverorchid is we have to get out of the office a lot – including into the country. A lot of work we do involves looking for and managing outdoor and ambient sites around the country, or investigating things like local radio or even TV stations, or doing audience observation in order to get deeper insights from consumers. So there is a lot of variety in my work which might not be the case if you worked just in a city job, or just in the country.

How did you manage to persuade your employers at Riverorchid that you were right for a job in media without a degree?

Haha! Do you know my employers in Riverorchid? They are not the kind of guys who are interested in pieces of paper! If they were very into degrees, they would not have given me an opportunity working here in the first place. Our bosses always say that an education, learning and training are very important. But having a degree does not make you smarter than other people, and not having a degree does not make you stupid.

You have moved up the ranks at Riverorchid, and unlike many in media, have stayed with the company. Have you ever been tempted to look elsewhere?

Yes – of course! But in this company I have always been given good training and a good career path and opportunities to grow. In this company if you work hard and deliver good results for our clients then management will recognise that. I always tell my colleagues that they can take me as an example – if you’re very active, then the company will recognise you.

How do salaries working in rural areas of Cambodia compare to entry-level salaries in media in Phnom Penh?

It is hard to make direct comparisons, as while in the cities people are normally paid in cash, in the countryside a lot of work will be done for the family, or on a barter basis. There are also big differences in the cost of living, with the cities being more expensive for housing, food, transport and so-on. So again it’s not just about what people earn, but what they have to buy.

How do you feel a career in media is perceived by Cambodians compared to other professions?

That’s hard for me to answer. In Cambodia, besides people who are working in advertising, not many people understand what a media career is; they tend to say they don’t like media because they don’t want to work with numbers, excel spreadsheets and graphs. But for me, media is fun.

You are one of the most senior Khmer people in media in Cambodia. What advice would you give someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Work hard, stay honest, and don’t be greedy or expect too much too soon. I think this is true for any job, not just media. Learning English is also important and helpful. In media specifically I would say learn about new media, social and digital – the future.

If you could change one thing about the media industry in Cambodia, what would it be?

I would like to change the habits of some clients who focus only on cost and do not think about strategy. They should realise that if a buying strategy is not efficient it will cost them a lot more money, and potentially waste their budget.

Another thing that I would like to change is the openness of some media owners to new ideas, because often they are not really open for some ideas that we want to create for our client. I hope in these cases they have a can do – not a can’t do – attitude.


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