British filmmaker and trade envoy David Puttnam has a long connection with Cambodia. The producer of the 1984 film The Killing Fields, he has returned frequently to the country as the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. He recently sat down with the Post’s Cheng Sokhorng to discuss the role and importance of branding Cambodian products to increase their value and market penetration overseas.
Which Cambodian industries do you think can benefit most from branding?
I think that agriculture is a very important future industry here and I have discussed many times the high value of agriculture. We have to make sure that the value chain is pushed up.
For example, at the hotel where I am staying they sell really nice Kampot pepper inside of a very nice package, and if I buy it for someone, you can charge me extra. Cambodian pepper is already very good and we can add value through improving the packaging, design, promotion and the image of the product. The best quality product, with more branding, will get more profit.
How and why should Cambodia promote certain products as “premium” products?
When you have rice or pepper products, or other agricultural products, that are very good, you have to make sure that the rest of the world knows that your product is very good and that it is not a cheap product. That way, we can market the product at its best value.
For example, Cambodia needs to build its reputation as a premium rice producer. Cambodia needs to constantly check the quality of the rice. The most important thing is the integrity of the product. Create the product, get confidence in the product, and then go out and say that this is the best in the world.
Honestly, it is true in agriculture, it is true in textiles, and every single export product can have the premium form to gain value-added for Cambodia.
Which Cambodian products do you think have been overlooked?
One really important product is the individual’s brain. When you have smart people, you will create smart industries. So we need to promote the education system.
How to promote education system? My advice is to make it an unquestionable national objective. Don’t allow a political debate on education – about whether it is important or not, or if it will make this or that system better or worse.
The first thing is to create an environment where everyone in Cambodia accepts a future of good education. Making people realise how important education is should be the first step. The second step is raising the quality of teachers by providing training, increasing salaries, and by screening the status of the teacher.If you have [stability and intelligence] you can achieve everything, but if you have instability, like in Syria, and don’t pay attention to education, then you will have trouble.
What is your opinion on the name and branding of Cambodia’s award-winning Phka Ramduol rice?
There have been efforts to brand Cambodian Phka Ramduol rice. Thai jasmine rice is well recognised, so why has Cambodian rice made such little headway in foreign markets?
When I went to a restaurant and they asked me “would you like jasmine rice?” I knew that jasmine rice must be good.
The background, image, marketing, package and strategy – all have to be perfect.
The word you choose for your brand might be the worst word imaginable, but you have to believe in it with absolute conviction. You have to believe that it is great.
The first thing you have to do is test it in the market place and see how people react to your branding and your image.
Rice exporters are only part of the value chain because the rice exporters sell their product through multinational corporations to retail stores and consumers around the world. So the question is: are the big names that sell the rice confident that the new name will sell more rice?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.