The Country Manager for Taboola Thailand, proves what it takes to be a leader in this world’s rapidly-changing digital landscape.
BY AYUSH MADAN
Before stepping into the realm of media as a writer, my personal definition of advertising was quite simplistic: you figure out what people want, and you appeal to their desires. However, after sitting down for a chat with Sharin Chawla, Thailand’s Country Manager for Taboola, my initial understanding of advertising has been permanently reshaped.
I arrived at Major Tower Thonglor last Wednesday and made my way up to the 9th floor where Sharin and his associate Ran gave me a tour of their offices. It was quite spacious, with floor to ceiling windows and neat little quirks like a fish tank, a tuk tuk in the lobby, and even a game room complete with consoles and a ping pong table. I poured myself a lemon-infused water as I took in the playful energy of the place and finally sat down to talk to Sharin in the conference room.
By complete coincidence, we learned that we have the same alma maters. Both of us went to Thai Sikh International School, and Sharin graduated from Mahidol University International College (MUIC), which I currently attend. As we slowly found out more about each other, I formed my initial impression of Sharin as a man who exudes confidence. His suit was perfectly tailored; his dastaar beautifully tied and taut. He reminded me of Mad Men (2007-2015)’s Don Draper, suave, locked in, and ready to pitch. I watched as he effortlessly presented my publisher with a comprehensive plan of how Taboola could streamline and effectively integrate ads into our website.
As we began our conversation, Sharin shared an anecdote with me that shifted my perspective of advertising. It showed me his out-of-the-box thinking when it came to ad campaigns, and was a testament to his team’s ability to increase brand awareness and compete with advertising giants like Google and Meta. He spoke to me further about what drives him, and what sets Taboola apart; proving that it takes a dedicated team, proper framework, and a steady hand at the helm to ensure smooth sailing.
Taboola is a global company with a presence in various countries. As Country Manager, how do you adapt Taboola’s services to best suit Thailand’s advertising market?
Taboola is the largest discovery platform through our exclusive partnerships with many of the world’s leading publishers. In Thailand, a big portion of advertiser campaigns target local audiences. With that in mind, one division of my team is focused on diligently sealing and optimising strategic partnerships with local renowned publishers, which allows advertisers in Thailand to reach their local target audience and create meaningful engagement and impact.
Taboola is all about providing personalised and relevant experience to users. For me, this means ensuring that the other part of my team focuses on providing consultancy to our advertisers as to what type of content, images, and catchy headlines that are most suitable in getting the best results with their target audience in Thailand. We are able to provide such recommendations to advertisers based on network learnings and data signals that we have collected with our partnerships to publishers across digital properties, such as mobile, app, and web. We’ve then built these into Taboola Trends, a free accessible tool to the public.
Can you give an overview of your career leading up to this position?
I started off my career at an Indian-owned hospitality company as an e-marketing coordinator, focused on building an online presence and driving hotel bookings on direct websites and various online travel agencies. After that short stint, I moved into the performance-driven agency as a client services manager, and grew after a year and half to be a senior client services manager. After five years at this agency, during that period meeting and getting engaged to my now-wife, I knew I was ready for bigger challenges and growth to ensure further stability to the family that I would be building.
In December 2018, I joined Taboola, first as a media account director for India. I travelled to India frequently, covering Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore. I was then given additional responsibilities to cover Thailand as a market, before getting promoted to Country Manager of Taboola Thailand, and I am set to complete my five year journey here with Taboola.
What does your leadership and management style look like?
How I look at leadership and management is not that my team works for me, but rather that I work for them. I focus on fixing any challenges that they face so they can perform their jobs efficiently.
In addition to coaching and guiding, I let them know that I am an available resource that they can rely on to support their sales pitches and relationship-building efforts. I enjoy working alongside the team so I can experience firsthand the challenges, and listen to customer feedback to assist them in filling the gaps in customer experience; while also giving my team freedom to make decisions and empowering them to have ownership in their responsible areas. I highly prioritise pushing star performers for career growth, and in doing so, it gives me a different level of fulfilment.
Were there any specific challenges you faced climbing the corporate ladder?
I thrive in multicultural organisations that promote equity and inclusion, and I have been fortunate to align myself with the right organisation that supported my growth. However, there were moments in my past career where I landed myself in an organisation where the culture in the local office leaned more towards prejudice and ingratiation. This was at a time when I was already in the role of first line management, which meant I was more confident to take charge of the situation and decided I needed to step out to step up.
What are the current trends in content discovery and user engagement? How have they changed over the last two years?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been voted amongst the highest technology trends that have a huge impact on content discovery, user engagement and personalisation. At many winning tech companies, Generative AI can be used to produce creative copy, creating variations of campaigns titles and descriptions that appeal to multiple audiences. Generating original images, allowing for experimentation, and building multiple creatives, keeps campaigns fresh, and maximises seasonal opportunities. AI enables personalised content recommendations and increased content relevance to users. Al also allows for user behaviour analysis, which in turn allows advertisers to understand preferences and target audiences effectively.
In the modern media landscape, video continues to gain prominence in content consumption. The rise of shortform video content, live streams and how-to content have become increasingly popular, fostering higher user engagement. We are also seeing increasing popularity of audio content, such as podcasts and audiobooks, as well as use of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to create more immersive content experiences.
What are the current challenges digital advertising companies face, and how are you tackling them?
The rise of privacy regulations such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), which requires companies to obtain consent from users before collecting data, is making it more difficult for digital advertising companies to target ads. And with the depreciation of cookies in 2024, we expect reduced audience targeting, less effective ad measurement, and increased reliance on first-party data. Partnering with publishers through programmatic advertising and sponsored content can help reach target audiences.
Another challenge is the increasingly fragmented media landscape with audiences (end consumers) consuming content across a variety of devices and platforms.
Additionally, businesses are competing for the same audience pool which drives up customer acquisition cost and takes away profit margin for advertisers and digital advertising companies.
By addressing these challenges, digital advertising companies can continue to grow and thrive in the years to come.
Ad tracking has been the industry standard for years now, but data privacy has become increasingly relevant and important to users. How should users think about their data safety?
Choose products and services that have privacy baked into their design, and businesses that minimise the collection and use of your data. Choose platforms that are committed to providing full transparency and cross-functional teams that take privacy seriously – comprising leadership legal, privacy, business, product, IT, data, and R&D teams.
Choose to work with tech companies that are also PDPA compliant, which is Thailand’s first consolidated data protection law.
On a more personal note, what are some of your personal hobbies and passions outside of work?
I strive to go to the gym at least four times a week. Working out not only helps with my physical health to counter the sedentary nature of my job, but is also a stress release activity for me. I come back home from the gym feeling energised, and usually with some creative ideas for work.
My biggest passion is to watch combat sports. I thoroughly enjoy watching and analysing events like boxing and MMA (be it ONE or UFC). I was recently at an ONE fight and I recall the excitement and the adrenaline rush it gave me; to observe the grit, skills, endurance, dedication, and game plan of the fighters is incredible. It’s unmatched by any other sport for me.
Many would say that you’ve been extremely successful at your age – would you agree? What is your personal definition of success?
My definition of success is when I can grow and achieve my goals both on a professional and personal level. The digital space continues to evolve, and I am excited at the vast potential it presents. Beyond search, social, and native ads, I feel there is so much more I can still do that’s related to the application base and e-commerce. I also want to grow my influence and become a thought leader in the industry to help next generation professionals thrive in the digital ad space.
On a personal level, my goal has always been to ensure that I take the utmost care of my aging parents. As an only son, I take pride in being able to make my parents happy. My wife and I were blessed with a baby girl earlier this year, and I want to make sure that I manage a healthy work-life balance so I can spend quality time with them. I want to see her grow up, have fun, and make memories together travelling around the world.
What advice do you have for young professionals aspiring to enter the digital advertising industry?
Start by attaining hard skills. Some of the best ways to gain advertising experience include enrolling in online courses, earning professional certifications on different platforms, working on a freelance basis, and digital tools and analytics. Udemy, Coursera or LinkedIn are great places to start with free trials and free courses.
Next, understand that soft skills are crucial. These are personal and people skills that you can apply to any role, and include communication, time management, teamwork, emotional intelligence, public speaking, and strategic thinking.
As you gain work experience, also work on developing contacts with those already established in the industry. Networking helps you meet experienced people so you can showcase your skills, enthusiasm and interest in pursuing an advertising career. It may also help you learn about job opportunities, which can be especially important if you’re just starting your career in digital advertising.
Lastly, stay curious, adaptable and agile. The digital advertising landscape is rapidly evolving, and if you’re not following the industry news, digital trends, the best practices, and keeping up with the changes, chances are you will be providing outdated solutions or ideas to your clients. Embrace a mindset of continuous improvement and learning to not just survive but thrive in this ever evolving industry.