There’s a little context on the public relations industry, and how in its very infancy, it has faced a lot of negative attitudes. I was interviewed by a young yet dynamic fellow, Son Pham, about the PR industry in Vietnam and in North America, where I’m based at the moment. Vietnam is a growing market and “a rising star” of Asia. Reposting our interview here, hoping it sheds light on the differences between working in PR in Vietnam and North America, and the ethics and progress of the PR industry in Vietnam.
- In Vietnam, people talk a lot about “the American Dream”. As someone who lives in North America now, what, in your opinion, makes people think so highly of that dream? Any cultural values that you wish Vietnamese people learn from Americans and vice versa, Americans should learn from Vietnamese people?
What people seek in their “American Dream” are opportunities to become successful. North America has a culture of respecting differences and diversity in background, personality and education. This acceptance allows for equal opportunity for anyone with talents and skills. The success rate in America is higher for immigrants not because they are better, but because opportunities are offered equally.
Back to Vietnam, what should we learn from America? Well, I believe that it is this appreciation for difference. In contrast to America where opportunities are openly given, you have to seek and earn them in Vietnam. In my company, we always embrace diversity to understand and provide better customer service for clients from different markets and industries. By doing so, we’re creating opportunities for ourselves to serve and engage with new clients. We can also earn their respect for our professionalism.
- What’s your experience as a Vietnamese in North America? Your most memorable experience as Vietnamese in North America if any? (Tell us something you’d never understand about America)
When I was still doing my high school years in Vietnam, I would look at any random foreigner walking on the street and expect them to respect Vietnamese culture. But when I step foot into another culture, I become a foreigner in their eyes, and I have to find my way to adjust to the new environment.
However, North American people don’t pay too much attention to that aspect, because being different is a part of their culture. There’s a saying that America is a melting pot, but I don’t entirely agree with the idea. There are communities for Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Italian, Portuguese, etc., to maintain their own unique cultural aspect within America or Canada. The existence of various ethnic groups helps contribute new ideas and refreshing points of view to American society. It’s the modern demonstration of inclusion and is what makes North America special.
- How is the PR landscape in Vietnam?
Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, has always been viewed as a ‘less-developed area’ of the PR industry. In the eyes of our global peers and clients, they think that Vietnam PR agencies just perform conventional PR functions. Despite the non-stop efforts to improve service standards, little recognition has been given to PR professionals and the PR industry in this part of the world. Therefore, the first challenge that we have to face is convincing international clients that we can both plan exceptional ideas and deliver modern communications practices for their brand in the local Vietnam market.
Ten years into the PR & communications industry, I am now working as a professional communications consultant and researcher with my own boutique agency in Vietnam, called EloQ Communications. Our goal is to provide top-notch services while meeting professional & ethical standards. The name ‘EloQ’ is short for eloquent, describing our goal of facilitating strong, clear, and fluent communication between our clients and their stakeholders.
- Can you make a quick comparison between the PR/Comms landscape in North America and Vietnam?
In North America, the understanding of PR and communications is broader and more well-defined. It covers various activities, including media relations, government relations, reputation management, brand awareness strategy, etc. While in Vietnam, PR and communications practice is usually perceived as media relations. Sad but true, most Vietnamese misunderstand PR. They often assume that it’s a branch of marketing or clump it with advertising altogether.
- Mind the gap/difference – Can you expand on that please and maybe give us one example about the importance of cultural knowledge and local insights in PR?
Well, international companies should know that the social status of the media is very high in Vietnam because the government owns them, unlike in other countries. Vietnamese people place importance on the role of mainstream media (maybe a little too much), which explains why media relations activities are prevalent in Vietnam. To capture the local media interest, brands should localise their message and equip knowledge on working with Vietnamese media, such as building relations with them, what information would interest them, and how to meet their expectations.
- Your research interests include crisis management in the social media landscape, intercultural communication. What would you say is the one thing people should be mindful of when they enter a new market? And particularly Vietnam – a very high context society?
My advice for foreign companies is that Vietnamese are very Vietnam-oriented. In the case of working with Vietnamese journalists, local events and interviews should be conducted in the local language to appeal to the media. Or to the local audience, the brand should have a Vietnamese spokesperson and share Vietnam-oriented information that captures the public’s interest. Global or regional insights are usually less relevant. Instead, they are more concerned about what a brand can offer and how the products or services will improve the daily life of the local citizens. So again, be sure to localise that brand message!
- Vietnam is booming and transforming very fast, therefore there are a lot of problems happening and one of them is ethics in the PR industry. As a Vietnamese with international knowledge and experience, what do you think about the ethical standards in the industry in Vietnam? Where is the progress to be made?
Vietnam still lacks a professional association to regulate the profession, set ethical standards for practitioners, and boost the overall value of PR in society. Vietnamese PR practitioners could establish a PR/Comms association to spread the knowledge and help the public better understand the PR concepts. In this aspect, EloQ Communications has taken the initiative to join different international PR organizations, including the Public Relations & Communications Association (PRCA SEA), and the Public Relations Network (PRN). Being a member of these global organizations creates opportunities for EloQ staff to gain exposure to international practices and principles.
- I think Vietnamese food is just the best. Which cuisine someone must try when they go to Vietnam and North America?
Bánh tráng nướng – Vietnamese pizza
A Vietnamese modern street food, combining grilled rice paper as the base with a variety of ingredients as topping: scallion oil, scrambled egg, dried pork, sweet chilli sauce, quail eggs, and anything that you’d like. The grilled rice paper gives it a crunchy texture, while the topping is rich with savoury flavours. I know that Pho and Banh mi are already famous worldwide, but be sure not to miss this out when travelling to Vietnam.
I am the Managing Director of EloQ Communication, a leading PR and Integrated Marketing Communications agency based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and handling projects in Vietnam and throughout the ASEAN region. I’m also serving as Southeast Asia PR and Communications Board Member of The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA). My research interest falls on crisis management in the social media landscape, intercultural communication, and new media communication. In 2019, I finished my doctoral degree in Communications at Bond University (Australia) with dissertations on social media use in crisis communications in Vietnam.
Recently, my agency EloQ Communications celebrated our fifth birthday, and we are aiming at the next milestone, our tenth anniversary. EloQ will continue our mission to leverage Vietnam’s PR industry and demonstrate EloQ Communications’ high service quality in the upcoming five years.