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More global thinking needed for local agency

by Pham Thi Thanh Phuong

Before you get started with my post, I’m sorry that what I’m writing below may make you feel irritated at first, especially when most of you come from Vietnam. But on the second thought, maybe you will see it can be true, at least to some extent if you already work for an event management service agency.

As a Prof Com student, I believe that most of you are so familiar with bunches of theories learned from the previous courses, as well as this Client Management course, just to let you know how to build up and maintain good relationship with your clients. However, they were just the basic principles that may not enough for you if you want to work as a leader in the communication industry.  To be a successful client manager in the real life, it’s always important to situate the communication practice in both global local setting (Dickinson 2009). In order clear my points, I conducted an interview with Mr. Morten Palle, a Norwegian business man who stands on the client side. In this article, I will discuss the differences in organizational cultural aspect between the Vietnamese communication agency and the foreign counterparts.

Mr. Morten Palle, a Norwegian business man who has run his own business in Vietnam since 2009. His company is Medistar, a small enterprise that offers imported high-quality medical equipment and accessories for Vietnamese local hospitals. Possessing a prominent business insight, he saw the medical device industry in Vietnam a great potential to invest on as the Vietnamese health care industry are now in process of development. Contrary to most of small business owners in Vietnam whose primary concern is the sale profit, Mr. Palle believes that marketing plays a significant role for a company’s survival. Hence, he is a regular client of the event management service providers who takes responsibility for holding conferences for him to introduce his product.

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                         Mr. Morten Palle, owner of Medistar Vietnam (provided by author)

‘I had a tough time working with the event management providers when starting my business in Vietnam’, he opened the interview. Of course before we start the interview, he firstly gave me the apology. But what he said then actually I have nothing to argue with.

He pointed out some main problems that, I think, are highly related to the cultural aspects of Vietnamese people.

Global client, local vision

Firstly, employees who work for local communication agency are likely to be reluctant in making decision. That could be understood as the organizations in Vietnam normally practices the role culture that accompanies a top-down management style (Melanie 2012). So, decisions are usually made by the heads of the organizations and then they pass them down to members in lower positions to implement. That means staff are not encouraged to make their own decision, according to Mr. Palle, sometimes it could be the problematic in some situations, especially when it requires the sense of urgency.

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Organizations in Vietnam normally practices the role culture (Reproduced from: Research Methodology 2013)

“In some cases, when things do not follow the right direction and need immediate change, staffs always ask their managers to seek for a solution, although I know that they will be able to do it well. This absolutely wastes time and makes thing even worse”, he said.

Also, Vietnamese agency tends to be more short-term oriented, whose value promoted are the past and present rather than the future (McShane, Olekalns and Travaglione 2010). So, they commonly think of the short-term benefit and prefer one-off trade.

“In my country, once I worked with the communication agency, they often sent me their new offers, or just simply a happy birthday card. I have never seen it here”, he told.

Verbal agreement has no effect

Mr. Palle also found most of Vietnamese agency is likely to not follow what they say they would, which is contrary to the Western counterparts. Since they are not much aware of the importance of keeping promise, they may not gain trust as much as the foreign counterparts. According to Melanie (2012), trust is one of the requisite characteristic that helps the agency to climb the relationship ladder. Although it is not so easy to acquire, it’s even harder to redeem when fractured. Keeping promise is one of the must-dos to gain the people trust.

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Keeping promise is one of the must-dos to gain the people trust (Reproduced from: Ducoff 2010)

To support the argument, he shared his own story once he worked with an even management company.

“I have a negative experience with my agency at the first time I hold a new product launching presentation” he told, “because this is the first time our product has entered the Vietnamese market, it is very important to build high awareness of the target customers about our company and our products, so I decided to make it big. With our guests are about 150 people working as heads of the hospitals, it need to took place in a completely formal location while it still large enough to display my heavy machines. So I decided to contact an event management company in order to help me find the suitable place and set up the facilities” he told me.

“At first, I was very impressive of their professionalism. Far better than I have expected, we came up with the solution so quickly and I was very happy about it. Addition to what we have discussed in the contract, he promised to send some staff to help me setting things up”, he said.

“But what after all is a disaster! There is no banner. The tea break is terrible. There is no staff to show my guest the meeting room, and so on. When I call them, they just simply say sorry. I have never seen them again”

Vietnamese agency is less likely to offend their clients, so they may not so show disagreement and try to be friendly. But after that they do not follow what they have said, because they don’t know how to do it. Learning to keep promise is what they should do from now on, especially when working with the foreign clients

Embrace changes for more opportunities

Mr. Palle believes that to gain more opportunities in the global scope, embracing changes are very important to the Vietnamese agency. A great client manager is one who can be adaptable to the global vision. Beside their expertise, they should keep learning more the cultural aspects. Next, they should get on with the global visions to maintain relationship with potential foreign clients. Also, they need to improve the character of integrity by always keeping promise. As Solomon (2008) states, it’s great to maintain the personal side of business relationship, but no matter how good it is it still doing business. It’s much better to show disagreement but then give the clients an alternative solution than to agree but forget about it after that.

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                                                                        Proof of life (provided by author)

Word count: 1,118

  • Dickinson, D 2009, The new account manager, 2nd edn, The Copy Workshop, Chicago
  • McShane, S, Olekalns, M and Travaglione, T 2010, Organizational behaviour on the Pacific Rim, 3rd edn, McGraw Hill, Australia
  • Melanie, C 2012, ‘4 types of organizational culture’, course note for COMM2384 Client Management, viewed 3 September 2013, @BlackboardRMIT.
  • Melanie, C 2012, ‘The relationship marketing ladder’, course note for COMM2384 Client Management, viewed 3 September 2013, @BlackboardRMIT
  • Solomon, R 2008, The art of client service, Kaplan Publishing, New York.
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One thought on “More global thinking needed for local agency

  1. -Fix categories, add tags.

    -Interesting opening statements… you got me intrigued!

    -Good explanation of topic, who the interviewee is and how his client side perspective is relevant to the comms industry.

    -Review Harvard Style referencing, problematic citations.

    -This needs more explanation, perhaps a 1-2-3 step suggestion: “A great client manager is one who can be adaptable to the global vision. Beside their expertise, they should keep learning more the cultural aspects.”

    -The article ended so suddenly…

    -Proof of life image can be better. Subject looks less formal than the initial image provided in figure 1.

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