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Archive for the category “Negotiation Principles”

Straightforward indirectness – cross-cultural negotiations in Vietnam

By Robert James Corrigan,   s3410398, Hanoi campus

In two years living in Vietnam, I have repeatedly used an apparently funny phrase… “I go walking.”

As a foreigner of mixed European heritage, I already stand out in Hanoi. I frequently walk within the city, rather than riding a motorbike. To the many “xe om” drivers; local men offering services of a motorbike ride somewhere; the concept of someone wanting to walk is apparently hilarious, especially when said in my polite (and limited) Vietnamese.

What xe oms fail to realise is a golden rule of customer service, “before you give someone what they need, give them what they want” (Solomon, 2008). I want to walk short distances if able.

Any tourist to Hanoi’s Old Quarter is undoubtedly familiar with a similar situation. Whether it be politely refusing a xe om ride, bartering the fair price of a photo of you carrying some pineapples, or convincing a cyclo driver you don’t need a full hour; outsiders have ample opportunity to negotiate value with an enterprising Vietnamese person.

Few Australians would be more familiar with this than Graham Alliband. Working in the 1970s for Australia’s Foreign Affairs department, Graham served two postings to Vietnam before serving a third as Australia’s Ambassador to Vietnam from 1988 – 1991. Since then, he has chosen to make Vietnam his home, predominantly in managerial positions of developmental aid.

Currently Coffey International’s Hanoi Team Leader for the Australia Awards program, Graham is contracted to the Australian Government for the selection and management of around 200 post-graduate scholarships annually. Whilst his client is his former employer, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, ultimately the beneficiaries of his work are the people of Vietnam.


Graham with his Australian Government counterpart, Simone Corrigan, attending 2014 Alumni Conference in Hanoi – photo Rob Corrigan 2014

“I have a good understanding of Vietnam,” Graham offers modestly. “Yet there is so much left to be understood; Vietnam is not an open society.” He believes Vietnam shares certain aspects with neighbouring Confucian-based societies such as Korea and China; strong and clear definitions of personal relationships in business, with clear obligations to family. Further, Vietnam stresses the importance of education for children, but doesn’t really foster curiosity (asking questions).


Graham (pictured at rear centre) with Scholarship Alumni Network delegates – photo courtesy Simone Corrigan 2013

Yet Graham suggests in business negotiations, Vietnamese people actually exhibit one very similar behaviour to Australians; a sense of humour.

“The key thing is to be personable,” he says. “Politeness is important, but if you can show your sense of humour you can lighten a situation.” According to Graham, this ability to share a joke, even teasing one another in light-hearted fashion, is something Vietnamese and Australian cultures seem to have in common. This idea is consistent with Solomon’s view of “remembering the personal side of business relationships.”

But, it’s not all drinks and laughter in Graham’s dealings with the Vietnamese. When it comes to negotiating with Vietnamese people, he says they can “be straightforward, but also indirect in their views.” Rather than being confrontational, or evading, Vietnamese parties may say very little.


Whilst Australians will meet openly, speaking our minds and asking questions, it has been Graham’s experience that delegates in a Vietnamese business meeting will keep quiet. Whether it is a cultural trait, or a learned behaviour from school or family, business delegates shy away from asking questions of foreign counterparts. Usually participants defer to their senior representative in the room. If that person is reticent or stubborn, a barrier to a successful negotiation can result.


It has been Graham’s experience however, that his ability to speak the language provides an “instant rapport” effectively cutting through such barriers. He states plainly that negotiations will be collaborative rather than competitive “if you can show an understanding of your counterparts.”


This explains the joke I seem to share with xe oms; my indirect refusal of their services is polite but also straightforward when combined with “Tôi đi bộ” (I go walking). Alternatively my Australian accent might be lending some humour to the situation. Either way, I always walk away from these exchanges to the sound of laughter and with a smile on my face – a positive outcome.


Word count: 663 (including references and quotes, but not headings)



Hoang Tuan, D 2014, COMM2384 Client Management: course notes – Negotiation Week 8, RMIT Vietnam, Hanoi

Solomon, R. 2008, THE ART OF CLIENT SERVICE, Kaplan Publishing, New York


Secret Art to Win: No Ego in Negotiation.

 Interviewed by Linh Pham – S3427416 – Hanoi

Dealing with business partners means a non-stop process of negotiation (Solomon 2008). Negotiation is the ‘give-and-take’ process between at least two parties, each with its own goals, to reach a common ground to settle a mutual concern (Hoang 2014). Theoretically, it sounds great. Yet, in real life, sometimes, not both parties leave the negotiating table feeling happy. Some even destroy their connection because of such big egos.

photo 1

Photo by author 2014

So here I am, in my interview session with Ms. Yuki Duong, hoping to dig more into ‘ego in negotiation’ from her knowledge and experience gaining through all the years working as Senior Executive of International Cooperation Department – Ministry of Construction. And the ultimate advice she gave me was to “leave your ego at the door and keep your eyes on the big picture. It’s all about business.”


Reproduced from Hund 2014


“Little word, huge influence”, said Yuki.  “Healthy ego contributes to our confidence and drives us to progress. But if you let  your ego run big, it becomes arrogance, then it invades your way to success, leads to bad decisions and your business will pay a price.”, she added.

Yuki  told me one of her business partners won a construction bidding, however, with a costly decision. “He offered the investors that his company could complete their  work with this low budget so that he could win the contract over other bidders,” said Yuki,  “he became their constructor but the budget wasn’t enough to construct a quality work. So it caused his company a lot of troubles”. Yuki nodded when I guessed it must be his ego which brought him to that situation.

Some  can’t stand the thought of ‘losing’ so their goal is rather to ‘win’ than to reach a compromise that satisfies both parties. But Yuki rather ‘lose a battle’ to ‘win the war’. “You aren’t making only one deal, you’re setting up a relationship”. She shared with me some tips to avoid damaging impacts of ego in negotiation.

Keep the negotiation results-oriented

photo 2

Photo by author 2014

According to Yuki, to end the business discussion in your favor, focus on the final result, not on outshining your ‘opponents’. “And don’t take things personally because in business you shouldn’t risk ruining a relationship just because your ego doesn’t let you lessen the offer to reach the mutual concurrence”. Also, Yuki said she has been in many negotiations with people starting with ‘want this, or want that’. “If you talk about what we can do to find a solution, it’s another approach. It doesn’t emphasize your ego, and it opens ways for much better deal”, she added.

Prepare so you won’t scare of egomania.

Reproduced from Hund 2014

Reproduced from Hund 2014

According to Yuki, in dealing with partner with huge ego, Preparation + Confidence + Flexibility = Success.

“Good attitude wins over egoistic and bossy behavior. Besides, business people like those knowing exactly what they want. Certainly, you don’t have to lay all your cards on the table, but showing concerns and creating a bond will help you achieve an advantageous deal”, Yuki admitted. Yet, confidence must be based on preparation. It helps you understanding the value of your solution and getting you ready for clients’ questions. Once they’re happy with your answers, they’re comfortable trusting that you can bring them solid return on investment (Hoang 2014).

Yuki also addressed that her job is to deal with international clients so in order to be confident, she must ‘do her homework’ and studies their cultures. “I’ve done lots of business with Japanese. They value patience and politeness. Respect their ‘saving face’ concept so you won’t ‘lose face’, either”.

Reproduced from Hund 2014


Big ego impacts negatively on negotiation process (Brusman n.d.). I agree with Yuki about the rule of thumb on ego – Tuck it in your pocket when coming to negotiating table. And if you have to sit on the opposite side of the table dealing with an egomaniac, ‘laugh it off’. Smooth sea won’t create skillful sailors. If you can’t ‘bring home the bacon’ today, there is tomorrow because negotiating is a continuous process. And even if the deal can’t be closed, leave the table as friends. You shouldn’t burn your bridges (Gary 2012).


(658 words)


 Brusman, M n.d, ‘The cost of ego’, Newsletter, vol. 5, no. 10, pp. 1-3.

 Dung, H 2014, ‘Negotiation principle’, course notes for COMM 2384 Client Management, RMIT University, Hanoi, viewed 3 April 2014, Blackboard@RMIT.

Dung, H 2014, ‘Agency Remuneration’, course notes for COMM 2384 Client Management, RMIT University, Hanoi, viewed 3 April 2014, Blackboard@RMIT.

Hund, T 2014, ‘negotiation’, image, Flickr, 11 April, viewed 11 April 2014, <>

Hund, T 2014, ‘woman negotiating’, image, Flickr, 11 April , viewed 11 April 2014,<;

Hund, T 2014, ‘negotiation style’, image, Flickr, 11 April, viewed 11 April 2014,<;

Gary, W. 2012, Work Prep, video recording, 15 December, viewed 3 April 2014,<>

Solomon, R 2008, ‘The art of client service’, Kaplan Publishing, New York



Negotiate with client: “Take a condom pledge”

Interviewed by Ha Van Thi- s3425525- Group 1- SGS Campus

“Nowadays, you can do anything that you want—anal, oral, fisting—but you need to be wearing gloves, condoms, protection.” (Slavoj Zizek 2014)

Figure 1. Reproduced from Newgrounds 2011

Figure 1. Reproduced from Newgrounds 2011

The relationship between negotiation and condom use is actually very weird. However, there is a truth that sex needs protection and so does negotiation, which can be explained that people need to wear many masks to protect their right and achieve their goal in a negotiation. That is a little part of what I have got after taking an interesting conversation with Mr. Lai Thanh Binh in a raining day inside his own coffee shop.

Figure 2. Mr.Binh, the author and a corner of Soleil (Taken by the author)

Figure 2. Mr.Binh, the author and a corner of Soleil (Taken by the author)

Mr. Binh is a successful man at very young age. He has great experienced in the art of negotiation by previously working for Sacombank, a commercial joint stock bank in Vietnam. Now, he has become the manager at Soleil Company, which is a franchisor in charge of selling coffee shop franchise following the model of Soleil coffee.

Give client an impressive “foreplay”

Figure 3. Durex play (Taken by author)

Figure 3. Durex play (Taken by author)

An impressive “foreplay” which can reach clients’ demands will not only about the good things of your company or agency. A smart and clever manager has a tendency to talk a little about the positive aspect first, but will pay more attention to the current problems and discuss further about how to deal with it. “When you come to a negotiation, you want to get the problem solved or the suitable cost that leads to win-win situation, not to have more knowledge about what you are trying to bargain for,” Binh assisted.

If you want to have a perfect ‘night’ with your honey, you need to have a good PREPARATION with the accommodation, clothes, perfume, and also the suitable type of condom.

As well as having sex, negotiation requires people to carefully prepare all the relevant and necessary materials to critically debate and response to the client. When he still worked in the professional environment in Sacombank, a negotiation is very stressful because it only lasts in three days due to the information privacy. There is one time that his team was narrowly sued by the client because of the wrong data in the given file, which was not checked carefully before the negotiation day. After being threatened, his team had to work all the night to find out the evidence proving that his company did not intently cheat them and this problem happened due to the lack of preparation. Therefore, preparation is a good way to protect your company from many dangerous risks.

You like Okamoto, Sagami or Durex

Figure 4. Condoms (Taken by author)

Figure 4. Condoms (Taken by author)

If you want to experience a perfect night, a good understanding about the partner is necessary, so does negotiation.

Mr. Binh maintained that when he managed his new company, this factor is the key point in creating a win-win situation. People come to Binh and ask for a coffee franchise with different concerns besides profit. Once you have known about them, you can come up with the influential factors, which can impact on their decision.

You can exaggerate your own brand to persuade client to buy it with high price, but if you want to have a sustainable relationship with them in 10 or 20 years, you need to be sincere, truthful and care about their needs first.

 Negotiate with client likes have sex with your lover

 During the interesting interview with Binh, there are a lot of things not including in this paper because I see it can be inapplicable in Communication industry. So, negotiation is a professional bargain, which aims to not only sell the product or service, but also climb to the trusted partner of relationship ladder. Good preparation, sincere attitude and thorough understanding clients are useful tips for Communication student in the future. Binh talked at the end of our conversation,

Don’t spend much time learning by heart all the things you study in school. I can guarantee that those theories are useless, because negotiation is a skill, which needs to be practiced as much as possible to improve. 

Word Count: 706


Newgrounds 2011, ‘Condom’, image, newgrounds, 1 September, viewed 29 April 2014, <;.

Slavoj Zizek 2014, ‘Quotes about condom’, Goodreads, 23 January, viewed 29 April 2014, <;.



Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 2.02.31 PM

Vu Huynh Phuong Anh – Account Manager at Square Communcation Group


 Have you ever wonder if you had a chance to ‘face to face’ with a shark in the sea, would you know what is it hunting for? Your blood or your heart?

  Actually, this situation is like the competitive market of Advertising agencies nowadays, when  every  company is ‘scenting and hunting’ for their clients’ wallets by any ways without ethics and  consideration.  But don’t worry; there is still a ‘vegetarian shark’ that just wants to make clients be her  friends!  Her name  is Vu Huynh Phuong Anh, she has been an Account manager of Square Direct  Communication Group in  Ho Chi Minh City for 2 years. Square Group was established in 2005 by Vo  Thanh Trung, Tran Ngoc Tuan,  Nguyen Mai Hien, and Pham Hoang Thai Nhiem as four founders  starting their business with Event  Management and enlarging to IMC, PR and Promotional Marketing.  At the very first sight, I was deceived  by Phuong Anh’s appearance as an unapproachable and glacial  girl but I was wrong. When she  enthusiastically shared her 5-year experiences before applying to  Square Company, I changed my mind  and was absorbed by her unique working styles and the way she  acknowledges problems.

Do you choose the job or Does the job choose you actually?’ she said, “What you learn from University  may be changed in the way you can’t image, it’s called profession fate.

 Vegetarian Shark’s working styles

 For Phuong Anh, working with more than 10 companies in 5 years is not adorable and proficient  like  I  think. It’s just because of her reckless and unsubmissive characteristics, as we named her –  “shark”.  Interestingly, her major at Hoa Sen University was not Professional Communication but Sale.  Phuong Anh jumped from Sale manager to Account manager without hesitation and flinch because  “one important thing is that we have to make our disadvantages become our advantages by giving yourself a chance to try”, she stated.  The experience from Sale department in Grey Global Group in 2010 brings a lot of benefits for Phuong Anh to manage her current team. She thinks that the leaders or managers are people who inspire and motivate their members to work effectively based on the structure of agency. Leadership/ Management is having our ‘own organization’ and creating the ‘tectonics’, in other words, the solid foundation before collaborate with each other. Phuong Anh is one of the live witnesses of an unconventional manager because she doesn’t expect her team to be her reproduction/ copy but creative creators (Kimberly, p. 480). Moreover, Buddhism is one of the important factors that influence the way Phuong Anh deal with her internal aspects and clients. “Soul” is what she called the centre of our vibration which passionates and creates the positive energy to acknowledge problems in any circumstances objectively. This girl has the characteristics of a transformational leader as well. According to Podsakoff (p. 115), this kind of leader/manager is described as optimistic, passionate and visionary. Those outstanding features can spread like a ‘wildfire’, when it does, leaders and members can engage and fuel cohesion more effectively (Hemlin, p. 203).

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 2.09.30 PM

Phuong Anh with a monk at a pagoda in India in 2012 

‘Choppy sea’ in her life-work

When I asked her for the real scenario in Advertising agency environment,  Phuong Anh shared the most unforgettable memory related to Sam Sung’s event last year that her company would never want to face again. Everything was going on the right track until the opening day of event on 20th February 2013. Square had some problems with the supplier of the venue that they rent for. This guy didn’t allow Square to set up and let Sam Sung hold the event. No one in the company knew how to solve this disastrous problem because Sam Sung already announced for their VIPs and beloved customers the time through emails and social media. Money was not the only big problem but the reputation of both companies and their relationships with customers. Unfortunately, Account team was the representatives for Square to negotiate with Sam Sung and Phuong Anh had to do her best. Don’t let anyone disappointed, Phuong Anh persuaded Sam Sung to delay this event back to 2 days, besides that, instead of converting the losses from Sam Sung to money, Square would add more values for their client by organising a live show with the attending of celebrities to gain attention and mobilize Square’s own human resources to promote for Sam Sung event. This inventing option for mutual gains from Phuong Anh helped Sam Sung calm down and agree to keep working with Square. In other words, Phuong Anh saved face for her company without breaking their relationship with the customer (Fisher, 1991). At the end, Square proved that they could keep promises and fixed their mistakes successfully. The rest of those things were history.

Thao Dang, a member of Phuong Anh’s team, said that ‘Phuong Anh always knows how to bargain and negotiate in the best way that satisfied both Clients’ and her company’s interests.”

Phuong Anh added that “Sometimes money can’t buy our bosses’ and client’s happinesses but working with heart and soul”.

To sum up, client management issues happen and rotate every day; a good client manager knows how to clarify and build relationships with members of the client team who have strong impacts in purchasing decisions (Kimberly, p. 479). Furthermore, client managers should prepare and improve communication plans to keep clients up to date with developments of the company so as to maintain their loyalty for a long term. Besides that, before entering any negotiation with client, he/she must prepare for their BATNA (Best Alternative of the Negotiating Agreement) and determine what their company really wants, as stated from course Power Point for COMM2384 Client Management, because “He who sees through life and death will meet with most success” (Unknown, 2013). In my perspective, I agree with the honest sharing of Phuong Anh and she is one of my inspirations in pursuing my dream of Account manager in the future. “Always try to treat people the way you’d like to be treated”, she said.

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 1.59.03 PM

Phuong Anh and her Account team after the successful event with Sam Sung (at Square Office)

Total words: 996

Reference lists:

Fisher, R &Ury, W & Patton, B 1991, Getting to yes: negotiating agreement without giving in, 2dn, Penguin Books, USA.

Hemlin, S., Allwood, C. M., & Martin, B. R. (2009). Creative knowledge environments. Creativity Research Journal, 20, 200–209.

Kimberly S Jaussi, Shelley D Dionne. Leading for creativity: The role of unconventional leader behaviour. The Leadership Quarterly Leading for Innovation Edited by Michael D. Mumford Volume 14, Issues 4-5, (August-October 2003), Pages 475-498.

‘Negotiation Principles’ 2013, course Power Point for COMM2384 Client Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, viewed 3 September 2013, Blackboard@RMIT.

Podsakoff, P, Mackenzie, S, Moorman, R & Fetter, R 1990, ‘Transformational leader behaviors and their effect on followers’ trust in leader, satisfaction and organizational citizenship behaviors’, Leadership Quarterly, vol.1, no. 2, pp.110-135.


When I was around 5 years old I got into the profession of playground dealing. My goods: Alien Babies. As with nearly every childhood obsession, Alien Babies were useless parental pocket emptiers, consisting of a rubber alien submerged in gelatinous goo and encased in a plastic egg. My partner in crime did the dealing, I spread the word, and trading began.

Clients stretched from the seesaw to the swings and soon enough the playground had a roaring black-market of sci-fi spawn. However, just as we had begun, we fell short in our inability to communicate effectively and yes, my business partner traded my prized egg. There were tears, and there was trouble (despite showing promise, childhood dealing isn’t quite encouraged). But, I came out of primary school realising that internal communication is key, and that alien babies were no longer cool.

Aforementioned Alien Babies, Reproduced from CraftyCrocodiles 2013

An advertising agency today isn’t far from a children’s playground. Managers oversee general behavior, media buyers sit reading and researching in the corners, and well, sometimes those account kids go and kick up a mess in the creative department’s sand pit. Advertising exists in its own retrospective microcosm.

“The one thing I can say about advertising is you don’t just do it as a job, you do it because you have a sense of passion. By it’s very nature there is always conflict.” said Joshua Lee, an account director at TBWA Vietnam.

Reproduced by Thaine 2013

Proof of life, Reproduced by Thaine 2013

Having moved to Vietnam this year as an Australian expat, Josh has experienced the initial stages of entering an establishment. Being the new kid to the playground can be tough, and the need to prove oneself is an evolutionary trait. Whereas some may feel the need to quickly woo clients, for Josh forging internal relationships is what always comes first when entering and working within an agency.

The advertising industry is service based, and therefore needs clients. Without clients there is no money, and it’s not rocket science to realise that without money, there is no agency. It’s this financial need that has driven much of the discourse surrounding client-agency relationships to become more client centric. “The client always comes first” and “the client is always right” are phrases that practically come as second nature to anyone in the industry.  But, what of the internal relationships within an agency? Should an agency prioritize its need for a relationship with its client, or its colleagues?


“Trust within the company is a huge thing. Even more important than trust with clients” replied Josh.  “In Australia the biggest issue I’ve always faced is building trust, and once you have that, your job becomes a thousand times easier”.

In their article, The Enemies of Trust, Robert Galford and Anne Drapeau support this idea, suggesting that internal relationships are far more “complicated and fragile” as a result of the nature of trust within an organisation. When dealing with a client there should be few communicative channels, aiming to create a sense of communication synergy and in turn, trust (Galford & Drapeau 2003). However, within an agency, messages are being passed around rapidly, from accounts to secretaries, to creative and managers. Messages can get lost in the mix, particularly when conflicting goals come into play (Galford & Drapeau 2003).

Accounts vs. Creative

This notion of conflicting goals is one that theoretically should not occur within an agency, but without relationships or a sense of trust, do occur. Most notably it’s where creative and accounts teams collide.

When asked of this stereotypical clash between creative and accounts, Josh simply conceded in an agreeable nod and shrug of the shoulders, “as a member of the accounts team, I just want to find an idea that the client will buy, but the creatives don’t want that. They want to do the first this and that, and to push ideas”. Both creative and accounts ultimately aim to please the client and prove the agency among the industry, but as Josh discussed, both parties can have potentially conflicting forces, pulling them away, or ideally together.

Accounts vs. Creative, Reproduced from BrinnyArt 2011

To have a more account or creative driven agency does not denote conflict and negative performance, however. Darryl Ohrt of Humongo sees agencies as being one or the other, and outlines that its not about substituting and neglecting each team, but about the “over-arching philosophy that’s typically driven from the top of the organization chart” (Ohrt 2010). Whether that be idea, or client goal driven.

Unless you’re the American government, conflict is generally thought of as a detrimental and unnecessary thing. In advertising, however, it can be argued that a touch of tension here and there can lead to more productive work. When asking Josh about pressure and creativity, he responded by informing me that the creatives “absolutely need pressure”, even though this can come with a little conflict.

Donna Ambriano from Ogilvy’s creative department, agrees with this, and encourages an “open dialogue (and sometimes yelling), and the knowledge that we’re more than employed at the same company. We’re on the same team.” (Ambriano 2013) It’s through creating mutual understanding, and outlining common ground that trust can develop (Tovey 2013).

It’s an idea that Josh supports, stating that “It’s not uncommon to have fights…Often creative will be like ‘whatever’, who is this guy, but when they trust that you’re in it with them, great work gets done.”


Resolving conflicts and balancing a company’s emotional quotient is easier said than done. Often it comes down to the way in which parties lead each other and use tactfully use criticism. The notion of transformational leadership, whereby the interaction between leader and follower is based on establishing goals and improving moral, is something I raised with Josh (McDowelle 2009).

Responding, Josh stated that when it comes to criticism, “everything has to be based on a really doable action”, and that any sort of berating can dissolve any sense of trust established, and without trust, how can a relationship prosper?

Working in advertising doesn’t mean that you have to be friends with everyone in your agency. Personality clashes are intrinsic to advertising’s nature, but that shouldn’t compromise trust and understanding. Working within an agency is about creating allies, not messing around with alien babies.

Words: 1019

Marcus Thaine is a final year Professional Communication student at RMIT University. Next year he hopes to begin work as a copywriter and welcomes any conflict with the accounts team.


Galford, R. and Seibold Drapeau, A. 2003. The Enemies of Trust. Harvard Business Review, Iss. Feburary 2003.

Mcdowelle, J. 2009. A Contemporary Consideration of Transformative Leadership. Journal of Curriculum and Instruction, 3 (2).

Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide Blog. 2013. Working With Us: A Semi-Serious Take on the Account/Creative Relationship (From the Creative Perspective). [online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 Sep 2013].

Ohrt, D. 2013. Is Your Agency Account-Driven or Creative-Driven?. AdAge, [online] 12 October. Available at: [Accessed: 5 Sep 2013]. 2013. Building trust through understanding. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 Sep 2013].

“The Way to Work is Co-creation:” Negotiating with Difficult Clients.

Even in the Vietnamese local clothes markets, I’ve found everyone is becoming more demanding and no one’s settling for less. The advertising world is no different so I’m left wondering how can you negotiate effectively with difficult clients?

“In Vietnam, you need patience,” he says without hesitation.  The office has closed but DDB Group Vietnam’s Managing Director Daniel Gordon Jones has time for one aspiring advertiser.  As he calmly passes me a glass of water and stirs his tea I can see that patience is definitely one of his qualities.

Proof of Life. Daniel Gordon Jones and Andrew Davy at the DDB Group Vietnam Office.  Photo by the author

Figure 1: Proof of Life. Daniel Gordon Jones and Andrew Davy at the DDB Group Vietnam Office, HCMC. Photo by the author 2013.

Although a foreigner like myself, ten years in the Asian Communication industry has given Jones vast experience in managing local and international clients.  DDB Group worldwide, has over 200 offices in 95 countries specializing in strategic planning and advertising.  The Vietnam Group began in 2005 but is now an industry leader winning bronze for Creative Agency of the year 2012.  DDB aims to “pursue collaborative relationships with clients” but Jones admits it’s easier said than done, (DDB Worldwide, 2013).

“Ném đá,” is one term that he shares has impacted his negotiation experience in Vietnam.  It means to throw stones at someone’s idea intentionally and damage them. He sighs, explaining that one local client is always both excessively cost orientated and has high demands on the creative.  “It can become very demoralising working with a client who is just killing an idea for the sake of it,” he says.  How do you work with clients like this?

Many difficult clients "Ném đá" or throw stones at ideas to gain power in negotiation

Figure 2: Many difficult clients “Ném đá” or throw stones at ideas to gain power in negotiation. Image edited by author. Sources, (, 2013), (imediaconnection, 2013).

 “Be rational and break it down”

“Don’t get frustrated and focus on the main course of action,” Jones advises.  My experience with negotiation is that it can get heated and sometimes personal.  Fells argues all negotiators should seek to manage the process and not the people, (Fells, 2010).  To avoid emotional arguments agencies must rationally justify the benefits of their service at all stages including breaking down fees to hourly costs and outlining the talent level of the team. “As long as you then provide that service you are set for the next round of negotiations.  It all depends on the client’s previous experience, it’s very much for the long term” Jones confirms.  But how do you demonstrate this service and secure a long-term commitment from a demanding client?

“Always have more than one option”

“Being prepared and being patient are the most important first steps in negotiation” Jones insists and you should always have a plan B.  Fisher and Ury call it a “BATNA” or “Best Alternative to a negotiated agreement” and without it they claim “you are negotiating with your eyes closed,” (Fisher and Ury, 1999).  One way is to have options up your sleeves for both fees and creative ideas.  Jones says DDB prepares three creative options for every pitch; one will be radically new and creative, the next safer but still highly creative and finally a rational response to the brief.  If they are on strategy these options can act as leveraging points.  Jones still admits “a lot of negotiation is on the client’s side because they are the paymasters.”  He is annoyed because advertising is becoming “something you can just buy on the shelf.”  It definitely seems that clients are bargaining much harder and more frequently.  But how do you stop it going too far?

“It’s good to say no”

This stops me in my tracks.  In my view the customer is always right even when they’re wrong.  Robert Solomon believes “no is a barrier builder” and “helps no-one (Solomon, 2008).  Jones is resolute however that theory is great but in practice for agency survival there must be a mutual balance.  “You can’t always bend.  You will break if your clients push you too far.”  He demonstrates the effect of force on the teaspoon in his hands. “When everything is only one way and negative it will kill the agency.  We like to have clients that will work with us.”

Uncooperative clients often use “distributive bargaining” that divides both sides into distinct positions. William Ury and Fisher argue that if more attention is paid to sticking to a position then “less attention is devoted to meeting the underlying concerns of the parties,” (Ury and Fisher, 1999).  It makes negotiation adversarial and “focused on claiming rather than creating value,” and the outcome is win-lose, (Patton, 2004).

Distributive bargaining divides client and agency.  Image Edited  by author.  Source, (, 2013)

Figure 3: Distributive bargaining divides client and agency. Image Edited by author. Source, (, 2013).

“Everything should be win-win”

 For Jones win-win is the only way because each side must keep face.  However, integrative bargaining tactics require a high level of commitment from both sides.  Theorists Guasco and Robinson argue, “negotiating cooperatively involves far more patience, creativity and innovation than competitive bargaining,” (Guasco and Robinson, 2007).  How can you start this complex process? For Jones, empathy is the key.  “Take the time to understand more about the client’s needs and use that as leverage to sell your point.”  Knowledge is power in negotiation and it can also build trust.  “If your client is stuck on a certain way of thinking it comes down to trust to change them.  If you can gain trust then you are working towards the type of relationship like that between Steve Jobs and TBWA where it’s more of a partnership.” But how can you work not as a supplier but as a partner?

 “The way to work is co-creation”

“It’s not about ‘us’ and ‘them’ but about ‘let’s do the best for the brand together,’” Jones sits up more enthusiastically.  Reflecting on my experience with pitches it seems the agency is always highly separate from the client. Jones passionately declares “I hate going into pitches where it’s us and them.  The whole pitch process is in a bubble where you can’t really talk to the client” he explains.  “It should be a round table so you can see each other at an equal level.”

Integrative bargaining should be a round table process.  Image edited by author.  Source (The VECCI Blog, 2012)

Figure 4: Integrative bargaining should be a round table process. Image edited by author. Source, (The VECCI Blog, 2012).

DDB has started implementing co-creation workshops before the pitch to increase the likelihood of a long-term partnership.  A recent workshop with a toothpaste manufacturer was high in cost and involved them hiring a strategic planner but resulted in a solid collaborative plan.

Every client is different so there’s no universal negotiation method but it’s all about building strong foundations for a long-term relationship.  An agency must be patient, listen to a client’s needs, provide balanced options for win-win mutual gains and use co-creation as part of a trusted partnership.

It’s getting dark but instead of disappearing Jones takes a moment to show genuine interest in my future and offers me contacts in Australia and Asia.  This is an experienced relationship manager who has inspired me to build positive and balanced partnerships and hopefully it will improve my bartering in the markets!

Leaving the office I was inspired to build strong and healthy client relationships.  Image Source (DDB Worldwide, 2013).

Figure 5: Leaving the DDB Group Vietnam’s office I was inspired to work towards strong and healthy client relationships. Source, (DDB Worldwide, 2013).

Words: 1,099

Andrew Davy (s3330622) is about to graduate from a degree in Professional Communication and has enjoyed his time in Vietnam.  Soon he will embark on work in advertising sales in Singapore where he will negotiate with clients from all walks of life.


Cartoon Stone clip art – vector clip art online, royalty free & public domain. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 6 Sep 2013].

DDB Worldwide (2013), DDB Vietnam. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 6 Sep 2013].

DDB Worldwide (2013), Roots: Where we come from. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 5 Sep 2013].

Guasco, M. and Robinson, P. 2007. Principles of Negotiation: Strategies, Tactics, Techniques to Reach Agreement. Irvine: Entrepreneur Press, p.66.

Fells, R. (2010) Effective Negotiation: From research to results, Cambridge Press, p.17.

Fisher, R. and Ury, W. (1999) Getting to yes : negotiating an agreement without giving in, revised 2nd ed., London: Random House, p.100, p.5. 2013. 5 ways to fix the broken agency partnership model – [online] Available at: [Accessed: 6 Sep 2013].

News.Com.Au. 2013. Which is the cheapest state to own a business?. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 6 Sep 2013].

Patton, B. 2004. Building relationships and the bottom line. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing, p.2.

Solomon, R. 2003. The art of client service. Chicago: Dearborn Trade, p.105.

The VECCI Blog. 2012. Business Roundtable export focus welcome. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 6 Sep 2013].

Negotiation – Where to go and How to wear

We use negotiation skill every day, with many people. The main purpose is to convince them to be on our side and have mutual benefit (win-win situation). However, life is not always as we want, in some situation, we have to step back, sacrifice some of your objectives in order to keep the relationship and the final goals. This would be the time to show your skills.  It is believe that a great communicator is the one who know how to balance you objectives and win with the smallest harm. After interviewing with Miss Nguyen Thi Bich Loan, Relationship sale manager at DHL Express,  I have realized some tips (actually it can be called tricks) about what to talk and what to wear for a great communicator.


Picture 1: Proof of life

DHL Express is an international fast express that has long history in Vietnam. Time after time, nowadays, DHL Express can be seen as one of the biggest delivery companies in Vietnam, but they also have to face with newcomers in town.  After more than twenty years working in DHL Express, especially in sale field, Miss Loan has had much experience when dealing with clients. This interview does not focus on academic theory, it is much likely to be just a conversation, a sharing from an expert with a new comer. Questions are asked in order to keep the conversation flow smoothly about some small tips that are usually not taught in schools.

Preparation – The most important part

There is a famous idiom ‘He who sees through life and death will meet with most success’. We all know we should prepare and predict everything before the negotiation. According to Carrell and Hearvin (2006), there are something should be prepare, from our goals and objectives, what we will talk to win and what we can sacrifice to their objectives, which is our negotiation strategy, what the best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA)  and what they could say. Everything is absolutely right, but in real world, it is not enough. Miss Loan states that although Vietnam has been globalizing and everything starts to work professionally, business in Vietnam, somehow, is still based most on emotion and feeling. Therefore, she gives a trick that, before important negotiations, such as in order to sign new contracts, if we want to be more sure, try to find some of their personal information such their interests or hobbies, where they often hang out. She talks humorously that in Vietnam, important contracts are never signed in office, they are signed in restaurants and golf court.


Picture 2: Meeting in relaxing place can calm both of the sides’ minds (Adapted from Gestrich (n.d))

Miss Loan tells me one of her experience. Before coming to this negotiation, Loan and this client had had some conversations on phones and emails which led to some conflicts and need to talk directly to solve the problems. Thus, this is a big customers of DHL and if she had lost them, she would have been criticized seriously. She was very stressful at that time. Fortunately, her colleagues gives her some personal details about that clients that she has got from other friends. With that information, she knows that this client has big interests in acoustic music. Therefore, instead of talking with him in their offices, she invited him a cafeteria. The result is successful, they talked friendly to each other and the problem solved. Actually, she points out that the main reason for this success did not come from the personal information, but the place with the client’s favorite music somehow did calm both of them down to talk gentle with each other. According to Fisher and Ury (1999), in theory, this can be seen a common strategy when coming to a negotiation, integrative strategy. Both of the negotiator in this case share interests and want to maintain good long-term relationship.  It is not always right, but according to Raiffa (2003), in negotiation, if your partners are likely to be less defensive, the negotiation can be easier and contracts are faster to made. Actually, it is not a trick, it is just a way to show your preparation. Loan believes that by showing how deep you know about your partners, they will think that you respect them as well as this relationship more than other, and as a result, they will have more positive feelings to you more than others.

Your face – your company face

Obviously, when coming to any meetings, you must dress formally. It is the very first impression about professionalism. In university, in some course like Business Communication in RMIT Vietnam, students are asked to dress professionally when coming to class, but in real world, sometimes everything is bigger than that. In some cases, wearing formally is not enough, business men need to wear luxurious. Like in the title, your face is your company face. In Vietnam, wearing luxurious can mean that your company has great income and create credibility. According to Tiền Phong (2012), one of the first  Vietnamese billionaires who has Roll Royce, the reason she bought this luxurious car is for create a image for herself as well as her company. As a result, it is not surprising that although Vietnam is still a developing country, many people are willing to pay million dongs to buy clothes from luxury brand like Burberry or Dior. Miss Loan makes jokes that it is not unreasonable that recently, many frauds have succeeded in cheating many people with more than billion dong. Their common tips are wearing luxuriously, driving fancy car. Using these things, the people you talk to can have an implication about your wealth and credibility. However, it is not everything. According to Gates (2011), we are all judge a book by his cover but real power dressing starts from the inside out. It means that wearing luxurious brands would not give you anything if you do not feel confident.  Therefore, miss Loan gives an advice that taking care of your clothes is good before negotiation, but remember to be confident.


Picture 3: Clothes do make the man (Adapted from Lifehack Quotes (n.d))

In conclusion, I think that what we have learn at school is great, but not enough. In real world, depend on what  situation, we have to be flexible to fix with it. However, after the whole interview, there are two main part that communicators should be focus before coming to any negotiation: Prepare carefully and be confident.

Interviewed by Tran Quan Trac

Word count: 1081


Carrell, M & Hearvin, C (2006), Negotiating Essentials: Theory Skills and Practice, Prentice Hall, Virginia, the US.

Fisher, R & Ury, W 1999, Getting to yes: negotiating an agreement without giving in, 2nd edn, Random House, London, the UK.

Gates, L 2011, ‘Power Undressing Your Next Negotiation: What Not to Wear’, Forbes, 15 Ferbuary, viewed 3 September 2012, <>.

Gestrich, M (n.d), ‘Business people holding a meeting in a restaurant’, imaged, VisualPhotos, viewed 5 September 2013, <×7694327/business_people_holding_a_meeting_in_a_restaurant>.

Lifehackquotes (n.d), ‘Clothes make the man’, image, viewed 4 September 2013, <>.

Raiffa, H 2003, The Art and Science of Negotiation, 7th edn, President and Fellows of Havard College, the US.

Tiền Phong 2012, ‘Đại gia Diệu Hiền: ‘Tôi bán nhà mua Rolls Royce làm thương hiệu’, Tinmoi, 22 September, viewed 2 September 2013, <>.

Negotiation: Forget the price tag, it’s not all about money!

In client service, negotiation is one of the most important skills that decide the result of project and affect agency-client relationship (Carrell & Heavrin 2008). Then how do negotiators walk through this bumpy path? To figure out the issue, I had a nice talk with Mr. Nguyen Tuan Anh, Senior Account Executive at Blue Ocean Communication.

I met him in a rainy afternoon when his team just finished a project with a FMCG brand thus he was kind of excited and had many to share with me. With a calm and confident manner in answering my questions, my first impression on him was the assertiveness and trustworthiness, the characteristics that you may find in an experienced account executive. During his five years in the industry, Tuan Anh has gained a lot of negotiating skills, which he simplified in three features: Play win-win, Sharing and Maintaining relationship.


The winner takes it all, the loser has to fall? No, no one loses!

“What is the purpose of negotiation?”, you would ask. At first glance, many may respond that people negotiate in order to gain as much benefit to them as possible, ignoring the opposite party. Nevertheless, the very first principle that every negotiator should remember is that negotiation in business aims to obtain an agreement to solve a common problem and achieve the profit for both sides. In other words, playing win-win is a MUST in a successful negotiation (Lewickin et al 2011).

Reproduced from: Borhan 2011.

Regarding this idea, Tuan Anh shared the same opinion when stating: “Business negotiation is not like bargaining at marketplace where seller tries to get the highest price, pay no attention to buyer’s profit”. Some of undergraduates, due to typical stereotypes and threats, may look at clients as evil and Mr. or Mrs. Expect-A-Lot-But-Pay-A-Little. However, from the interview with Tuan Anh, I had got through that the so-called ‘win-win situation’, which sounds cliché and difficult to achieve, is essential to every negotiation and trust me, both agency and client would like an ending that makes everyone happy.

Sometimes, win-win is too high to reach but in negotiation between client and agency, there are many ways that may help. One of those techniques that Tuan Anh was willing to share with my readers is the ‘one step back to get two steps forward’. Imagine you are in the middle of the negotiation when your proposed price is much higher than your client’s, it would not be a good choice to keep your price with the thought ‘my work deserves this amount of money’. We, professional negotiators should be flexible decrease our agency’s price while asking the client to raise their payment as well. By this movement, we will get nearer to the negotiated final price that pleases both parties. Besides, adding value is a helpful technique in dealing with clients. Significance such as discount for the next projects, adding service would be appropriate consideration for client to get the negotiated price.


Sharing for receiving

Researches on your client must be done before the arrangement as the more you know about your opposite party, the bigger chance you have to get the negotiation successfully. Nevertheless, what if there is important information that is essential for the negotiation that you can not get through research? Just ask your client! If they truly want to work with you, they are willing to share some of their preparation as they know that it would help the process goes more smoothly. On the other hand, your agency should do the same, share your agency’s interest and information as it will help to achieve the win-win situation (Lewickin et al 2011). This idea can be described simply by Solomon’s statement: ‘Before you tell clients what you think, tell them what you know’ (Solomon 2008, pp. 107).

Reproduced from: Kuma 2012.


Regarding the Solomon and his opinion, Tuan Anh seems to have the same idea when he admitted sharing information and interests would help the negotiation work well. Even so, that ideal circumstance does not always happen in real workplace, Tuan Anh stated. Usually, there is an underground limitation in the amount of shared information between agency and client, especially for those relationships which have just begun. In these cases, it depends a lot on the person who works directly with the client to make conjecture on issues that client would not like to share. BATNA is one of those subjects. Getting to know the other party’s BATNA without revealing your agency’s one will increase the chance of persuade clients (Lewickin et al 2011) although they will not let you know their BATNA so easily, according to Tuan Anh. Again, this case emphasizes the role of negotiator, who has to be sensitive and flexible to realize every little detail to get their required information.


Keeping the relationship

Turning back to the marketplace story beyond, what makes the difference between negotiation and bargaining, my readers? Carrell & Heavrin (2008) has claimed that the hardest goal of negotiation is to gain profit but still keep the long-term relationship with client, which is not really given prominence to at the marketplace.

With the same opinion, Tuan Anh believes that a negotiation only succeeds when agency and client get the agreement while their relationship is maintained and developed. There are many factors that influence this relationship. The most important one, as Tuan Anh has experienced, is the quality of agency’s work. If the performance is good enough, there is no doubt that clients would like to work with your agency in later projects. Besides, two issues that were discussed above also affect the relationship. If agency shows their willingness and efforts by respect the win-win principle and consider client’s situation, their relationship with client is in the comfortable zone. This has been the belief of Tuan Anh and Blue Ocean Communication, as its official website states: ‘We believe that quality is the best measurement of working effectiveness’ and ‘we aims to nothing but a long term relationship with our clients’. I guess this is also the goal of many other communicators and communication agencies.


We finished our short interview when the rain had stopped for a while, leaving me an anxious yet exciting feeling. As dealing with clients has never been an easy job, the concern is unavoidable; however, the workplace with those challenges really excites me. Although still being worried a bit, I left with a belief that my later negotiation work would be better as I have got ready for it. How about you, future communication experts?


Photography by: Hanh Nguyen 2012.



Word count: 1099



Anh, Nguyen Tuan 2012, interview, 21 August 2012.

Borhan 2011, ‘Win-win situation’, image, Socyberty, viewed 1 September 2012, <>.

Carrell, MR & Heavrin, C 2008, Negotiating essentials : theory, skills, and practices,Pearson Education, New Jersy.

Kuma, AJ 2012, ‘Interest’, image, Persuasive, viewed 1 September 2012, <>.

Lewicki, RJ, Saunders, DM & Barry, B 2011, Essentials of negotiation, 5th edn,McGraw-Hill, Boston.

Solomon, R 2008, The Art of Client Service, Kaplan Publishing, New York.


Story by Nguyen Duc Hanh.

You’re hired! Now what?

Often times, when we look at client-agency relationships we plainly see it as a two-sided coin. How one should perform unparalleled client service, and the other, how to courteously receive it. For the past weeks the class has participated and engaged in lectures, class activities and student reports that reinforce this symbiotic co-existence taken from either the agency or client perspectives.

Until last week, when Mr. Gary Woollacott, Chief Executive Officer of Opus Executive Search provided a valuable standpoint to support the theoretical ideas posited about organizational culture. The equation multiplied exponentially as a new player in the client-agency relationship entered the scene- a third party “the fly on the wall”.

“There is method in my madness”
Gary on how he builds his network.

The seminar topics were also useful for workplace orientation and internship courses as Gary talked about conducting research about a potential business contacts/ employers; to doing your own work; to avoiding discrimination in the office and how to have a respectable ‘after-hours’ persona. All great starting points for young people aiming to get a head start in industry.

So, how do agency creatives and clients strive to work towards a trusted partnership status in global markets? Below are some key ideas taken from from a human resources (HR) perspective.

Fitting into a new job

As future employees in various communication industries (or working as a client side if you choose it) Gary notes that “every company has its own style, just ask the questions, try to get a feel on what the company is like.” He confirms the basic academic concepts of navigating around different organizational cultures, he adds, “some are formal others casual. Some bosses even want you to update them with your progress all the time.”

And in some cases, cultural nuances may not be a good fit inside the workplace. In Thailand for example he has experienced Kreng Chai (เกรงใจ) the concept of respect  for elders. “Its the feeling of obligation to someone, it may be good at home but not always at work.”

The main thing is that you ask questions and be observant of how things are run in your office and see if it fits your personality and work ethics. Only when you feel comfortable in your job will you be able to do good work.

Work/life balance

Say, you find the perfect organizational culture and you can’t wait to get to work each day… That’s well and good. The question is, is there such as thing as too much work? Gary says yes.

“When you finish work, finish work… when you go on holiday don’t check your email! The office won’t shut down without you. These days we are so connected we fall in the trap of responding to emails or check phone messages.”

Adding to Gary’s point of view, I would like to point out that looking ahead, most of you will be enmeshed in high energy, tightly timed tasks in the creative industry. Most might even have to work after hours to prepare for pitch presentations or work weekends in events activation. This comes with the job, yes. But knowing when to stop is the key.

Talk with your boss and ask for a holiday to compensate for a series of overtimes. Negotiate your terms sensibly and find that middle ground to keep you sane.

“It’s cliche, but its important.”

Being gracious

Speaking of negotiations, a key insight to the seminar dealt with being gracious in business. Gary reckons that “In Asia, its more of… I win, you lose situation.” However he confirms the need for ‘Integrative Bargaining’ or looking for that ‘Win-Win’ outcome.

“It’s a cliche, but its important. When I was in corporate finance in London I would be negotiating deals in behalf of companies, but not all companies negotiate that way, there are lots of unrealistic vendors out there. The lesson I learned in corporate finance, is when we negotiated really hard, we won… but fast forward to six months… lawyers that I worked with before may say watch out for him!

“Especially in a small town, word gets around if you are a hard negotiator people will say Yes she’s the one who demanded $5,000 but delivered nothing!”

Speaking of small towns…

Don’t burn bridges

Academia confirms to us that relationships do end. What we do when it does is entirely up to us, “this applies to any human relationship” notes Gary. Ideally avoid ending relationships on a bad note especially if you are one of only a handful who has that specialized skill set in a small city like Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

For example “If this company is not for me, talk about it with your boss, maybe they can move you in another department, if the boss is the problem talk about it have a sensible adult conversation.” He further recommends “Don’t push too hard.”

Remember the adage that goes: Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll never know who you’ll meet on your way down.

~Mel C

To more about Gary and his work with Opus please feel free to contact him at:
Gary Woollacott
M:  +84 90 808 2799
M:  +66 81 810 0119

The true meaning of ” Clients are always right even when they are wrong”.

As I read through the infamous book The art of client service by Robert Solomon (2008) ( the one that is suggested to be put under pillow of everyone who wants to set feet in to client service industry) I came to chapter 41 “ There is no No in your client vocabulary” (Solomon, 2008)- you never reject a client . “Such a cliché “ I though, they must include this specific rule in almost every book I have ever read about client management. I have even developed a condition to immediately think of Yoda with the light saber, in a ready to fight position, telling me “Say NO you must not”.

“Clients are always right… even when they are wrong” (Markert, 2007).  It seems against agency’s nature to disobey clients. How can they put this as an absolute truth when it clearly is a big disadvantage to agency’s side? Is this rule actually applicable in reality where, according to Tom Markert (2007), the author of “You can’t win a fight with your client”, clients make requests all the time, some are outrageous and undeliverable.

So I sent myself out on a quest to find answers from a non-bookish source. I interviewed Mrs. Tran Phuong Thao, RMIT alumni who graduated from Bachelor of Multimedia design in 2007 and worked as an account manager for Leonito JSC – a brand consulting agency which also provides advertising , public relation and event management services. She recently switched to the dark side of the Force, I mean, the client side in an NGO’s internal communication department.

When I asked Thao if the Never say No is truly an unconditional policy; she laughed and replied “That’s elementary, my friend.”

That was it; quick and a little upsetting.  There was no more myth busting for me. Then I asked her how can an agency keep up to that principle and survive fatal requests from client. By fatal I meant the demands that involve changing in budget, deadline of scope of work (SOW) (especially after the sign off) which would seriously affect the overall quality and process of a project and threat the agency’s reputation. Tom Markert (2007) affirmed that there is no limitation on how shocking a client’s request can be.

Thao admitted that during her 3 years of working as an account person she  never had to say No to any client; emphasizing that she had a good start at the very professional agency and over all had comfy clients. However, indeed there were some memorable cases. For example, one of their big clients requested to have almost every meeting with the present of 40 members of the clientèle. That was the case of a strong “brain-hurricane” to deal with all the demands and changing from such dense establishment. Another closer case was when a client already approved and signed off the logo and other print designs but later on determined to change all because his Feng Shui master said so.

 Don’t reject clients- educate them instead. 

“I guess I was lucky because my clients over all were not hard to work with”, said Thao. “Yet, it is the fact that much more complicated scenarios could happen and it would be frustrating to deal with obstinate clients”.

The books taught us to provide alternatives for clients (Markert, 2007) and consult your team to give client best possibility of what they want (Solomon, 2008). Thao suggested me to “educate” clients. Beside negotiating and collaborating, agencies need to show their expertise at their finest to persuade clients. Clients usually do not have enough specialized knowledge or experience, thus, they need agencies to do the job. Remind them why they had to hire you from the beginning. You do not have to say no to clients, make them say no to their own changing by providing a better solution and proof that it is the best option.

When an agency reaches to a certain level in size and prosperousness it can finally say No to a client if the client does no corporate and mindlessly refuses any effort of the agency to help. “Mine firm, however, haven’t achieved that yet” she laughed and added.

Always prepare safety net for your agency

“Anyway, there are cases in which clients are really stubborn “,Thao continued. That is why all the possible challenges should be foreseen and well knitted safety nets must be included in the contract. “Every agency does this. This is how we are able to avoid saying NO to them”.

Agency can be flexible about changes in time and budget; they are actually the most frequently modified sections in every exchange but when plan or SOW is touched extra fees will be added according to the contract. Thao listed quick tips to avoid these sudden changes from clients:

  • Always have close communication with client.
  • Remind clients that we do not work alone to serve them, we work together with them.
  • Ask client to establish PMU (project management unit) from the very beginning to work with agency directly and consistently.
  • Constantly update work plan and process.
  • Ask for sign off at all milestones.

It was very interesting and helpful for me to have this interview with Thao.  I realized that it was not about proving if the client was wrong or you were right, thus, saying No is not necessary and not helpful at all. It was about changing their perception about the current situation then it would definitely be legit to reject bad ideas without saying you-know –what-word. The books did not exaggerate while stating this golden rule. It sounded a little negative at first but now I can clearly see when it says “Clients are always right even when they are wrong “it means “Clients are always right to choose your suggestions, they just haven’t realized that yet”.

Story and illustrations

by Le Hanh Quyen


Markert, T, 2007, You can’t win a fight with your client and 49 other rules for providing great service, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY

Solomon, R, 2008, The art of client service, Kaplan Publishing, New York, NY.

For more information about Leonito JSC please visit :

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