Upon graduation from Ho Chi Minh City University of Architecture, Tien Vo quickly realized her passion didn’t just stop at design. She quit her job and spent six months building a portfolio and immediately accepted a job at Lowe Vietnam as an Art Director. Tien Vo is currently a Creative Director at Ogilvy Vietnam. She is also a mom, a part-time independent artist, and an author of a children’s illustrated book called The Alphabet I Found In Mom’s Kitchen.
During the interview, she described herself 10 years ago with two words: boundless and ambitious. In this installment of Ask A Senior, join us to hear Tien Vo share valuable lessons she learned throughout her career as a designer and creative director.
How do you describe your style in your creative works?
It is colorful, feminine, and private. I get a lot of inspiration from the contemporary culture and works from artists all over the world, especially from two directors, Wes Anderson and Alejandro González Iñárritu.
While Wes Anderson creates beautiful illustrations and has a colorful tone in his works, Alejandro Gonzalez makes an impression on the audience with a realistic style of storytelling. I have learned a lot from them about techniques in filmmaking and how to maintain a character’s emotions for future video advertising campaigns.
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Who was your first mentor?
I was lucky to meet seniors who are experts in multiple fields, from management to sales to account management. Each individual gave me different advice.
Among all of the advice I received, there were two that have always stuck with me throughout my career. One was about delegation of tasks and management, and the saying was “Find the right person, do the right task.” The other was to have confidence in yourself.
As a Creative Director, what is the key thing to your management and working style?
I try not to be controlling of everything. I put employees into small groups, and each group is led by an Associate Creative Director. I trust and delegate tasks to my team because it is also a way for them to develop a sense of responsibility.
As for myself, I value aesthetics. I would constantly use adjectives like “great,” “beautiful,” and “perfect” when I brainstorm an idea, and it inevitably puts a huge pressure on my team.
I actually don’t pay a lot of attention to the process but rather focus on the result. I don’t want to pressurize my team to follow a predefined solution. Instead, I encourage my team to be creative in problem-solving as long as they can convince me and the client that this idea works.
As a Creative Director, what part of the job do you like the most and what do you like the least?
What I like the most about my job is the ability to have control over my work. This way, I’m able to plan out my schedule accordingly so that I can have extra time to plan for different projects and find creative solutions for my team.
However, working with others is a challenge of a Creative Director. Everyone always jokes about how I can take over the role of a recruiting manager because I usually recruit for the team. For me, this requires a lot of creativity and caring for others because humans in general are difficult to understand and manage.
What do you look for in a recent graduate to join your team?
I look for those who have a diverse experience in their career. People will have a diverse perspectives to look at things when they are interested in a subject area.
In fact, a conservative perspective also has its values because it is realistic, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t necessarily value individuals who are optimistic or have less experience. If you believe you have a long-term vision and a diverse perspective on things, then be confident in advocating for yourself.
As a person who takes on many projects and has a lot of creative ideas, how do you find balance in prioritizing work?
I constantly apply the Pickle Jar Theory to manage and allocate time for my tasks. Instead of working on two big projects at once, I will work on a big project and a small project separately.
At the same time, I would put my best effort in one project to avoid having second thoughts, so that I can move forward to working on the next project.
How do you execute an idea in the best way possible?
The idea is just a framework for a project. If there are changes to the project during the planning stage, it doesn’t mean that you’re going in the wrong direction, as long as the key message doesn’t change. In fact, during the execution stage, you might notice places for improvements and try to make suitable changes to your plan.
It is not important whether or not you are able to keep the idea from start to finish. What’s more important is whether you’re able to make improvements to your idea. Holding on to your idea does not always bring good results.
However, it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. For example, the “We Care For Her” campaign that I worked on was the first time that my team and the client unanimously agreed to keep the original idea from start to finish.
You can’t avoid the fact that your ideas will be rejected in this industry. Do you have any advice for those who are just starting out in this industry on how to deal with this situation?
Almost everybody believes that their idea is awesome and unique. When your idea is not chosen, put it in what I call “a box of ideas” instead of holding on to it. Give yourself time before revisiting the idea again and self-evaluate it.
Focusing too much on a certain thing will prevent you from being receptive to new ideas because you’re trying to defend yours. Instead, give yourself time and space to freshen up your mind, and then revisit it. Being able to pick yourself back up and learn from past mistakes will take you further in your career.
What are the steps that a junior designer should do right now in order to become a senior position and, finally, a Creative Director?
With each job promotion, you need to learn how to look at each project in a holistic way, and think about whether it fits the client’s requests and the brand’s values. These will help us to make the right decision.
First of all, you need to learn how to work in positions that you’re not familiar with. Those who are experts in photography need to learn about creative writing. Those who are experts in creative writing need to further develop their aesthetics and learn how to tell a story through visuals.
The next step is to observe and learn from seniors, it is as important as the materials you learned in class. Every senior will have their own working style and strengths that you can learn from. It could be ways to choose a great idea that fits with the brand’s mission and vision. It could be how to sell your ideas to potential clients for them to buy in, or it could be about project management and working with different departments.
Lastly, you need to learn communication skills to interact with people, how to manage a team, give feedback to your team and work with different departments, or answer the clients’ questions and negotiate with them effectively.
What are your thoughts on working for money versus following your dreams and passion?
I struggled to choose between these two options. After years of working experience, I came to realize that if you’re passionate about something, you will always make time for it.
Of course you would feel annoyed when the responsibility of earning money is being put on your shoulders. Think about it this way: what if earning money is a way for you to pursue your passion? Then, it will become your goals, and it is something that you can experiment with to see if you really want to go after that passion.
What is the one lesson that took you a long time to realize?
The first would be customer relationships. Each project is a collaboration between the producer and the client. Even though the client is not our target audience, we also need to get to know them.
Occasionally, we have a great idea but it doesn’t always get moved forward because it doesn’t fit with the brand image. Therefore, understanding the needs of the client is extremely important. Your attitude and ways of communicating also plays significant roles in pitching your idea to the client.
People think that you need to have high self-esteem being in the creative industry. Remember that our products need to be accepted by the target audience, and we need to research and understand who our target audience is in order to communicate our product effectively. At the same time, we showcase our personality through our product and show integrity so that people are able to recognize who the creator was.
Another lesson is to be humble, and it took me 30 years to realize this. Before, I was very reckless and selfish while in love. I became more humble after having my first child. I learned to first observe before saying what is on my mind.
How do you think the advertising industry will change in the future?
To achieve a sustainable development, brands are focusing on growing the following three areas: establishing a solid foundation, host holiday events, and connect with its consumers through stories. It is noticeable that advertising is slowly becoming a part of daily entertainment.
As the world is becoming digitalized, industries are racing after data. Meanwhile, because consumer behaviors are predictable, advertising campaigns nowadays are required to show immediate and sustainable outcomes, but it also needs to be educational and raise the consumers’ awareness.
How do you manage to keep going after 11 years of being in the industry?
The answer is, you just have to keep going. Practice helps me to be more adaptable, resilient, experienced, and creative.
What would you do if you were not in the marketing industry?
I would write books. I’m currently planning to illustrate a children’s book for my second child. I could also become a full-time artist, but I will have to evaluate my financial standing.
Adapted by Lauren Nguyen
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