Born and raised in the vibrant culture of Vietnam, Đỗ Thị Bằng Linh's heart was always drawn to the essence of her homeland. She found herself immersed in local trends, which eventually led her to study Asian Studies in college and venture into the world of creative marketing.
While she had initially set her sights on South Korea or Singapore due to her passion for Asian cultures, a surprising turn of events changed her course. Linh received a full scholarship to study in the United States. This journey not only granted her financial support but also encouraged her to think critically and step outside her comfort zone. The US, with its diversity and creativity, was like a canvas of endless possibilities. Linh embraced the creative marketing and production industry, learning how to navigate its challenges, including fierce competition and the need for networking.
Fast forward to today, and Linh, at 25, is thriving in the US, working in brand management for Unilever. Her specialty revolves around visual communication, using it as a powerful tool to convey impactful messages and boost brand value.
Linh sees the visual communication industry as a gateway to various creative fields, from design and photography to filmmaking and beyond. She acknowledges that it's a dynamic sector, evolving with the introduction of technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality. The Vietnamese native firmly believes that the media, creativity, and marketing industries play a crucial role in our lives, offering immense potential to bring positive change and influence to a broad audience. Linh is passionate about connecting with individuals who share her zeal and extending a helping hand to those embarking on their creative journey.
And in our special feature for this week’s Study Abroad, we have Linh sharing her experiences and offering valuable insights. Linh also shares seven valuable tips for young Vietnamese or anyone seeking success in the creative world, whether in the US or abroad.
Starting Small and Dreaming Big
How did you break down your bigger aspirations into smaller, more manageable goals during your journey?
I view my career journey as a long-term project with specific tasks and milestones. It starts with thorough research into how others in the same field succeeded. I examine their workplaces, job titles, and the skills they acquired. Then, I create a step-by-step plan to gain those skills and positions.
I began with basic courses like media production, graphic design, and photography. As I progressed through internships and work experiences, I slowly completed the smaller tasks within my grand career plan. This journey took me from general content marketing and social media duties to hands-on media production. I even interned in the game industry, explored AR and TV production, and eventually led projects in the music and FMCG industries. Over time, I ticked off the boxes, moving steadily toward my larger career goals.
Can you give an example of a small project or task you undertook that eventually led to a bigger achievement in your creative journey?
My very first creative media project was part of a small in-game event promotion at Garena Free Fire Vietnam, just three weeks after I joined the team. I was tasked with creating a viral video in collaboration with an external production house. It was my first experience in a professional setting with an experienced team.
The catch? We had an incredibly tight one-week deadline, and I had to juggle new concepts and working methods with various stakeholders. Fortunately, I reached out for guidance from my mentor and the experienced team members from our partner production house. Their support encouraged me to come up with my first creative idea, craft a script, and create a production schedule with their assistance.
Thanks to everyone's help, I became more proactive and successfully delivered a viral video with a humorous twist that also explained the in-game event's mechanics. This project got significant attention, receiving positive feedback from both the team and the audience, and gaining more than 3 million views on YouTube.
Finding Your Niche
How did you navigate the vast world of creative fields to pinpoint your specific area of interest or passion?
I've had the privilege of gaining a broad view of the creative field during my education in the US. I explored various practices, including traditional communication, marketing, advertising, and art, to discover my interests and strengths. To refine my path, I actively pursued internships, work experiences, and projects, connecting with professionals in my chosen fields to gain insights.
This journey exposed me to different environments, from corporate to freelance, and allowed me to explore functions like social media, content creation, media production, and brand management. I recognized my strengths in writing and content creation but sought a more interactive direction, leading me to visual communication. This field covers multimedia platforms like video production, websites, photography, and graphic design.
As I delved into different roles and researched others’ paths, I discovered my knack for creative project management. It allowed me to use my people skills alongside my creative knowledge to oversee diverse media production projects. I also found joy in staying updated with the latest creative practices, tools, and trends, actively engaging in creative strategy, and enhancing my skills in creative analysis and research.
Were there any resources or mentors that helped guide you in identifying your niche?
I started out knowing only one friend studying integrated marketing communication, which is such a broad and intriguing field that represents creative marketing and production. Through our discussions, I learned to improve my online research skills, getting better at finding information through “Googling,” and becoming more adept at exploring the portfolios and online profiles of creative professionals on platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram, and even YouTube’s credit scenes.
On my path, I’ve been fortunate to encounter and collaborate with several outstanding creative professionals. They’ve generously shared invaluable insights about the industry and their respective fields of expertise.
Building Skills Over Degrees
While pursuing your degree, how did you ensure you also gained the hands-on skills essential for the creative industry?
Even though I gained a lot of knowledge through my education, I always wanted to understand how things work in the creative industry, like the best methods, how teams collaborate, and how companies are structured. These insights are crucial for a career in creativity, and you can truly grasp them by doing things hands-on.
So, I made sure to build up my resume. It started with part-time positions at my college, like handling social media and writing for student publications. During the school year, I developed my skills and gained valuable experience to land summer internships.
These internships were a big deal. I got to work at top game and tech companies like Garena, Amanotes, and Snap Inc., which gave me the insights I needed. Alongside that, I did freelance projects, like music video production and social media promotions, especially during the pandemic gap year. These gigs helped me expand my network, connect with more people, and grow my portfolio quickly.
Can you recommend any platforms, workshops, or resources that were particularly helpful for practical learning?
I highly recommend fellowship programs that offer internships, mentorship, networking, and workshops. These programs are intense but prestigious. They are the fastest way to enter the industry, providing abundant resources and expanding your network widely.
Various programs are available depending on your creative interests. For instance, in Vietnam, I participated in SEO-V (Sponsors for Educational Opportunities in Vietnam) during my freshman year. It wasn’t specific to creativity but helped me build the network that eventually led to my experience at Garena Vietnam the following summer.
Fellowship programs can be competitive and challenging to get into, but they are definitely worth it. In the US, it's even tougher, especially for international students, as most programs don't accept student work visas. However, opportunities like the IRTS (International Radio & Television Society Foundation) fellowship program and the Multicultural Career Workshop or MADE (Marketing & Advertising Education) mentorship program are excellent options to aim for.
Not Afraid of Asking for Help
As an international student, did you ever hesitate to ask for help or guidance? How did you overcome this?
As mentioned earlier, initially, it was tough for me to embrace the idea of networking and connecting with “strangers” for assistance or advice. However, with time, I realized that networking is a crucial skill on the path to success. Like any skill, it can be learned and developed. So, I started approaching networking with a professional mindset and practiced to become more comfortable with it. When you're really in need of help, you'll knock on every possible door to find the right support. As long as you show sincerity, a desire to learn, and a hunger for knowledge, the ability to ask for help and guidance will come naturally.
Can you share any networks, groups, or communities that were particularly supportive during your time in the US?
In addition to school resources and external fellowship programs, I strongly suggest joining Facebook or LinkedIn groups like Viet Referral, VNPN (Vietnamese Professionals Network), Overseas Vietnamese, or Asian Creative Network. You can also participate in communities like Subtle Asian/Viet Traits, which offer a safe space to ask questions, share profiles, seek referrals, and find creative inspiration.
For specific creative fields, there are different communities and mentorship resources available. For graphic designers, platforms like ADPList and AIGA can be particularly helpful.
Learning from Mistakes
Can you recall a specific mistake or setback in your career that became a valuable learning experience?
An earlier “mistake” in my career was not knowing how to balance my energy when working with different stakeholders. I often let my emotions and mental state depend on the progress of the work and external factors.
For example, there was a time when I had to work overtime to finish a production plan. I got irritated and slammed my badge on the check-out counter right after leaving the office. My mentor witnessed this incident, and we had a valuable conversation about it. I learned how to control my reactions and behave appropriately in such situations.
Another incident occurred during a music video production project. I had a conflict with a client who had limited industry knowledge. I was frustrated when dealing with what seemed like unreasonable planning requirements. However, after consulting with experienced producers, I realized that everyone has different priorities within a project. Ultimately, people aim to improve their work. As creative producers and project manager, our role is to listen to all perspectives and facilitate the best way to achieve the optimal goal.
How did you adapt or adjust your approach to creative projects after facing such challenges?
Over time, I've learned not to take work conflicts or feedback personally. This has been a significant help in managing my emotions and maintaining a work-life balance. By treating all stakeholders' opinions professionally and keeping in mind that everyone's goal is to achieve the best results, I've become more self-aware about my feelings and their underlying causes. This enables me to separate unhelpful emotions from my work progress.
This skill is particularly important in the creative field, where collaboration involves people from diverse backgrounds, with different opinions and working styles, often with strong personalities. Learning to handle these dynamics during creative collaboration is a skill I'm proud to have developed.
How did you manage your time and energy to maintain consistency in your creative work, especially amidst the challenges of being in a foreign country?
First and foremost, maintaining a healthy and balanced life is essential for any endeavor, especially when it involves mental work like the creative fields. My upbringing instilled certain routines, particularly the importance of getting sufficient sleep every day.
Additionally, being a sensitive person who has learned how emotions can impact work quality and interactions, I've become attuned to my body. This allows me to control my emotions and take immediate steps to preserve my energy and prevent burnout. I ensure I allocate time for hobbies like watching music videos and keeping up with social media and pop culture trends, including TV and drama series. These activities serve both relaxation and as sources of inspiration for my creative work.
Were there specific routines or habits you developed to help keep yourself on track?
Just like my career, I view my life as a substantial project. There are constants, like the amount of sleep I need, and variables, such as my daily activities based on how I feel that day and the workload. I use various methods to keep track of my work and progress. This includes maintaining a personal journal and using online trackers (the simplest being a Google Sheet) where I plan different activities similar to managing a project at work.
I also engage in co-working sessions and consistently update those around me on my progress to hold myself accountable. Furthermore, I enjoy writing Instagram stories to reflect on my progress and feelings and to share my thoughts. Lately, in addition to my usual hobbies that support my creative work, as mentioned earlier, I challenge myself to try new and even out-of-my-comfort-zone experiences to expand my creative horizons. This includes visiting a new museum or hidden gem in my city every week and exploring a new coffeehouse or trying out different cuisines/restaurants every weekend.
Celebrating Small Wins
How did you keep track of and celebrate your achievements, no matter how minor they seemed?
I spend a significant amount of time, nearly every day, reflecting on what I've learned or accomplished recently, often by writing Instagram stories, as mentioned earlier. Beyond expressing my emotions, writing these stories allows me to document my feelings and achievements. This, in turn, helps me appreciate myself and my progress, no matter how small the achievement, as long as it brings me happiness and fulfillment. Surprisingly, I frequently receive similar support and compliments from others who interact with my personal content, which further boosts my pride in myself.
Can you share an example of a small win that boosted your confidence or motivated you to push harder?
Currently, I work in the field of brand management, which encompasses various aspects of marketing, from the production of creative assets, websites, and POSM to e-commerce, digital campaigns, and events. Despite my extensive experience in different areas of creative marketing and production, brand management, especially in the FMCG industry I'm currently in, typically requires individuals with many years of experience in numerous fields.
Coming from a visual communication background, my primary focus was on managing creative projects like websites and artwork/POSM production. However, one day, I was tasked with involvement in paid media campaigns, an area I hadn't had much exposure to before. Writing about that moment in my Instagram story, I realized how much I had progressed, one step at a time, and how I was gradually earning the trust of my team. Celebrating even small moments like that incident, I've learned to appreciate myself and my efforts, trust my progress, and stay motivated to push further.