For Trung Nguyen it all started on his first job. In the advertising industry he discovered both a passion and a career path. Once he had made up his mind about the trajectory of his professional life, it only took Trung several months to found Cuộc Sống Agency (Agency Life) fanpage — a playground for agency people in Vietnam.
Gradually, Cuộc Sống Agency became a template for his later startup models — a news site Advertising Vietnam and recruitment page AdJob.Asia. Both were launched to serve as an inspiration for admen and -women in Vietnam and to help them meet their professional and personal goals.
Join us as we chat with Trung Nguyen, the Founder and CEO of Advertising Vietnam and AdJob.Asia, about his 5-year entrepreneurial journey and his dynamic management style.
How would you describe your management style?
Openness and empowerment. I don’t interfere with the work process of my employees because I don’t want my ideas to take precedence. Instead, I stand back to monitor the progress and only review the results once the project is completed, right before sending it to the client.
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Who is your ideal employee?
For me, an ideal employee is someone who has the following three attributes. Ability to come up with ideas independently, implement them with minimal supervision and take the initiative without being told by superiors what to do and how. When you are new to a job, asking for guidance is to be expected, but once you’ve found your feet, my expectation is that you don’t require much hand-holding.
Creativity. Advertising Vietnam is a news site for creatives, so a successful employee is someone who has a good eye for content that our readers will find useful and interesting. In addition, whether you work on accounts, write content or do design, you need to be present on social networks, because it’s the best way to stay up to date with the latest trends and find ideas for your next article or social media post.
Accountability. In everything you do, strive to do your best to create a product that you are proud of. Ask yourself: Am I confident to give this product to my boss? Is the boss confident to give this product to customers?
Can you share some of the milestones of your 5-year career?
In 2015, I officially launched Agency Life, formerly known as Cuộc Sống Agency fanpage. My original idea was simple: to create a place for Vietnam’s advertising people to share daily stories from the field — the good, the bad and the ugly.
One year after the launch, the page attracted a lot of followers and engagement was high (each post got 2,000-3,000 likes with a total of 10,000-20,000 followers on the page). Already at that stage, my vision for Agency Life was to take it to the next level, to move past a mere entertainment page.
So I asked myself: How can Agency Life offer more value? This is when I decided to set up a website called Advertising Vietnam in 2016. The goal was to create a news channel for agency employees to get their industry news fix, as well as offering in-depth analysis of domestic and international advertising industry and serving as an ideas hub.
Advertising Vietnam also acts as a bridge between customers and agencies. In the past, the public only knew brands that appeared in the ads. The efforts of the creative agencies, publicists and traditional agencies were not acknowledged. We wanted to change that, to show the hard work that takes place behind the scenes, to profile key agencies and personalities. This content orientation continues to be our guiding principle.
In 2017, when Advertising Vietnam was well established, I realized that the industry had another pressing issue — a lack of dedicated career websites for jobs in advertising. So I set up AdJob.Asia, a recruitment website for agencies. AdJob quickly gained attention as it solves a problem for a niche segment. Currently, it is the recruiting platform of choice for more than 350 large domestic and foreign agencies, serving nearly 19,000 users.
Why do you think changing content orientation was necessary?
If you are following Agency Life from day one, you would have noticed that in the beginning our content didn’t really change much. We served the community, focused on customer reviews and discussed occupational hazards. The level of engagement such content saw was very high, because we were able to get to the psyche of the industry people. But I knew that if we continued in that vein, Agency Life would become a “complaints department” full of negative content, and that was absolutely not the vision I had for the platform.
So, I cut negativity and doubled down on creating informative content that presented an exciting and rewarding industry. For me, Agency Life is the first step on a life-long path and if this one is done right, the next steps will be easier and get the support of more people.
How has the pandemic affected Advertising Vietnam, AdJob and agencies in general?
In the two months since the start of the campaign to limit the spread of the virus, AdJob recruitment revenue dropped by over 90%. It is understandable because all new hires were postponed till May. Fortunately, the advertising news segment hasn’t been affected and we are seeing a 30% year-on-year increase in revenue.
In general, event agencies and production houses have been most affected by the pandemic, while creative agencies, digital media and PR firms have seen less disruption to their businesses. General mood is one of optimism because Vietnam is doing a great job controlling the spread of COVID-19. We believe that after the pandemic, everything will go back to normal.
When you look at the countries where COVID-19 is still raging, you can’t help but wonder what you, as a business owner, would do in similar circumstances. But at the same time, the crisis will be a stepping stone for telecommuting, increased productivity and more effective management.
For us at Advertising Vietnam, the pandemic is an opportunity to take a hard, long look at ourselves and see how we can adapt and improve.
What are your plans for Advertising Vietnam and AdJob post-COVID?
For AdJob it’s business as usual again. As for Advertising Vietnam, the pandemic made me realize that face-to-face interviews are not always a requirement, that online interviews can be just as effective in our segment. So, after the pandemic, I want to try both online and face-to-face interviews.
Because of the crisis, a number of major international advertising awards have been canceled, so Advertising Vietnam is looking for fresh content to help inject some life into the community.
Lastly, what’s your advice for those starting their own company?
The most valuable asset of a company is its employees, so try to retain the top people. They will be the ones working side by side with you to overcome obstacles.
Secondly, I think that in order to manage a team effectively, you must first build an effective workflow, empower employees so that they understand that they do not need to be managers to perform at a high level. Then you can manage the team remotely. In September, if international travel resumes, I am planning to go to the U.S. to study for a master’s degree while managing my teams remotely.
During the pandemic, I have also realized that cash is the lifeblood of a startup, not future payments. Therefore, the company needs to have enough cash to stay afloat for at least six months to be able to sustain operations and support employees in an emergency.