Following a regional search for candidates, ASEAN communications agency Vero has recruited a regional Culture Lead and gathered a team of experienced specialists to support him.
The new culture lead, Vu-Quan Nguyen-Masse, has worked in a variety of communications roles since he moved to Vietnam from France seven years ago. As a mediator between subcultures and brands, he has leveraged his eclectic background with roots in political science, passion for fashion and identity, and endless fascination with pop culture. He has been described by collaborators and clients as a “renaissance man with unique perspectives on business and creativity.”
Nguyen-Masse’s experience as a hybrid creative strategist will enable him to study, plan, and develop projects that respond to the question “What is Vero’s culture, and how can we make it compelling to stakeholders?”
“Too often I have seen companies lose sight of their purposes – or not have clear ones in the first place – but as an external or non-strategic stakeholder, I wasn’t always in a position to affect the necessary change,” Nguyen-Masse says. “At Vero, I can draw on and implement all the lessons I have learned about best – and worst – practices.”
ASEAN-based Vero has been expanding across the region since its inception in Bangkok in 2007. Today it counts over 130 consultants in full-service IMC offices in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, and Yangon. Its new culture team will create frameworks in which these individuals and offices can better learn from each other’s practices, attitudes, and methodologies.
This cooperative spirit has been a focus for Vero since its beginning, but as the pandemic has increased the need for regional teams to collaborate virtually, the agency made it a priority to invest further in a regional culture.
The six-person culture team (with room to grow) that Nguyen-Masse will lead is composed of existing Vero members from across the region working in fields such as, internal branding, thought leadership, social media management, corporate communication, and culture. It is designed to function as a miniature brand experience and communications consultancy whose efforts serve to build four cultural pillars:
- Life: creating an empowering workplace to inspire collaboration and help people enjoy the process of working towards shared goals
- Excellence: developing and portraying the best selves of the agency as a whole and the individuals who constitute it
- Editorial: positioning the agency and expressing the unique perspectives of its regional professionals and experts
- Brand: consolidating the agency’s image to better attract and retain those with shared sensibilities – both clients and team members
The team has two primary strategic foci. The first is to help define and develop the “Vero experience,” which includes internal workflows, interactions with clients, and the work environment. This builds on existing forward-thinking initiatives such as Vero’s wellness and mental health support programs.
The second focus is to guide how Vero communicates its region-wide expertise and strategic positioning.
“Vero has been producing white papers and case studies on topics of high interest to brands since long before I joined, which is of the things that drew me to the agency,” Nguyen-Masse says. “I want to make sure this ever-growing base of knowledge and insight benefits teams and stakeholders across markets and indicates our current and future directions.”
While the team originated from Vero’s desire to maintain a sense of unity during a time of rapid growth – the agency doubled its team in 2020 – and limited in-person interaction, its ambition has since expanded into a desire to create an industry-leading culture by consciously onboarding and developing talent with an eye for those who fit the agency’s identity.
Vu-Quan Nguyen-Masse sees Vero’s identity as an expression of the individual personalities within: generally young, open-minded, and ambitious, but also kind, patient, and genuine. It was witnessing this character – which Nguyen-Masse sees as unusual for the industry – that convinced him to make an unanticipated return to agency life, and it is upon this that he hopes to build the agency’s culture by exploring how individual and collective interests inform its priorities to boost involvement, morale, and quality of work.
“Culture is fluid and amorphous, as it involves complex social and individual dynamics,” says the occasional lecturer. “I try to embody that same spirit by welcoming and seeking to understand all the rich personalities of our agency, and by responding with support and solutions for concerns about work and life balance. And on both the leadership and staff fronts, there is genuine cohesion and ambition, not just when it comes to perks and policies, but also evident in the distinct positivity emanating from everyone I have met so far at Vero. This is particularly exemplified by the urgency with which the agency is working to support the Myanmar team during this time of extreme stress as professionals, citizens, and humans.”
A consistent regional culture will also allow Vero to mirror the structures of its many international clients and provide them with a more unified experience by leveraging the unique capabilities and diverse talent pool of each office for truly regional projects.
“Culture lead is not a common role in Southeast Asia, so we didn’t seek candidates with that specific experience,” says Vero COO Raphael Lachkar. “However, company culture shares with brand strategy its focus on individual and collective identity, which is why we decided to turn to an experienced brand creative strategist to lead our culture team. We’re confident in Nguyen-Masse’s ability to strengthen and grow the group’s culture and to bring our consultants across Southeast Asia together to create work that serves the long-term reputations of our clients and of the agency itself.”
As someone who straddles multiple national identities and has traced an eclectic path from studying the social sciences to managing startups in the fashion industry, questions of individual and collective identity have been central to Vu-Quan Nguyen’s life and career.
“Organizations interacting with each other benefit from sharing similar values and personality traits,” Nguyen-Masse says. “Businesses often prioritize securing lucrative deals regardless of whether they are a culture match, but this can be a mistake in the long-term for those seeking to define their brands and attract certain clientele. If we want to be spokespersons for our clients, some level of cultural alignment is highly beneficial. Like a musician trained in certain genres, we will produce better work when we know the field well. It is in the best interest of the agency and our clients to seek out and attract good cultural matches, and even to decline those we feel are not right for us.”
“I enjoyed my work as a marketer, but I felt like I wasn’t living up to my potential to make an impact on people,” Nguyen-Masse adds. “This role, which allows me to focus completely on the wellbeing of an extensive community and empower them to deliver their best while enjoying what they do, is clearly what I was looking for. Also, having been an entrepreneur in a cultural field, I get a lot of satisfaction from being able to build a culture that people would be eager to join.”