Alex Nguyen, Strategy Director at McCann NY*, brings learnings from half a career spent working in Vietnam, a shift from creative to strategy, and figuring out how to advocate for himself as talent of color. Hear about why we should continue to build relationships with agencies that pass on us, returning to NYC without any professional contacts, what he includes in his portfolio, and using diversity and inclusion as a lens when assessing potential agencies.
* Since we recorded his episode, Alex moved on from McCann, and is now a Strategy Director at Johannes Leonardo.
Graduating college early, wanting to start his career in Vietnam, asking for feedback after applying for a job, and thinking about what you actually want before accepting your first job.
Why we should continue to build relationships with agencies that pass on us, and the value of being humble and accepting of the things we still have to learn.
How working abroad for half his career has shaped how he approaches his work.
Switching from creative to strategy, how he got others to see him as a planner, and coming back to NYC without any professional contacts.
His portfolio tips, why you should always ask for recommendations, and advocating for yourself and others as talent of color.
Using diversity as a lens when assessing your potential agencies.
“I’ve gone on plenty of interviews that for whatever reason, it didn’t go well, the interview didn’t go forward in terms of getting a job there, but I’ve always kept in contact, I’ve always added them on LinkedIn, and grabbed coffee with them informally. Because I feel like if the first time you’re going to talk to someone is in an interview setting, it’s so intimidating. But if the second time you’re talking to them is over coffee or over a drink, then the next time you interview with them, it’s going to have a different context, because you’ve already met them, and have already talked to them outside the office.”
“Get recommendations. As soon as you have done a big project or conclude an internship—because at that point, the manager or whoever you ask, it’s still going to be fresh in their minds. And you need to help them write you a good recommendation. So remind them what you did, remind them why you’re asking them specifically for a recommendation. […] It helps them focus their recommendation, so you’re able to showcase different skillsets and work ethic.”
“When you look at agencies you want to apply to or want to work at, yeah, you can look at their portfolio, their reel, you can look at their instagram to see what their office looks like, but are they hiring people of color? Are they promoting people of color? When you go on LinkedIn and search the agency, do you see a lot of people of color who are in management and director level positions and up? When you look at the ‘About Us’ page on their website, do you see a face like yours? I think these are things people are already doing, but it’s separate from the consideration set. Yeah, they’re like that, but they do really good work. Yeah, they’re like that, but they want to hire me. But I think you should feel it in your power to consider your options through this lens as well.”
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Alex is currently a Strategy Director at Johannes Leonardo working on VW.
He has held various posts at McCann New York and Publicis New York, launching a connected car product for Verizon, relaunching Take5 for the New York Lottery, repositioning billion-dollar properties for MGM Resorts, and introducing the Citi Bike program to Miami.
Formerly a copywriter, Alex started his career in Vietnam and transitioned to strategy, going on to lead national strategic development on brands such as Australia Network, Heineken, PepsiCo, and Unilever.