Viet’s career reads like a PR bucket list. As the youngest SVP in the history of Edelman (the largest independent PR firm in the world), Viet led major campaigns during her tenure to promote global issues around the world. Highlights included a CSR campaign for Tiffany & Co., Maserati’s “Seven Notes” Tour with Bowers & Wilkins in seven countries, and spearheading PR for the iconic Empire State Building (including the award-winning sustainability campaign with President Clinton and other key players), which was heralded by former President Obama as a pioneer for leadership in sustainability.
She also launched the world’s first LED light show on top of the Empire State Building with Alicia Keys. Other career milestones included launching Volkswagen’s 21st Century Beetle with MTV, Heineken’s campaigns at Tribeca Film Festival and Coachella, and helping with the award-winning Dove “Real Beauty” campaign.
Two years ago, Viet set up Issa PR, a luxury brand strategy and public relations company. George Wayne from Vanity Fair named Viet as one of the “most inspired and relevant people who define Downtown Manhattan” alongside notables such as Alexander Wang, Rihanna, James Franco and Madonna on his “Downtown 100” list when the agency first launched.
With this CV we can wholeheartedly claim Viet as one of our PR Mavens We Love and our last interview of 2017 – wooho!
How did you know it was the right time to go out on your own?
Following my passion to create innovative campaigns for clients all over the world, as well as philanthropy and social good – I decided to take a risk and set up Issa PR. I also wanted to create a specialist luxury and lifestyle agency to fill a gap in the market, and quickly expanded from New York to London to Los Angeles. In the first two years, every client came through word-of-mouth, recommendations and referrals
Within six months, the agency worked on some of the most influential brands and companies in the world including a Fashion Week campaign with Vogue Italia (and the late Franca Sozzani), and Def Jam Records.
Tell us a little bit more about Issa PR
Since Issa PR’s inception, it has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world from Absolut vodka (Elyx, their luxury offering, as well as Absolut’s iconic master brand) to Def Jam Records – who represent Kanye West, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Alessia Cara among others. Vogue Italia and Davidoff Cool Water with National Geographic and actor, Scott Eastwood are other clients.
We consider ourselves one of the most selfless and compassionate agencies in the world. As such we do pro bono work for NGO’s and non-profits every year to give back. Most recently, we spearheaded Absolut’s global art campaign “A Night For Change” – the short film was directed by visionary Aaron Rose (who inspired Spike Jones, Terry Richardson and Sofia Coppola). Working with seven artists in seven countries around the world, the campaign helped to shine a light on communities in disrepair.
Agency responsibilities include brand strategy, oversight and creation of innovative campaigns for clients, digital and social media, content creation, influencer engagement, strategic partnerships and collaborations, even curation and management, brand repositioning, sponsorship, and issues and crisis management.
How is Issa structured and what do you focus the majority of your time on these days?
The agency is a combination of matrix and linear. All team members work across PR and social media, digital and content creation, given the importance of 360 campaigns today.
We consider ourselves one of the most selfless and compassionate agencies in the world.
My focus is on growing, expanding and scaling the agency across regions and territories and creating award-winning work for clients.
What is the mood like in the office and what are you currently working on?
We foster an open and collaborative office, in some ways European in style, based on my heritage and background. We listen to music while we work every day and have regular Happy Hours (Peroni sponsors our office). The balance of work and play is important, and we maintain a lively and creative environment.
We are currently working on an exciting art and culture project for BMW, which we’re excited to launch in Europe and the US.
We foster an open and collaborative office…We listen to music while we work every day and have regular Happy Hours (Peroni sponsors our office).
What is a recent success story that makes you especially proud?
In addition to the innovative work we do, I’m especially proud of the team for their commitment to our pro bono work – which we do every year. In the first year, we worked for START, an NGO that rescues orphans displaced by the war in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, the UAE and India. We created a World Refugee Day campaign in collaboration with Paddle8 and 20 artists from around the world (US and Middle East) to donate works of art to raise money to create workshops for children, who are socially and politically oppressed but can be “free” in their hearts and imagination.
In the second year, we worked with Many Hopes, an NGO that helps to protect Kenyan children from abuse and corruption. Through a fundraising gala in New York co-hosted by supermodel Karen Elson, “Thor” actor, Zachary Levi and Tracy Anderson, we raised money to build a school for 900 children. This year, we launched the New York premiere of “NANA” an award-winning documentary about a Holocaust survivor who was the forced translator of Doctor Mengele, the “Angel of Death.” Critically received by numerous film festivals from Mexico to Palm Beach and Fargo, Amnesty International gave it an audience award for humanitarianism. I’m so proud the team wants to give back in any way we can.
What are a few favorite tools, apps or products that you love and why?
- Vogue and The Washington Post apps for news and trends
- Clarins Beauty Flash Balm after working for 24 hours.
- A Smythson journal is great for keeping notes
- My new AWAY suitcase has an in-built iPhone charger, which is perfect for international travel.
What has been the most glamorous moment in your career thus far?
Working with Franca Sozzani, the late editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia. She flew in from Milan to host our NY Fashion Week even with designer Johan Lindeberg. We were inundated with celebrities and notables who wanted to attend our event. Numerous supermodels, fashion designers, director Paul Haggis (“Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash”), art visionary – Dustin Yellin, musicians such as J Cole and many others came. Also, meeting Jon Snow from Channel 4 News in the UK, who is truly a powerhouse anchor, was huge for me.
WHAT ABOUT THE LEAST GLAMOROUS?
Staying awake for 24 hours during the launch of Eos Airlines – the world’s first luxury all business class airline to handle the launch, press conference, inaugural flight (including 1:1 interviews on the plane with The FT, GQ, Vogue, Esquire, Daily Telegraph and many others), media welcome dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, launch party, then helicopter rides over Manhattan the next day. And being stuck in an elevator with Pierce Brosnan during a press junket.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST MEMORABLE CAREER MOMENTS FOR YOU?
Pre-Issa PR, working on the Empire State Building’s sustainability campaign with President Clinton and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. President Obama lauded it as a pioneer in sustainability and the United Nations recognized it as a blueprint for buildings around the world to follow suit – it was very special to be a part of something that will truly make a difference around the world today.
Receiving a high-five from Richard Edelman during Volkswagen’s global press conference with 300 media for the launch of the 21st Century Beetle was a career highlight, since Richard is an icon in PR, and incredible person and leader. Also, working with UN AIDS for the G8 Summit to raise awareness and visibility of the HIV pandemic was important.
At the agency – in addition to the philanthropy work we do, the groundbreaking campaigns for clients from Vogue Italia to Def Jam to Absolut Vodka and soon BMW. And expanding into multiple territories is meaningful and exciting to spearhead more pan-regional and global work.
Working in PR requires tenacity, perseverance, hard work and dedication. There is a lot of rejection in the industry.
What are you excited about right now in terms of industry trends?
We are seeing a real nexus between philanthropy and luxury (and lifestyle brands), which is growing everyday. It’s so important to give back. Consumers believe in brands, their heritage and story/DNA needs to be there in order to make a real connection. Obviously there is a huge trend in using social influencers now. However, brands should be aware that pay-for-play, while fine for visibility, is often not as effective as a powerful or profound campaign that makes a difference.
What’s the biggest challenge facing lifestyle communicators right now?
The growth of social influencers and traditional media shuttering and contracting in power (and size). Also blurred lines between advertising and other marketing disciplines.
What advice do you have for your younger self?
Be bold, take risks, learn from your mistakes and most importantly – do what you’re most passionate about.
Anything else we should know?
We are always looking for great people to join the agency in New York, Los Angeles and London specifically.