A Word of Advice from Vincent Tam
From Member Vincent Tam, Strategic Partnerships & Integration at Collective, powered by Omnicom
We would love to learn more about your background and origin story. How has your experience as an Asian in this industry impacted your career journey?
I am a first-generation Hong Kong Chinese who came to the U.S. when I was 8. Studying Mass Communications at UCLA, my aspiration like most grads in my department, was to land a glitzy role in entertainment. Instead, and in hindsight probably a blessing, I started my career all the way at the other end of the glamour-spectrum… selling 30-minute longform informercial time for a conservative direct marketing TV network.
After a few more years in ad sales at The Weather Channel (not the most exciting in a city without four seasons), to Screenvision, a pre-roll cinema advertising network, I felt something was missing.
It wasn’t that I was undervalued or lacked growth opportunities, for me it was the fact that in the back of my mind I knew that my multicultural and bilingual background which afforded me unique perspectives wasn’t being fully utilizing in my career.
My first venture into the advertising industry was at Asian American agencies AAAZA in LA and sister agency Admerasia in NYC. My time as a client leader at both agencies was helping mainstream brands speak to the diverse Asian-American community in an authentic way. It was stimulating work and I loved acting as a cultural market “navigator” for brands and connecting them with our community.
In 2007, I decided to make the bold move to Hong Kong where I joined Doremus, Omnicom’s B2B agency. In my 10 years leading an agency in APAC meant I was in a different city or country almost every other week, working with local clients, agency partners, and managing a local team. My experience as a cultural navigator kicked into high gear as I traversed the region toggling between my embarrassing American-accented Cantonese, semi-broken but understandable Mandarin, and interpreters in Japan. My experience in Asia truly opened my eyes to how far my Asian experience was able to take me in my career, not only in the U.S. but across the globe.
Asian Americans face many barriers to leadership positions. What is your advice to the industry to narrow the gap and create more leadership opportunities for Asians?
The advertising industry inherently contradicts many cultural norms in which Asians have been brought up. We were taught to listen and observe, told we should let our efforts speak instead of our voice, and to value patience and humility. Many of these traits do not get you very far in an industry where you need to hold onto the spotlight and outshine your peers to stay ahead. And while isn’t realistic to expect the culture of our industry to change overnight, perhaps there is an opportunity to try to rethink, reprioritize, and be a bit more thoughtful about determining what makes a successful leader, where listening, patience and resilience may supersede bravado and swagger.
I also feel there is room for Asian professionals in our industry to be highlighted and featured more broadly, beyond just in a multicultural or diversity setting. Greater representation led by trade organizations like the 4As, and ANA can help. Whether it is inviting more Asian leaders as speakers at conferences or to their internal leadership team, it is important for organizations who set the direction of our industry to be at the forefront of showcasing what the next generation of our industry’s leaderships can look like. This applies not only for Asians but all diverse segments.
Share an example where progress is being made to support Asians in the workforce?
I see that our industry is slowly making headway by establishing support networks and communities for our Asian workforce. ERG groups as well as mentorship programs are great initiatives which I am happy to be seeing more and more of.
Looking ahead, perhaps there are further opportunities to establish networks and communities that aren’t limited only to agency professionals, but also include Asian professionals at media publishers, marketing techs, and clients. The Asian community may not be the biggest but maybe we can turn that into a blessing, use that nimbleness to our advantage and start breaking down the various silos we see in the broader marketing community.