PR Profile: Mylan Vu's business model of 50 per cent pro bono work
Mylan Vu is the Founder and PR Consultant at Vu Consulting.
After many years of experience in PR and marketing/communications for B2B tech companies, Mylan Vu took a personal break to reset and reevaluate future plans.
Not long after, COVID hit, and she soon realised her days had gradually become filled with pro bono PR work for grassroots charities and other campaigns and causes important to her.
“It was a wonderful wake up call to me that I clearly still had a passion for the work but wanted to do it in a slightly different way, and was loving working with these grassroots charities, but obviously they don't really pay the bills,” Mylan says.
“So I started freelancing at first, and then basically it snowballed from there.”
After a few months of freelancing Mylan began to be approached by more and more clients, both in the corporate and tech industries and not-for-profits and charities. From this was born the business model for Vu Consulting, where 50 per cent of company time is spent working for tech and corporate clients, and 50 per cent is allocated to pro bono work for not-for-profits and grassroots charities.
Mylan says it was not long before staff were also knocking on her door, also seeking work with more purpose and meaning.
“On the one hand our focus is on driving impact and giving a voice to the voiceless, but on the other hand I think it's a really exciting time when we can experiment with different types of business models and actually strike gold sometimes, “ she says.
“To see this 50/50 model succeed has been incredibly rewarding, but also has had a real impact. I would love to see more agencies in our industry rethink what's possible, and also how they start reacting to some of these trends that we know aren't going anywhere.
“People want to work with purpose. People want to work with meaning.”
Vu Consulting now has a team of experienced PR consultants. Mylan says none of the cost of the pro bono work is passed on to clients, but despite this it is still a sustainable business model.
“Something I think we all realised from the pandemic is that you don't really need an office, and you don't really need a pingpong table and you don't really need the beanbags and the Wednesday drinks and Friday drinks and all the other drinks!” she says.
“We're a pretty boozy industry, and all the boozing and schmoozing of clients and all the travel. When you cut all of that out, as well as a lot of operational costs…”
Another strategy which Mylan says has improved efficiency is ditching the traditional pyramid model with lots of junior staff and fewer and fewer people in higher management roles. In this model, senior staff handle client meetings and then junior staff are briefed on how to do all the work.
Mylan says not only does this reduce efficiency, but also promotes a culture of long work hours, burnout and mental health challenges among staff.
“We don't have junior staff in our team. It's exclusively a team of senior consultants. We don't have excessive training programs that people need to pay for or spend their spare time doing, because often that's going to an event at night in the city, or signing up for this extra thing in your spare time. We don't pitch, so all of our clients are referrals,” she says.
“So it just means that every single hour of our time is spent doing what we want to do, actually just doing really good work.”
“If you look at most agencies, they actually have a similar model of being fifty per cent billable, but they just spend the other fifty per cent on all that stuff that we don't do.”
Mylan says a recent campaign success was drawing media attention to fix a broken telecom tower in a low socioeconomic community that had been ignored for months and was impacting on remote learning and work. She says another meaningful campaign was for an organisation working with Indigenous psychologists.
“There are nowhere near enough Indigenous psychologists working in Australia, and it's very clear that Indigenous mental health has very different needs and requirements to clients of non-Indigenous mental health. Young Indigenous people are falling through the gaps of our system because it's not built for them,” she says.
“[The organisation] reached out to us to raise awareness of the issue, because most people don't recognise that there is a link between this and the devastating rates of indigenous suicide.
“They also had an event coming up that they were selling tickets to, that would then fund scholarships for the next generation of Indigenous psychologists that were all then being mentored by this organisation. So it was this beautiful cycle that they had created with a clear solution, but they did need the funds.”
Through corporate profiling, thought leadership and lots of content and media relations around the event itself, Vu Consulting was able to increase the scholarship capacity from around 11 to 27 Indigenous psychologists.
“For us that's what it comes back to. We talk a lot about impact, and that's never about the volume of coverage,” Mylan says.
“it comes through in all kinds of ways, and the work that we do, not just with not-for-profits but with tech clients as well it's very much the same because it's so strategic, we always try to keep that impact in mind.”
Outside the charity work, Mylan has also had a diverse career in enterprise tech PR, previously running Hotwire Australia and working across global markets in both agency and in-house roles.
She says a career highlight was working in Japan, witnessing the impact of the technology she was promoting and the different trends in Asian markets.
“To go into a market like Japan that is the centre of the global tech industry and to be a part of literally world-first technology announcements and launches, not just in Japan but across the APAC region, was really eye-opening,” she says.
“With every step of my career I've made, it kind of reinforced how exciting and fast paced that sector is.”
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