Tracie May-Wagner strikes an impressive figure sitting across from me in one of Saigon’s most popular restaurants. A leading PR agent and journalist with a rich professional history panning several continents, Tracie has been working with the Modmo team since the beginning of this year, handling our PR and the global launch of our Saigon bikes.
We have met up for a chat about who she is, what drives her and how she came to Modmo.
I open with the obvious.
So I guess let's just start with who you are and what you do?
“My name is Tracie May-Wagner, soon to be just Tracie May.” Tracie leans back in her chair. “I have been doing Fashion, Lifestyle and Luxury PR for about 22 years.”
“My current company, which is May-Wagner Public Relations, focusses on fashion, lifestyle, luxury, fitness, hospitality, health and wellness, and beauty.”
Where did it all start?
“I started out as an actor and a model. I did a bunch of movies and theatre and TV, but then I turned 30 and I was not Angelina Jolie yet. I mean, I could have been a really famous B-movie actress and I just didn't want that to be my career.”
Tracie in her modeling and acting days
“So I was like “okay, well, I can speak to people, people listen to me, I'm smart, so I'm going to become a publicist,” and I had saved up enough money to be able to just skip the queue. So I launched a showroom called Fabulous PR and it ended up being the top boutique agency on the West Coast for emerging fashion brands.”
“I did that for a while and started producing a lot of fashion shows… and managing brands, and then one of the designers that my agency was handling wanted me to go in-house for him so I became the Vice President of Global Communications for a very popular brand called Monarchy Clothing.”
“I helped develop a higher-end brand for a Monarchy, called Monarchy Black, and I premiered it - it was the first label to premiere its collection on the runway at New York Fashion Week.”
Tracie with Miss J Alexander of America's Next Top Model
“I was with Monarchy for a while and then I started my current company, May-Wagner Public Relations.”
You were still in the USA at that point. When and why did you come to Saigon?
“Well I was turning 50 and I felt like I was trapped in a hamster wheel… I knew that I needed to make a change.”
“My sister and my brother in law had moved to Saigon a year before so I thought, look, I can do PR from anywhere. I'm going to go to Saigon and have my own personal Julia Roberts “Eat Pray Love” moment and stay in Saigon for a month and then go travel throughout Southeast Asia, all the while still taking care of my clients which I can do as long as I have Wi Fi…”
“And then COVID hit.”
So you were stuck.
“Yeah. And then two weeks after I arrived, my brother in law got that terrible call that his mother was dying and to get on the next available plane to the States or he was going to miss it. So he and my sister literally packed a carry-on bag each and were like, “Can you handle the kids for five days? We'll be back in five days.”
Tracie with Jennifer Coolidge and Adina Porter
“Turned out that his mother was patient number 200 in the US with COVID. She survived it, but after all the lockdowns and testing they had to go into another 14 day quarantine and by the time it was all done, Vietnam had closed its borders and they couldn't get back.”
Tracie leans forward, “leaving me to take care of an eight year old and 10 year old, both boys - I don't have kids - in a foreign country, in a foreign city, during a pandemic, in a language that I don’t speak, in a country that I don't know.”
Tracie home-schooled the kids until their parents made it back ten and a half months later. I ask her how that went.
“I mean, ‘new maths’, that's a thing, but I don't know the ‘new maths’! I can barely do the old maths!” she laughs, “You know, it was really an interesting situation and what I learned from it is that if I can accomplish that, there is absolutely nothing that I can’t do.”
So what happened from there - when did you start working with Modmo?
“It's actually a funny story. I've been very lucky in my career that I've never had to seek my clients. All of my clients have been referred to me... But here, you know, since I don't speak Vietnamese, I'm an expat, I didn't have a work permit... There were all of those barriers for me to get a job here and I needed to support myself, so I saw this ad come up online for a part-time PR person to handle the global launch of a high-end e-bike company.”
“I applied and about two weeks later, I got a message from Modmo CEO, Jack, to the WhatsApp group we have for my housing complex saying that he's having a soft launch party for Modmo, the company that I had applied for. He's four villas down the road from me and I'd been to his house for a party last summer so I'd actually met him already!”
“So I went over there, I was like Jack, I literally just applied for this job, I know you're looking for a publicist! I had an interview and they realised that I was the right person to trust with doing their global launch.”
Since then, Tracie has been collaborating with the Modmo team to represent us globally. I ask her what it is that makes our bikes stand out from a PR perspective.
“From my experience of riding the bike, it's so aerodynamic - it's nothing to just turn up the speed on it and suddenly you're going faster, it's not jolty, you don't feel any kind of gear change in it - as a novice those are the things that I've noticed. I think it is extraordinary.”
The Saigon +
“My goal in working with Modmo is to really garner tremendous press, globally, in the luxury and lifestyle markets in addition to the tech and cycling magazines. Things like GQ, or Esquire or those kinds of magazines where they're looking for that fabulous luxury item for “the man with money”... That's really the goal for me, to get Modmo incredible exposure in that realm.”
Great! So final question, what is it about Modmo that resonates with you?
“I really believe in Modmo’s values as core values of my own - things like the zero-emission thing. I don't think that anybody can live perfectly eco-friendly, but I believe that if we all make an effort, individually, to try something to make an impact, however small or big that something is, it will affect global warming, it will affect climate change, it will affect the carbon footprint that the world puts collectively onto this planet.”
“And I think that what Modmo is doing is revolutionary.”