WITH a market that is clearly driven by consumption and not investment, Vietnam is a golden opportunity for exporters. But there are some problems to be overcome. One of the biggest, in a country that has been effectively sealed off from the outside world, is educating consumers and users as well as building corporate identities and product names. Hill & Knowlton, one of Hongkong's bigger public relations firms, argues that now is the time to get into Vietnam. The firm, which has recently been involved with marathons in Saigon and Hanoi, believes that local business people should move in before the market is reopened to the Americans. Any media campaign must take into account one simple fact - that Vietnam is still effectively two nations. The north is more frugal and conservative, whereas the richer south is more cosmopolitan and go-ahead. To guarantee success, any strategy has to take account of these differences. In the north, a more traditional strategy is required. This would involve personal visits to editors and taking a great deal of time to explain things to the media. The population in the south can be reached largely via the electronic media. Ho Chi Minh City television, which broadcasts for three hours on weekday nights and 41/2 hours on Saturdays and Sundays, is received by the most affluent section of the population. Be warned, though - the advertising rates for foreign firms are 10 times the local rates. However, for Hongkong business people there is the advantage that part of the transmission time is in Chinese. The press is considered valuable since it supplements any electronic media campaign. Some newspapers, such as Saigon Liberation, have a circulation of 250,000 and are rigorously government-controlled. A more open approach can be found in the smaller-circulation specialist magazines. But even these are not immune to media bribery. In order to establish a market, advertising will inevitably be used - and the advertising industry in Vietnam is still very much in its infancy. Government controls in this field are strict and irritating but the key point of advice for anyone trying to do anything in Vietnam is to work with the government. Advertising and public relations are no exception. In order to be allowed to advertise, the advertiser must have a permanent establishment there and must be publicising either locally-made or legitimately-imported goods. This rules out tobacco and alcohol products, which are banned along with other culturally and politically undesirable things. Once the censor has been passed and a certificate of quality given, the goods and services can be advertised. Foreign goods can be used if all the conditions laid down by the government are met, although again the rates will be noticeably higher than for locals. And because Vietnamese society has been closed off from the world for 18 years, the weight of any advertising campaign is via billboards. For example, billboards took up 30 per cent of Sony's advertising budget. Sony spent another 50 per cent on sponsorship, which it feels is a better way to invest its money.