It might have been a gloomy day outside, but this month’s That Girl still managed to light up our shoot with her gorgeous smile! That’s right, we managed to grab a couple of hours with the beautiful Lara Jefferies, founder of boutique PR agency PLUG. This Hong Kong girl founded her own company at just 24 years old, and has gone from strength to strength…Find out what it was like for her growing up in HK, how she got to where she is now and you may even pick up some tips if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur!
Can you fill us in on your background? Where are you from and how did you end up in Hong Kong?
Officially speaking, I am a Londoner. I was born in London to an English Father and a Parsi Mother, but moved to Hong Kong when I was 13. I think my heart definitely belongs to Hong Kong as a result, as I’ve spent my ‘formative’ years here!
My parents were both ballet dancers with the Royal Ballet in Covent Garden and used to take me and my younger brother on tour to some incredible places with them, but nothing could have prepared me for neon-tastic Hong Kong when we eventually arrived. That being said, HK was pretty much love at first sight for me. I genuinely loved it all – the climate, the energy, the people and of course…the food! I went to King George V School in Kowloon and we lived in a beautiful village house in Sai Kung by the water.
What was it like growing up in Hong Kong – and what made you decide to come back?
I actually always felt really lucky to have grown up in HK. People have amazing stories and tend to come from really diverse, cosmopolitan backgrounds. I loved the quirky HK weather (typhoons and black rainstorms just sound so dramatic – and of course they led to the additional benefit of a day off school!). I also remember feeling like there was so much to explore – from old Kowloon City to the outlying islands. But most of all, I loved Hong Kong’s energy – everything felt and still feels so possible.
I stayed in HK until I was 18 and then went to Bristol University in the UK to study religion and philosophy. I think the (fairly random!) degree choice was probably inspired by growing up in such a multi-cultural place. After university I followed my friends to London and got a job in PR at a consumer lifestyle agency. By the end of 2006, having PR-ed everything from Tampax to turkeys, I started to feel the itch and swiftly manoeuvred myself back to HK. It may also have had something to do with a certain boy…
Where do you live? How have you made your place your own?
I live in Mid-Levels with my husband (the very same boy). We had always lived in Happy Valley and loved the area, but we were tired of renting and really wanted a place of our own. The Valley was a bit too pricey, so we found a cute (but really small!) place on Bonham Road with an amazing rooftop that we’ve been in for five years. My husband and I are both bona fide obsessed with TREE, so decorating our place was a fairly simple task!
What’s your favourite thing to do at the weekend?
For me, the weekend is all about relaxing and connecting with my inner sloth. I love the Saturday morning lie in – it’s a real treat and I’m a big sleeper. When I eventually make it up and out, I’ll go to the gym or do a boxing class with Bikini Fit followed by brunch with friends. I am also not averse to those two most indulgent Hong Kong institutions: the massage or manicure.
What are your favourite spots in Hong Kong? Any hidden gems we should know about?
Victoria Peak Garden is beautiful and so peaceful. It’s great for picnics on the weekends and there’s hardly anyone else around – very un-Hong Kong.
My favourite (though admittedly not-so-secret) lunch spot is ABC Kitchen in Sheung Wan’s Queen’s Street Cooked Food Market. It’s just across the road from the office – great food at a great price. Dinners are fun there too – you can bring your own wine and it’s a real experience for out-of-town guests with a sense of adventure.
How do you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
I’ve always been attracted to classic clothing. I don’t like to over-accessorise and I love the elegance of a very simple, chic dress. I’ve started to wear to more colour recently, but the majority of my wardrobe is still black and white – it’s definitely my comfort zone.
What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
For skincare products, I love Lancome and Elemis. For haircare, I am a big fan of Aussie’s 3 Minute Miracle Treatment for taming (my untamable) locks and I’m very excited that it is now finally available in HK. For makeup, Bare Minerals is amazing for HK humidity and I’m particularly obsessed with Lancome’s Hypnose Drama mascara – they’ve stopped selling it in HK, so I have to bribe UK visitors to bring it over (see some other great mascara options here!).
Hair: Doris Ho at Xenter in Entertainment Building. She’s great with colouring dark hair.
Facials: Nobody beats Justine Grier at The Skin Gym.
Photo above taken by Sabrina Sikora
You founded Plug when you were 24… why did you decide to start your own company and what were the challenges you faced starting a business so young?
When I moved back to Hong Kong, I took an in-house PR role at a global beauty brand. Whilst I enjoyed the job, I missed the variety and breakneck speed of PR agency life. I saw an opportunity in the market to create a PR offering that was more streamlined, that offered really sophisticated media relations and that catered to business owners. I shared this plan with my then boss and luckily, it made sense to her and she came on board as my first client.
Having a global beauty brand on the books enabled me to gain the trust of other potential clients and the business grew. We’re now an office of 15 people working with a variety of businesses from independent HK companies to large international brands – connecting them to HK’s most important media outlets. Some of our current clients include: PORTS 1961, Nespresso, TUMI, UGG Australia, Jack Wills, Hardys Wine, Mary Kay Cosmetics, TREE, Sleep Naked, STRIP and 2XU to name a few.
In all honesty, every day has its challenges as there are so many moving parts to the business. But that’s also exactly what I love about the job – you’re always learning, every day is different with exciting opportunities as well as challenges.
Any tips for other young entrepreneurs?
Put your head down and focus on producing great work. This will speak for itself and take your age out of the equation. Don’t rely on instant respect – be prepared to put in the hard work and earn it.
Reach out to other business owners, especially ones who have been running their companies for a while. Learn as much as you can from them. When I started PLUG, the business owners I met were very generous with their advice and contacts. I learnt everything from new ways to market my business, to how to file company tax returns.
I am also an advocate of the networking group. Yes it’s not always fun, yes you will have some ridiculous and pointless conversations, but you will also make fantastic connections for your business. The most effective networking groups meet in the morning and follow an agenda. BNI (Business Networks International) was the best one I came across in HK.
Photo above taken by Sabrina Sikora
Fill us in on an average working day…
– First thing in the morning, I will check my emails and the main news outlets to see if anything important has come in or happened overnight.
– I will then check in with my Account Directors and Account Managers about the day’s work ahead and any key items they want to flag or discuss with me.
– I’m then likely to head off for my first meeting of the day at around 10am. This could be a client meeting, a new business meeting or meeting with a candidate for an interview.
– I usually have lunch at my desk, although I push myself to go outside for a short walk at least. I also like to schedule lunch meetings to catch up with journalist friends and contacts.
– After lunch, I will spend 1-2 hours on client work or business operations and admin.
– Mid-to-late afternoon, I’m usually off to see another client or at a new business meeting.
– Early evening – if we don’t have an event, I like to use the ‘quiet time’ in the office to get a few more things ticked off the list.
– On a good day, I leave the office around 7-8pm. On a busy day, it can be much later.
Any tips on achieving the work-life balance?
I exercise in the morning (nearly) every day at 6.30am with a company called Bikini Fit. It’s a great way to start off the day as you feel very positive and energised. I tend to keep the weekdays for work, but I make sure I maximise my weekends and days off seeing friends, being outdoors, going to the beach, checking out new restaurants etc. I also take frequent breaks – taking 3-6 days off every three months to escape HK and really relax.
Most memorable event/moment at work?
There have been a lot of memorable moments and milestones at PLUG. Some of these include winning pitches for key accounts against much larger companies; hiring PLUG’s first overseas candidate - an Account Director from the UK, and working on exciting, large scale regional events.
This said, some of my favourite and most memorable moments are often the simplest. Ones that stick in my mind are: receiving boxes of thank you cupcakes from a client after a big event, being referred by a journalist to a potential client as an agency that “really knows their stuff” and lastly, overhearing a member of staff talk about how they love working at PLUG. It may sound corny, but it actually is the small stuff that means the most.
Where do you see yourself and Plug in 5 years time – what are your hopes and ambitions for the company and your career?
I want to continue to work with all kinds of brilliant brands and businesses that inspire me and of course, I want us to keep up the momentum and continue to grow. I am however, also very proud of our ethos and approach. I want our growth to be balanced with a conscious effort to retain our unique team spirit and great client relationships. We won’t ever become a faceless corporate agency!
Check out the rest of our That Girls here!