11 September, 2013

That Girl: Genavieve Alexander, powerhouse PR founder of Genavieve.Co

11 September, 2013
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This week’s That Girl is powerhouse PR Genavieve Alexander, founder of Genavieve.Co – which she launched only six months after moving here (talk about energy to spare!).

We get Genavieve’s advice on starting a business in Hong Kong, how to make friends in a new city, her must-do experiences for any HK newbie and why she decided to name the business after herself!

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Can you fill us in on your background and how you ended up in Hong Kong?
I was born in London and grew up in the English Riviera, with many a holiday spent at our home in France – a life rather like the Waltons! After studying PR at Leeds University, I spent six years at Marks & Spencer then became PR Manager for Veuve Clicquot (hence my nickname Gena’Veuve!).

“PR is the power of attraction” and Asia is a place I could see was just that – a next generation playground where brands wanted to be and a part of the world where I believed I could create something different. I secured a role in Hong Kong as Senior PR for wine and spirit merchants, Berry Brothers & Rudd, then consulted for a local agency bringing fashion brands Forever 21 and Jack Wills over here. I juggled all these roles whilst designing the style, substance and personality of my own PR company, Genavieve.Co – its colour (orange!), its identity, scouting staff and winning clients – and launched it just six months after arriving here!

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Where do you live? How have you made your place your own?
I live in Happy Valley; it’s a little retreat, an open-plan studio with a large garden terrace and little summerhouse BBQ. I love collecting art and my apartment is home to treasured pieces painted by my mum and some chosen from my favourite gallery in Hong Kong, The Cat Street Gallery. My most treasured piece is one by Sir Peter Blake, purchased in celebration of my first year in business… after all, you are supposed to buy paper for your first anniversary!

What are your favourite spots in Happy Valley? Any insider tips?
I love Saint Germain for their crème brulee and great service, and Pang’s Kitchen, an example of a family-run Chinese at its best. I also love the thrill of a good race at Happy Valley Racecourse and to be able to walk to and from home is superb – sometimes I catch a race or two from my terrace too! I find such charm in St Margaret’s Church as well; the beauty of the light beaming through the stained glass windows always lifts me.

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Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
For shopping, I wander around anything un-mall-based. I like the Korean boutiques around Wan Chai for clothes, furniture gallery Chen Mi Ji has amazing retro pieces and nlostnfound is great too. Supporting local businesses is very important to me so some of my other favourites are Architectz’ Factory for charming nostalgic treasures and Incredible on Sau Wa Fong for simple but stylish garments for friends (and our signature orange smiling cups!).

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What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?

  • For cocktails, Honi Honi for an “Elle for leather” or Fatty Crab for a “Fidelity Cocktail”
  • The Pawn’s rosemary and truffle popcorn
  • The FCC for Sunday roast, fine conversation and people spotting!
  • Limehouse for a heart-warming shepherd’s pie in winter, and Eggs Benedict at Alfie’s
  • Hotel Icon’s Above & Beyond for dim sum, or on a budget, the market off Queens Road East – everything is mission possible here, from shoe menders to fresh flowers!
  • Ammo is the perfect stop-off for drinks en route to Café Gray Deluxe for supper by Chef Joey
  • Catching a ferry to Mui Wo for Sunday lunch at The China Beach Club

What’s your favourite place in Hong Kong?
What I like to call the “St Francis Pocket”, where he keeps the Sun, Moon and Stars (Streets, that is!). It’s alive with a true Hong Kong vibe and a village feel, filled with friends and eclectic local businesses – its charming and magnetic warmth excites me, which is why I chose to grow my business here. It’s here that my creative spirit feels most alive and I draw and share so much of my inspiration for my life and our clients.

You came to Hong Kong knowing literally no one! What are your top tips on how to make friends and settle in properly to HK?
Things can be lonely starting a business, and being single and far from friends and family makes it even tougher, so you have to be strong, believe you can succeed, and pick yourself up and push on 24/7. When everyone else is partying at the weekends, you are often working (G.Co would never have been made in a five-day week!), so realise you have to compromise and true friends will understand that. Remember to have time to yourself too; after six months in the city, you start to see that “less is more” and “you time” becomes so rich and empowering! Each week, I would hit the gruelling 1000-step hike, think, breathe, and come back filled with solutions and ideas for life and business. Keep variety in the people you see, where you go, keep things surprising, leave the Island, take those cheap flights around Asia and keep off the beaten track of Central. Be brave and never give up.

Making friends has ultimately been enhanced by my profession. Networking naturally breeds a diverse collection of people, by going to art openings, fairs, talks, and events. I’ve worked extremely hard to not only find my way to kind and inspiring people, but also ensure that I connect those people to others that I believe will inspire them too – networking goes both ways! I abide by a quote from Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life that you have imagined.”

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What are your top must-visit places and experiences you would recommend to all HK newbies?

  • Lose yourself in the winding backstreets of Hong Kong, with all its contrasts and colours.
  • Hire the Jungle Jane boat or The Bounty and head out for an adventure at sea.
  • Have lunch at the Yacht Club.
  • Watch the horseracing at Happy Valley, and the Christmas race at Sha Tin is a must too.
  • Walk around Tai Ping Shan Street for art studios, Homei for tea and cakes, Loveramics for kitchen pieces and my favourite florist, Ellermann. You will get a really different outlook on the city.
  • Go on ferry trips to the islands; I suggest a new one each month when you arrive.
  • When I first landed here, I went to see Kevin Spacey in Richard III at the theatre; we have some great shows in town, so make time for them. The superb young pianists are a joy to watch too.

Is there anything you wish you had known about HK before moving here?
How expensive it would be… and how much my hair plays to the humidity here and has gone back to its curls! Also, how I would not have a bath in my apartment – I often ask my friends visiting to book a hotel room with a bath so I can go run one for myself!

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What were the biggest challenges you faced in setting up your own business, Genavieve.Co? What advice would you give to other new start-ups in HK?
The greatest challenges I faced were not knowing anyone in the city, not knowing the city itself and never having run my own business! If you can be brave and determined and listen to your intuition, you can make anything happen. Some advice: leverage off and utilise your home contact base – when I looked back over my 12 years, I had access to most of the types of people that I needed. Keep those “at home” mentors close to you; international perspective is very important to you and your business and those people know you the best too. To build a strong brand identity, you need to have a 24/7 working mind! The speed of this city means you never slow down, give up or stop going – with so much future and flavour around you, why would you want to?! Build a strong business plan, consider how you are training your staff, get a good Visa agent to take you through your application, and be in all the meetings so you fully understand everything – after all, you are shaping the business! I took myself to Women’s Foundation events, Prospect PR networking nights, auctions for art-wine, and many other events to meet like-minded businesswomen, media and new potential clients. Proactivity is everything.

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Why did you decide to start your own business rather than just continue working for others?
Two loves – creating and community. I’ve always had a business streak and a self-assured independence to create something. From a young age, I saved furiously to travel the world and go to uni by jamming doughnuts (I now can’t bear to eat one!), washing plates, cleaning holiday homes, and making and selling cakes, all whilst juggling my A-Levels. During my 12 years in PR, by watching and admiring artisans create new products and consumer experiences, I myself had been stimulated and inspired!

I also found inspiration from running Veuve Clicquot’s Woman of Inspiration, an award that showed me that I could create a PR brand and business of my own. Madame Clicquot stands as a great mentor of mine – one of the first women of her time to run a business and who spoke of her wines as “only one quality, the finest” – and it is this standard of creation and service that is the centre to my development of Genavieve.Co. At G.Co, we “G.ive” and “G.row” by having an “orange-apprentice” (intern placement) and I’m also curating “Madeinhongkong.co”, a women-in-business group that shares knowledge, inspiration and helps others create their own businesses. Similarly, we donate one day a month to a local business to enhance their PR efforts, attract new customers, ensure they grow and stay a treasured and vital part of what makes Hong Kong unique.

Why did you decide to name the company after yourself?!
Well, I’ve always loved my name! I think it’s pretty unique, making it memorable and special; to me, the name naturally has the right connotations for representing luxury brands in Asia and it feels synonymous with chic style – after all, Saint Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris and means “women of the people”. I like keeping the spirit and style of the name alive in my own modern and playful way.

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Fill us in on an average working day at Genavieve Co?
There isn’t one! Variety is the spice of life and that’s why I adore the PR industry. I kick start my day with a “G juice” of carrot, apple and ginger, (suitably orange, of course!); then when I arrive at Studio G, we’ll scan the lifestyle news, post on Genavieve.Co’s social media (like our Facebook and Tumblr) and write a quote of the day on our blackboard. Our Australian clients start our day off and then we seduce media and VIPs with our brands all day, do some event planning, write and translate press releases, and spend a few hours a day dedicated to business matters, accounting, new business pitches, la la la… most of which I try my best to enjoy! I end the day at TORQ, giving my all to loud beats with fast moving feet! Then it’s back to Studio G until 9pm, when the UK day is in full swing, and then events, hosting and US client calls until I am burnt out!

In PR, I believe that less is more, so I strategically chose brands that together breed and breathe a community. PR is the “power of attraction” and a few greats lead to a few greats; I haven’t represented a brand I didn’t admire, as you and your brands’ reputation is everything – if you’re not truly passionate, your “power of attraction” is doomed and you won’t deliver. Genavieve.Co does not have a traditional website for this reason, as I believe people find each other the right way for the right reasons, from a good word to a good deed.

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Any tips on achieving the work-life balance?
A daily dose of Vitamin G! Remember to escape from familiarity and get stimulation from the real Hong Kong around you. Take an adventure to Cheung Chau – lose yourself in the winding streets, and write and work from a whole new vista. Cultivate your own energy to life, have regular massages and surround yourself with people rich in intellect and creativity. Most importantly, YOU TIME (I call it G-time!) – you are the most you have to rely on having your own business, so make sure you are fit inside and out.

All photos in the That Girl article above were taken by the hugely talented Sabrina Sikora of Sabrina Sikora Photography – get in touch with her at [email protected].

Check out the rest of our That Girls here!

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