Annabel Hawksworth | BCBusiness
PR maven Annabel Hawksworth on the fine art of communication.
She may be one of Vancouver’s most prominent PR specialists, but Annabel Hawksworth isn’t afraid to air her initial reticence about entering the profession. “I really never wanted to be in PR – it just seemed so phony,” the principal of her eponymous PR agency and wife of vaunted chef David Hawksworth says, bluntly, during lunch at his self-titled restaurant downtown. “I wanted to do something with more substance.”
We’re discussing the London transplant’s time in the English capital working for Marco Pierre White, the original enfant terrible and, at the time, the youngest chef to scoop three Michelin stars. Having risen from working the front desk of a hotel and hostessing, Hawksworth was marketing and sales manager in the ’90s for his restaurants, such as Belvedere, Mirabelle and L’Escargot (where she met David). Between bites of yellowfin tuna ceviche, she talks of the era as “exciting, fast-paced,” but one where the image for PR was inextricably linked with the fluffy Absolutely Fabulous character, Eddie Monsoon.
A week after marrying, in 2000, the pair moved to David’s native Vancouver – he as executive chef at West, she as communications director for the restaurant’s parent company, Top Table Group. Six years later, she set up her boutique agency, drawing such high-octane clients as Tiffany & Co. and Whistler’s Nita Lake Lodge, shortly before her husband left to establish his restaurant at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia (another on her roster).
Perhaps sensitivity to the oft-inaccurate portrayal of the profession is the reason the 41-year-old quickly gained a reputation as a publicist not prone to hyperbole. Her modus operandi is twofold: a good PR consultant needs to be “knowledgeable, strategic, hard-working and accountable” (“not like Eddie at all,” she quips), but Hawksworth likes “to introduce people to our places or people and then let them discover things for themselves.” Over beef short rib (I’m sating on lamb curry), she continues: “We have interesting clients, so it’s not a hard sell. It’s fun.”
Fun, but ever-changing: in her opinion, the lines of demarcation between journalism, blogging and PR are blurring, and pitches need to be tailored. Her team of five women (she’s only had one male job applicant; perhaps, she suggests cautiously, “tact and diplomacy are often called for, and women tend not to let their egos get in the way”) manages its own Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter updates, along with those of their clients. “We try to keep ahead of the curve,” she says.
While evolving her business, Hawksworth has had to tone down her London mentality. Forget scheduling tight 30-minute meetings back-to-back. “It’s definitely a different work culture. I would try to get straight to the point, and in Vancouver there would be coffee and chit-chat first,” she says with a laugh. “It took some while, but now I enjoy the laid-back-ness, the fact that people have more time for each other.” The Yaletown resident today finds people in New York or London are “abrupt.”
Outside of work, Hawksworth has further embraced the West Coast lifestyle, playing tennis, running and skiing (she is slightly discombobulated this afternoon with a torn rotator cuff from a fall in Whistler). She does not, however, follow the Canucks. “I try really hard not to,” she says, as we round off lunch with macarons. “It takes up too much time and I have enough stress in my life.”
Naturally, she defers to her husband in the kitchen. “I cooked for him once, early on,” she says, recalling a spaghetti Bolognese, “and it was pretty much decided – without even speaking – that he would do the cooking from there on in.” Although, given his long hours at the restaurant, the chef widow still cooks for herself and their five-year-old son, Heston. (No, not after chef Blumenthal. “We just loved the name.”)
Beyond Hawksworth restaurant, the couple has the next-door Bel Café, which bears her name. (“How sweet is that?”) She’s an early adopter of the Karma Exchange program, and a portion of sales of cups and canisters of Dawn tea sold in the café are donated to charity. “It just makes sense,” she says.
It’s all PR, undoubtedly, but without a whiff of the Eddie exaggeration, darling.