Maira Genovese is the founder and president of digital marketing agency MG Empower. Born in Brazil, she began her career in fashion advertising for brands including Alexander McQueen before packing it all up to set up her agency in a cafe. We sat down with her to talk about faith, fashion, influence, language, coffee agency building – and the great British pub.
I’m from Brazil, but I’ve been living in London for 16 years. I founded MG Empower in 2015 as a talent management agency. In 2017, I changed my business model to become a digital influence agency to support brands in the new way of marketing via influencers and creators.
How did you enter the world of influencers?
I have a background in fashion marketing and advertising for luxury brands such as Burberry and Alexander McQueen. In 2014, when I was pregnant with my son, I started to see the rise of social media. Facebook was huge; Instagram was becoming very popular (back then just as a photo app). Creators were starting to use their platform to promote brands organically. I thought, ‘This is the future of marketing. The future will belong to the creators. They will be the advertisers.
So when I was pregnant, I spent my time not only taking care of my baby, but also studying influencer marketing. I had the vision to create my own consulting firm. Some brands were trying to figure out how to interact with influencers – for example, Jimmy Chu was one of the first brands I supported.
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I take it the “MG” in MG Empower refers to your initials from those consulting days?
Yes! And ’empower’ because we’re here to empower people – for our customers and our team to enable people to achieve their dreams. But there is also another story. I am very religious; I am Christian. Sometimes I say that the “MG” can also mean “my God in power”. I truly believe in the power God has over our lives. It can be both.
How has your time in fashion prepared you for the social?
Well, back in Brazil, I was working in finance for American Express. I moved to London to enter the fashion industry and work with luxury brands. I had to step back a lot – the fact that I was working in Sao Paulo didn’t have much value when I arrived here. So I started from the beginning. My first job was with Alexander McQueen as an intern. I did internships until my first permanent contract with Sergio Rossi.
So, when you created the agency, you used to start from scratch?
I literally had to start over. I didn’t speak English, not at all. I could say, “My name is Maira and I’m looking for a job. That’s all.
So I went to English class. But to really learn, I needed to practice, and I had no friends except Brazilians. So I got a job in a pub – I thought that in a pub I didn’t really need to speak English; I just serve pints.
It was a very local pub. Every day the same customers come in at the same time, drink the same drink, eat the same food. But they were so nice to me and I started to really learn English. And they’re like, ‘OK, so we’re here, we can help you, we’ll talk to you.’ This pub I can tell you is where I actually learned English, not in an English class.
I always enjoy creating a diverse language culture. We have people from Greece, Italy, Brazil, France, Africa. I want to show people that no matter where you are, no matter what language you speak, you have an opportunity. If you dream of London, you have a career here.
Has the fashion industry stayed with you?
Fashion has changed a lot in terms of attitudes and behaviors. When I worked in the industry, there was a lot of ego. Titles are important: if you are a director, you have a certain respect. It’s very difficult to find your way around – and to add to that luxury brands, luxury customers. What I learned, and that I apply a lot here, is that no matter what title you have, you always have to be nice to everyone. In fashion, unfortunately, I’ve had experiences where people weren’t nice – the fact that I’m from Brazil: “Oh, she’s not even from here; What is she talking about; she does not understand the market.
But in agencies, to retain your employees or to empower your employees, you need to have this culture of kindness and empathy.
OK, so how do you start an agency in a cafe?
Well, that was the Costa inside the Odeon Cinema in North Greenwich. I went with my bike, my newborn and my laptop just to get some fresh air – when you’re a new mom and you’re at home all day, you need to get some fresh air.
One day I decided to quit my job and start this business. This cafe is the place that gave me the courage to do it. It has become my daily office. I worked there for a year, until I had enough clients to have an office.
Did that cafe mentality stay with you?
Well, mistakes are important. At the café, there was constant testing and learning. I made a lot of mistakes. I was approaching friends and influencers to work with me, but I wasn’t necessarily into that. But if you don’t make mistakes, you won’t learn anything. The important thing is to keep trying.
If anyone thinks of it, would you recommend coffee entrepreneurship to them?
To be a founder with integrity, you have to have guts. You have to be resilient. You must believe in what you are doing. The industry is so competitive. How are you going to do it? How are you going to get customers?
Over the years, so many people have told me to “give up”. I never let anyone get in my way, but I’m a good listener. I will listen to what they say but I will not change my mind. I always knew what I wanted. You can’t let anyone tell you that your vision won’t work.
Make sure you have the resilience to go through a lot of pain. Growing up is very painful. But don’t let that pain or your mistakes block what you want to accomplish.