Alex Williams | New Marketing Creative at Toi Ohomai On Music, Trading Cities and the Future of Education in Tauranga
Alex Williams cut her ties with Auckland and permanently settled in Tauranga just in time for summer last year. She and her husband Ethan had been ping-ponging between the two cities for six months after buying a house in Papamoa but continuing to work in Auckland.
Between moving city, changing jobs, and getting married, it’s been a big year – but they are now settling into their new home and enjoying the relaxed pace. Alex is a multi-talented creative who has taken on the role of Marketing and Creative Manager for Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology.
She is also re-inventing her well-established music career and looking forward to a summer of shows in Tauranga with her newly formed band, Chill Winston.
This is her story.
Alex, where did you grow up?
I was born in Germany and grew up in the United Kingdom. My parents were in the airforce, so we moved a lot. I ended up in Pukekohe at the age of 13 and settled in Auckland after doing communications a degree at the University of Waikato.
Can you give me a brief overview of your career story?
At university, I did a double major in PR and English literature. My first job involved marketing and events which gave me an idea of where my career might go. After that I did Marketing and PR for Converse in New Zealand, working with youth culture artists and overseeing activations, stores, and events. I enjoy roles with the scope to try different things, own my space, be creative and question everything!
I then went on to be the Events and Community Fundraising Manager for SPCA New Zealand. I was there during their merger of 45 centers into one organization and helped define the community and events fundraising strategy. SPCA was a cause extremely close to my heart, so the pressure to succeed was definitely there.
In 2018 I was awarded the “Best Newcomer” award at the Fundraising Institute of New Zealand conference. This was a real honour, as was being invited in 2019 to speak at their conference, talking through my national events strategy.
Alongside my marketing career, I’m a musician and music was a massive part of my life in Auckland. My band was signed with a couple of labels/publishers at various times so most of my free time was taken up with recording, gigging, songwriting, etc.
What prompted your move to Tauranga?
The other half of my band moved back to the United Kingdom in 2016, which was one of the leading reasons we were free to leave Auckland. Before that, I was tied in terms of gig venues and opportunities with media and PR.
Also, we needed a change. Auckland wasn’t for us anymore. We didn’t do enough of the city things to warrant the commute times and house/rental prices. My husband is from Gisborne and grew up with the beach lifestyle. My parents are still in the Franklin region, so Tauranga was a nice middle ground between both families. We loved the mixture of the beachy outdoors lifestyle, while still having a foodie and culture scene here. It was a toss-up between here and moving to Wellington, but a trip here for a friend’s beach wedding in the summer of 2018 sealed the deal.
How did you transition between Auckland and Tauranga?
Ethan and I moved here in November, having bought our house in Papamoa the previous April. So the year leading up to it was a busy one, juggling Auckland rental prices and a new home. We also got married (throw that one in there) and both had a change in jobs. Thankfully we’re pretty ‘go with the flow kind of people so we pretty much took it in our stride.
What was your experience of finding work here like?
We were both really fortunate that our Auckland employers were happy for us to work remotely, so there was never a huge stressor for us to find work locally. However, I was very aware that we would never make friends if were both working virtually from home, so I started looking for something here. Whilst it was a really difficult decision to leave the SPCA, I knew one of us needed to work on embedding ourselves into the community. A large local institute felt like a good place to do that. I applied for the role of Marketing and Creative Manager for Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology and got it.
My husband is still working remotely which is great for flexibility, and he’ll move onto something more local when the right opportunity comes up.
What does your role as Marketing and Creative Manager at Toi Ohomai involve?
I look after two teams, the marketing team and the graphic design team. Together we run all the recruitment marketing and branding, at a corporate level and at a course level. A massive focus this year has been rebranding the institute, as well as redeveloping our tactics and campaigns. As an institute of technology, I’m pushing more and more into the digital space and working on more innovative practices, whilst trying to remain relevant and resonate with the varying communities we deliver in.
What do you enjoy about the role?
The organization has been through a lot of change over the past three years, and there’s more on the horizon with the impending reform of vocational education. For me, all of that represents an opportunity to try new things – to change bits that haven’t been questioned in a long time, create more efficiencies, and just have fun with the brand. I enjoy that the organization is happy for me to branch out a bit and break the mold, and I enjoy that I have a supportive team getting behind the change.
Tauranga has not traditionally been seen as a unicity. What’s your take on the positive changes in the tertiary education sector here?
Our entire purpose Toi Ohomai is to be learner-centered. Creating more opportunities for students in the BOP/Waikato to access quality education and live locally can only be a good thing. At the moment, I do believe Toi Ohomai has a real point of difference in this region with our hands-on approach, giving our students real work experience as they learn. This helps them to make meaningful connections with the industry and ultimately increases their employability options as they leave.
I’ve seen a lot of courses where students have found jobs before they’ve even finished because the industry is actively seeking our graduates. My cousin is actually studying beauty therapy as we speak and has already been employed at a local salon when she finishes in November.
Obviously, I’m not a student, but we moved here because of the growth of the city and the fact that there will be career/life opportunities. I think as the offering here grows, and now that the new University of Waikato campus is adding more vibrancy to the CBD, it will just become more and more of an attractive proposition for potential students, not only locally, but throughout the country.
What has surprised you about Tauranga?
That our social life is already better than in Auckland! It’s just easier to get around and see people on the weekdays after work, plus we’re generally more relaxed on the weekends and keen to host dinner parties. We’re both artists/musicians, so neither of us is into traditionally social activities like sports or outdoorsy clubs. The fastest way we’ve met people surprisingly is through our dogs. We’re out walking them every day and we’re constantly bumping into people and having a chat. Some of those people have become friends.
The other big difference is that most of the people our age we’re meeting here are settling down and here to stay. For the past 10 years, we’d make friends with people in Auckland and they’d end up leaving because it wasn’t a sustainable place to stay. I can actually see us making some lifelong friends here, which is a nice thought.
How have you connected with fellow creatives locally?
I’m planning on starting a craft and wine club for younger people like myself whose hobbies are mostly solo crafts. I’m in a new band called Chill Winston. We’re already playing shows at venues like Mount Brewing Co and will be out and about all summer.
I Facebook stalked local musicians here and messaged people to make contacts. I know there are established groups like Creative BOP and The Incubator, but I haven’t yet found any groups for our particular style of music/creative practices.
I think if you’re into sports, fishing, CrossFit, etc, you’re sorted for social opportunities. Otherwise, if you’re more like us, as long as you’re willing to put yourself out there and create opportunities for yourself, there’s plenty of people keen to join in.
Most of the people we’ve made friends with have also moved here in the past couple of years. It’s an easy thing to bond over.
What do you love about living in Tauranga?
We live at the west end of Papamoa. I love the fact that I can walk two minutes down the road and be on a beautiful beach or drive ten minutes and be in the countryside. But, it doesn’t come with the sacrifice of living completely rural. I can still get a mighty fine long macchiato round the corner and a good cocktail. Plus there are some GREAT wine clubs here!
What do you do to have fun/relax here?
We spend lots of time at the beach, go to wine clubs and events with friends, have lots of crafts and game nights at home. We hang out with our fleet of pets, make things, drink copious amounts of coffee, brunch out a bit too much. I’m in a new band so we’ll be playing shows through summer. We love the hot pools in winter. Every now and then we’ll get completely overdressed and head into the mount for drinks or CBD for dinner. You can definitely still peg us as ‘city folk’ when we go out. We also go to lots of local events like Dinner En Blanc, Tauranga Gala Dinner and the coffee festival (such a highlight!)
What has moving to Tauranga meant:
For your career?
Honestly, it may slow down the pace of progress slightly as there are fewer options in my field at my level. I’m just lucky this role came up when I did. I’m hoping that as the region continues to grow, it will bring more global and national brands with it. On the flip side, living here meant we could buy our first house.
For your wellbeing?
We are genuinely happier and less stressed. We can have a better work/life balance with fewer commute times and closer proximity to nature. Even if you have a stressful workday, being able to go home and run the dogs through the dunes straight away makes the world of difference.
For your relationships?
Surprisingly we are more social and have more time for friends. My husband and I are able to spend a little more quality time together on the weekdays which is also amazing.
Gets You Thinking Doesn’t It?
No one can tell you when you’re ready for a change of lifestyle…but when you are, we’d love to have you in Tauranga!
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