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Phresh Q & A Series: 17 Questions with Copywriter & Branding Expert Alison Hess

Alison Hess is a talented Copywriter who has spent her career crafting “matchless voices” for internationally-known brands. You’ve probably even seen her work online, on TV, flipping the pages of a magazine or while riding the subway (for NYers). I first met Alison in Jamaica, while she was covering the country’s 50th year of independence, as well as all the excitement surrounding the 2012 Olympics for PUMA. I recently interviewed Alison to learn more about how she got into copywriting, her first project, her latest projects, and how she finds inspiration.

A Snapshot Profile of Alison Hess

Alison Hess is an award-winning copywriter, brand planner and creative director in New York City (NYC) who’s worked on some of the biggest ad campaigns with global brands like Subway and Nike. After working with a string of stellar agencies (like Opperman Weiss and Sylvain Labs), she’s returned to her roots as a freelancer.

Education: Williams College, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Organisation(s) founded: Alison Hess, Inc.

Puma Basket

From the campaign for ‘PUMA Archive’ | Source: http://www.alisonhess.com

The Phresh Interview

Phil Rodriques (PR): What’s your favourite quote/mantra?
Alison Hess (AH): I just read the best book I’ve read in years, A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara, and I loved this line: “…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”

PR: Where did you study?
AH:  I studied at Williams College. It was pure liberal arts, which taught me to think. I majored in Religion and English, and had the luxury of spending four years reading. I did a poetry thesis. Nothing remotely practical!

Bacardi Brand-Cuba

From the Barcardi Brand Book | Source: http://www.alisonhess.com

PR: What sparked your interest in copywriting, brand planning, and creative direction?
AH: My mentor, Benjamin Bailey, hired me in NYC, three weeks out of college, and I’ve been working with him ever since. I knew nothing of what I do before meeting him; he taught me everything.

PR: Can you remember your first copywriting project?
AH: The job with Ben[jamin Bailey] was at an ecommerce/catalog retailer that sold handcrafted things from around the world. Product descriptions, headlines, etc. were the first thing I ever wrote for a commercial audience. I loved it.

PR: Can you please name some of the biggest brands you’ve done work for?
AH: Nike, American Express, Bacardi, Puma, Levis, Comcast, Godiva, Chobani, Martini…lots. Plus some great Jamaican brands like ICWI, Jake’s Hotel, Jamaica Tourist Board, Cable & Wireless…

Jakes' Hotel-room

From the newly designed Jake’s Hotel website | Source: http://www.alisonhess.com

PR: What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned in your 14 years as a copywriter?
AH: I’d say that every brand deserves a unique voice, and it’s worth it to take the time to explore and find it.

PR: What’s your favorite part about being a copywriter?
AH: It’s almost like being an actor with words.

PR: What drives your work ethic?
AH: I’m freelance, so the relationships I make feed more work.

PR: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given in your industry?
AH: Building a brand is part science, part instinct.

10AFW01-NY1-A-FullPage_OL.indd

A proud sponsor of New York’s Fashion Week | Source: http://www.alisonhess.com

PR: What have been some of your unexpected career hurdles to date?
AH: Sometimes it’s taking on too much work and not achieving any balance. Sometimes it’s chasing checks [cheques].

PR: What would you say have been some of your unexpected successes?
AH: I was in the right place at the right time working on Nike+ and unexpectedly won every award in the industry in 2007.

PR: What’s the best part about working as a freelancer?
AH: Choosing the projects I take on and the agencies I engage with. Essentially, I have agency.

PR: What aspects of a new project keep you up at night or make you the most paranoid?
AH: Just deadlines. And sometimes client presentations.

NikePlus

The award-winning campaign for Nike+ | Source: http://www.alisonhess.com

PR: Where do you find the inspiration for each project?
AH: I look around. New York City provides a lot to notice. I also read, because I tend to write in the style of whatever I’m devouring.

PR: What was your latest copywriting project?
AH: I’m working on Comcast and Chobani right now.

PR: What advice would you give to aspiring copywriters?
AH: Learn to be flexible with your voice. It’s not how you want it to sound…it’s how it needs to sound for the brand. The first thing you should ask is: “Who’s the audience?”

PR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
AH: Look for a mentor. It was one of the best things I ever did.

Fin!

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The How You Living Interview Series: Bolzano, Italy

I wanted to try something new, so I created this interview series dubbed “How you living?!” that will feature glimpses of city living through the lens of some friends of mine. Hopefully 10 to 13 questions are enough. Ciao! This week, we’re in Bolzano, an Italian city with German roots, to learn about the best places to eat, hiking and cable cars, medieval architecture, and the warm-hearted people!! Enjoy the interview and leave a comment using your Facebook or Twitter account!

Interviewee: Garfield Hunter
Location: Bolzano, Italy

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

The Interview

Phil Rodriques (PR): Where are you originally from?
Garfield Hunter (GH): I am from Clarks Hill- located in Golden Spring, a small farming community in Rural Saint Andrew, Jamaica.

PR: Why did you move to Bolzano?
GH: Funnily enough, I keep getting this question a lot (given the location of Bolzano), because Bolzano is located in the Alps region of Italy, and is the capital of South Tyrol in northern Italy. It is a small town of 100,000 people. They are surprised that I would leave a large city as Shanghai [China] for a small town as Bolzano. I am currently a PhD Student in Shanghai and I applied for a Research Fellowship at the European Research Academy (EURAC Research) to gain more insight on Renewable Energy and Sustainable Urban Development. So now, I am a research collaborator for year.

PR: What’s the best part about living in Bolzano?
GH: This has to be the surrounding environment. Bolzano is a sustainable city. It epitomises greenery, walkability, pedestrianisation (the entire town centre is car-free, with exceptions made for public transportation and people with disabilities); healthy lifestyle through jogging and running with bicycle, jogging and walking paths clearly demarcated.  It is also remarkable to see men in business suits, women, and kids riding bicycles going about their daily tasks. The environmental awareness and historical knowledge of the people is amazing, and the social and political environment stimulates order and heightened quality of life for its citizens.

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

PR: What’s the worst thing about living in Bolzano?
GH: Two things come to mind, one is a result of the other. Bolzano is the city with the highest quality of life in the whole of Italy; therefore, the cost of living is higher than other cities in the country. Therefore, the price for goods and services will undoubtedly be higher. A major hindrance though is finding inexpensive accommodation, so most people combine to rent apartments. I am not used to renting a room within a flat, so this is relatively new to me and I did not adjust easily to this.

PR: You’re an urban planner and Bolzano is known for its medieval city centre. What is your favourite historic building(s) and streetscape feature(s)?
GH: There are several historical buildings, which are aesthetically pleasing to me, the Museion, (the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Bolzano), the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology that has the mummy of Ötzi the Iceman. However, my most favorite is the Bolzano Cathedral, which incidentally is located next door to my apartment. The Cathedral, which was constructed in 1180, is magnificent, and brings you on a journey where medieval meets contemporary architecture, with it’s with uniformity in design, attention to detail, and Gothic style of the Suevian mastery.

As an urban planner I was most pleased to see brick roadways in the historical centre of the city. This is in keeping with the historical nature of Austrian towns in South Tyrol (given the history of Bolzano, between Italy and Austria in the WWI).

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

PR: What would you describe as the most “touristy” thing to do in Bolzano?
GH: I am looking forward to the winter season to start skiing lessons, but there are many more activities that visitors can do such as visiting all the historical sites, river rafting, and climbing by the cable cars. However, what separates this city and region from others is the availability of pristine natural environment, which facilitates hiking and camping (I do those every weekend). The major scenic spot is the Dolomites [watch the video], which is several kilometres outside of the town centre. If you do not feel like walking through the rugged terrain, you can take the cable car to Ober-Bozen and then a train, which goes further into the forest region for a day of sightseeing.

PR: What city districts or neighbourhoods in Bolzano would you say have the best places to eat?
GH: The historical centre for sure, but to be more specific Walther Plaza, which is the main square, so it is usually a busy outdoorsy area with numerous restaurants, which maybe a little pricey. However, if you are on the go, you can find various official Kebab stalls around the town centre, my favorite is Donerland by Skampini, located at Piazza Domenicani.

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

PR: Where are the best places to go for the nightlife experience?
GH: Technically, the library for me. However, there are several events happening in around the city centre on a weekly basis. The theatre usually has dancing and drama production from local and international groups. The Bolzano Cinema although not internationally friendly (as it only shows English movies once a month), provides entertainment for young people who speak German and Italian. There are several clubs and bars in the historical centre, which are usually abuzz with activities after work, but especially on the weekends.

PR: Where’s your favourite part of the city and why?
GH: My favorite part of the city is the promenade as this is where I jog, ride and walk. I usually ride my bicycle to work over two (2) km per day (as this is customary for everyone in my research group).

PR: How do you get around the city on a daily basis?
GH: I love my bicycle and it is the main means of transportation for me. However, during the summer months it is impossible to ride to work so public transportation (bus or train) was the alternative. Most of the activities takes place within the city centre so walking is ideal when undertaking activities in this zone.

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

PR: What’s the most horrific or memorable thing you’ve seen since living there?
GH: Bolzano is the last regional stop between Innsbruck, Austria and Munich, Germany, so there has been a steady influx of migrants to Bolzano who want to go to these countries. I am broken by the desperation of these people and my heart is warmed by the reception that is given to them by the people of Bolzano. There is a voluntary reception centre at the train station, which provides shelter, hot meals and guidance to the migrants. The volunteers are very warm and friendly and treat the migrants as human beings.

PR: Tell us one stereotypical thing about Italians that’s true.
GH: Italians are hardworking and very humble. Most of my professional colleagues at the research centre are doing a PhD or have actually finished. Most are also well-accomplished scientists and researchers whom have contributed to international best practices and projects. However, most times you will never know, as they will never highlight these achievements. My colleagues said this is not so for southern Italy.

PR: What’s the one thing every visitor must do before leaving Bolzano?
GH: Tough question. I thought about it for a while, so I am sure about it; everyone should visit the Dolomites region of Bolzano. This will give you contrasting appreciation of the historical centre and the pristine natural environment that surrounds the urban landscape.

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

Photo credit: Garfield Hunter

Fin!

New Web Design Platform SiteManager Promises to Make Professional Website Development Painless

Dieter Crombez is the 34-year-old Founder and Lead Developer behind the Belgian startup, SiteManager that’s changing traditional web design processes for professional web designers, developers and webmasters. The company’s web design management software is set to launch in Fall of 2015. I recently interviewed Dieter to find out more about SiteManager’s story and how its new offering may potentially become one of the best options to hit the international web design market.

Meet SiteManager, the Web Design Platform Company

SiteManager builds the next generation web design tools for professional designers, developers and webmasters. We are constantly improving and updating our platform to create better solutions and services. We believe in creating long-term relationships, growing together and treating our users like partners.

SiteManager's headquarters

SiteManager’s headquarters | Source: SiteManager

A Snapshot Profile of Dieter Crombez

Dieter Crombez is an experienced web developer who founded SiteManager in Ghent, Belgium in 2012 with Alexander Hoogewijs and Johannes Degroote. He is the web design company’s current lead developer. Crombez is married and has a two year old son. He loves Lego, board games, and PlayStation.

Education: Hogeschool Gent [University College Ghent], Belgium
Organisations founded: Divine Design and SiteManager

Founder and Lead Developer of SiteManager, Dieter Crombez | Source: SiteManager

Founder and Lead Developer of SiteManager, Dieter Crombez | Source: SiteManager

The Phresh Interview

Phil Rodriques (PR): What is your professional background?
Dieter Crombez (DC): During my senior year at college (2002) I started a small web design agency with a friend. I immediately fell in love with [Adobe] Flash and built one of the first content management systems (CMS) for that platform.

We had some local success and the pleasure to create some cool projects for our clients over the years.

In 2012, in the midst of the mobile revolution, I founded SiteManager together with Alexander Hoogewijs and Johannes Degroote.

PR: What are you truly passionate about?
DC: I love creating and developing. I am very grateful to live in an age where you can create almost anything that comes to mind (even with limited resources). I only do the things where I am very passionate about. I try to surround myself with like-minded people who have complementary skills and interests. I am very proud of our team.

PR: After building websites and systems for over a decade, why did you pivot to create SiteManager?
DC: We always liked sharing and collaborating with others, it is in our DNA. When we built the platform to make our agency more efficient, we knew we would eventually want to share it with the web design community.

The SiteManager team | Source: SiteManager

The SiteManager team | Source: SiteManager

PR: What have been some of the unexpected hurdles?
DC: We have a small team with the big ambition to create the future of custom web design. It is very challenging to attack all aspects (not only development) of our startup with only four people. So every day we face some unexpected hurdles. It is our power to always do what needs to be done and tackle the challenges as they present themselves.

PR: What makes this a better design management tool than those already out on the market?
DC: I believe we are different because we address the complete spectrum of web design. Not only design, but also development and content management are equally important. We start with the base of good web design practices and build our platform and tools around that. We don’t try to create a [Adobe] Photoshop for the web application. Instead we try to think what would be the best and most efficient way to design and develop a website.

PR: What makes it possible for users to be able to create professional websites and save up to 3-4 hours a day?
DC: We built three timesaving applications that seamlessly work together. When a designer creates the website layout it is instantly coded, responsive, CMS ready and developer friendly. We call it design that works. Developers no longer have to reinvent the wheel and do redundant work. They just make specific changes there where it is needed. We also have a neat back-end builder they can use for the CMS. The webmaster only has to focus on creating and editing content. The fact that all actors involved work on the same platform is a real timesaver. It also leads to a more efficient way of doing things.

The new SiteManager platform promises to save your time on professional web design | Source: SiteManager

The new SiteManager platform promises to save you time on professional web design | Source: SiteManager

PR: Is SiteManager designed specifically for webmasters, designers and developers or can anyone use it?
DC:  We don’t believe everybody is a (web) designer and that everybody should focus on what they do best.  Businesses who take themselves seriously will always need the support of professional designers, developers, and marketeers to build their online presence. A website is more than just some text and pictures you put online. We understand the specific needs of these professionals and build our tools for them. The CMS part is made for their (non-technical) clients who can easily edit and manage the website afterwards. They have no access to the design or develop application.

PR: You’ll be doing a period of beta-testing. When does the final version of SiteManager officially launch?
DC: There will be a period of private beta-testing followed by a public beta. The public beta will be released before the end of this year. I already consider the public beta to be a launch since everybody will be able to join. During this period our beta-testers will be rewarded for helping us with their feedback. When we feel the product is ready we will simply drop the beta-test status from the platform.

Our platform is in continuous development so there are no versions or things like that. It just naturally evolves over time.

PR: What are some of SiteManager’s milestones for the next six to 12 months?
DC: Our (beta) release of the platform is obviously the biggest one in the next six months.

Between that and 12 months our biggest challenge will be the growth of our start-up. My co-founder Alexander Hoogewijs is really good and passionate about these things. Business development, finding the right people, etc. I will continue to work on the platform and create some new features we have not announced yet. [Dieter smiles]

Inside the headquarters of SiteManager | Source: SiteManager

Inside the headquarters of SiteManager | Source: SiteManager

PR: What is SiteManager’s “ultimate goal” in five to 10 years?
DC: We hope we can grow together with our community and build the best and most complete platform for custom web design out there. With every update we will try to raise the scope of things you can do until “ultimately” there is no limit to what you can create, design or develop.

PR: What have been some of the unexpected successes?
DC: When we put our launch page online we were very curious how the international web design community would respond and if they would actually sign-up. So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive and a lot of people are signing up every day.

The words CREATE, SHARE, and GROW communicates SiteManager's ultimate goal | Source: SiteManager

The words CREATE, SHARE, and GROW communicates SiteManager’s ultimate goal | Source: SiteManager

PR: What aspects of SiteManager’s pursuits keep you up at night?
DC: I have a two-year old who keeps me and my wife up most nights anyway so there is that. When I wake up at night it’s mostly with a new idea that has something to do with our business one way or another. If it is a really good one I will try to write it down to make sure I don’t forget. It’s a very unbalanced experience. On the one hand you are very tired because of the long working days and pressure. On the other hand you are very excited and can’t wait to share the platform with the world.

PR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
DC: I would like to thank you, Phil, for taking the time for this interview. We really appreciate it.  If people are interested I invite them to visit our website at www.SiteMNGR.com and sign up for our beta release.

Fin!

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