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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!

The How You Living Interview Series: New York City

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. This week, we’re live from New York, New York where the buildings touch the sky and the city never sleeps!! Enjoy the interview and leave a comment using your Facebook or Twitter account!

Interviewee: André Haffenden
Location: New York City, U.S.A.

Photo credit: André Haffenden

Photo credit: André Haffenden

The Interview

Phil Rodriques (PR): Where are you originally from?
André Haffenden (AP): Born in Mandeville, Manchester, Jamaica. Spent formative years in Cross Keys, South Manchester.

PR: You’re an architect. What’s your favourite building in New York City (NYC)?
AP: Hmm, this is a tough question, because there are too many great buildings/structures here. I’ll just list a few that I admire, I don’t subscribe to “favourites” really. In no particular order: The Guggenheim Museum, The Highline, The 9/11 Memorial Pools, Apple Store (5th Ave. location), Flatiron Building [pictured below], The Cooper Union, Brooklyn Bridge (other bridges are awesome too)… I’ll just throw in the subway as well.

PR: Why did you move to NYC?
AP: Big city bright lights man. Mainly for my son and job opportunities.

Photo credit: André Haffenden

Photo credit: André Haffenden

PR: What’s the best part about living in NYC?
AP: Waking up every morning and upon inhalation, the stench of the city filling your lungs to capacity, constant reminder you’ve made it to NYC. Really though, there’s always something to do, something to see, something new… hard to get bored. And food.

PR: What’s the worst thing about living in NYC?
AP: Rent.

Photo credit: André Haffenden

Photo credit: André Haffenden

PR: Who’s the biggest celebrity you’ve ever walked by on the street?
AP: Probably Daniel Libeskind (Celebrity Architect), literally bumped into him on sidewalk downtown. Biggest that the popular culture might recognize was Lady Gaga (Singer + Songwriter).

PR: Where are the best places to eat?
AP: This question would have to be broken down by where you are in the city, by neighbourhoods. There are far too many great places to eat.

PR: Where are the best places to go for the nightlife experience?
AP: Perhaps the West Village.

Photo credit: André Haffenden

Photo credit: André Haffenden

PR: Where’s your favourite part of the city?
AP: I like the piers and the Highline. Central Park as well, although I don’t go there often.

PR: How do you get around the city on a daily basis?
AP: Mostly by subway; then buses, taxi, Uber.

PR: What’s the most horrific thing you’ve seen since living there?
AP: The aftermath of an apartment building explosion on the same street I live on. Even more horrific were the bigoted comments online about the incident.

Photo credit: André Haffenden

Photo credit: André Haffenden

PR: Tell us one stereotypical thing about New Yorkers that’s true.
AP: New Yorkers are ALWAYS in a hurry. Facts!

PR: What’s the one thing every visitor must do before leaving NYC?
AP: They must get out the way of people trying to go about their business, ugh. Then they should visit the Highline and 9/11 Memorial… try a restaurant in at least five different neighbourhoods, and most of all, go uptown.

Fin!

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