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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.