Ryan Overhiser

Ryan Overhiser is the Creative Lead at Allbirds. Nobody & Partners got the chance to speak with Ryan to learn more about his background, creative process and what it’s like working at Allbirds.

What’s the first thing you ever sold to someone?

Oh man, this is a tough one. I guess it would be my first job when I was 16 as CVS clerk. At the time they still sold tobacco products and I remember people coming up to the counter and asking me for their very specific pack of cigarettes, and I would turn around, look at the expansive wall of varieties, and scan them one by one until I found what I thought they had requested. A lot of times they’d get annoyed and have to direct me. This is a very long winded way of saying that maybe the first thing I ever sold was cigarettes, as an underaged teenager, which may or may not have been illegal!

When did you realize you wanted to be a copywriter? 

It was never really a calculated decision, honestly. I had a high school English teacher who really encouraged me with lots of uplifting praise as it related to my writing. I never knew “what I wanted to be when I grew up” and she was the first person to think maybe I could be a writer. (Shoutout Ms. Capecci!)

I pursued writing loosely in college, graduating with what’s arguably the most useless undergraduate degree offered, a Bachelor’s in Communications. After graduating, I got into journalism. Then I got impatient with the fact that it was really hard to get a staff writer job, so I took a step back and applied to be a Public Relations Intern at an ad agency in Philly. Thankfully, my application made its way to a Creative Director at the agency who thought I’d be a better fit as a Copywriting Intern. I joined that agency, hustled for a while as a 24-year-old intern, got hired full-time, and as they say, the rest is history.

How did you end up as the Creative Lead at Allbirds? 

I think my job at Allbirds is the one and only role I’ve ever gotten by applying through the company’s careers page. I had heard about Allbirds from my dad of all people, who sent me a press clipping with a headline that was something like “These Wool Shoes Will Stop Your Feet From Stinking”. It was hard to miss the brand take off pretty quickly in San Francisco, so I had followed along, then saw the job posting, applied, and got lucky that the interview panel took a liking to my interview assignment. I think the headline that sealed the deal for me was “Simplicity In Every Step”.

What responsibilities come with that title?

I’ve been with Allbirds for three and a half years now, and the responsibilities have really run the gamut during that time. I still work across pretty much every aspect of the company that requires copy, but lately I’ve tried to focus more on our sustainability mission. I’m most interested in the work that team is doing to reduce the business’s carbon footprint, and telling that story in layman’s terms is more appealing to me than doing traditional product marketing.

Where do you and Allbirds get inspiration from?

A big source of inspiration at Allbirds, from products to colors to the brand story, is nature. We want to encourage people to get outside, and in the process of doing so, help support the planet and its people. For me, getting outside is really important too. I also find a lot of my inspiration from music and lyrics, film, meditation, exercise, reading, comedy, long drives, current events, solitude, and social stimulation.

 How do you overcome writer’s block? 

I’m not sure I’ve ever successfully overcome writer’s block, to be honest. I think the most important element for me when I’m trying to break out of a creative rut is time. And that’s a rarity in the environment of a fast growing business like Allbirds. So there are lots of situations when I just force myself to write things that are really terrible. Sometimes that leads to something good, and sometimes you just go into a creative review with terrible things and lean on your teammates to help you build something less terrible. Luckily, after almost four years with the Allbirds brand voice, I can usually drum up something even if I’m not feeling all that inspired. I struggle way more with writer’s block when it comes to more personal, more creative writing, and breaking through that block has been something I haven’t been able to do for a long time.

Who do you admire and look up to in your industry?

Hmm, that’s a tough one. To be frank, I think the people I admire and look up to most are not in the advertising/marketing industry, but there are two people who come to mind. One is my friend Ayni Raimondi, who is the VP of Brand at Match, the OG in online dating. I look up to her because she’s an incredibly savvy marketer who has done lots of amazing work throughout her career, but it doesn’t define her. She’s able to be a badass professionally and then be a badass outside of work as well, and I think that ability to balance and unplug is rare in our industry.

The other would be a guy named Patrick Maravilla, who I’ve never met outside of the internet, but who shares really insightful and inspiring soliloquies on LinkedIn. He’s a rare breed of Creative Director who not only knows what it takes to make great work, but also knows what it takes to mentor and manage younger talent.

Outside of my industry, most of the people I look up to are dead white men, for better or worse. Hunter S. Thompson for his inventiveness, consistency, and fearlessness in speaking truth to power. Charles Bukowski for his resilience. Kurt Vonnegut for his irreverent, yet incredibly accurate, analysis of the human condition.

Have you had an “I made it moment”?  

Definitely not. I’m my own biggest critic, so I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to sit down and say that I’ve made it. 

Is the copywriting world very collaborative / community-oriented or competitive?

I collaborate often with my teammates at Allbirds, and we share ideas openly. I think most writers, just by our very nature, are more introverted and closed-off. Or maybe that’s just me projecting.

Either way, speaking personally, I don’t seek out industry peers to talk shop or bat ideas around. And I don’t get much outreach from other writers seeking that type of collaboration. I’d say within the walls of an organization/agency/etc., creative teams are definitely quite collaborative. I think I probably play it off like I don’t care, but when I see a brand we consider a competitor biting our messaging, I get a little concerned and competitive.

What’s the hardest skill you had to develop?

I think I’d say patience is something that I still have to work at to this day. And that spans a lot of different areas: patience as it relates to growing in my career, witnessing my ideas come to fruition, seeing my team get the recognition they deserve…even patience when it comes to getting a response to a Slack message or email.

In a similar vein, I’ve done a lot of work to think before I speak at work, and to presume positive intent of my teammates. I’ve learned that there’s a difference between reacting and responding. I think meditation and the simple act of taking some deep breaths have helped a lot with this.

What do you think about apps automating copywriting? Will it make copywriting obsolete? 

Straight trash. I don’t think automated things like that will ever be able to nail the nuances of human communication.

What other brands do you believe are crushing it? 

I love Oatly because they seem like a brand who gives zero fucks. Their voice is human, fun, and lovably ridiculous.

I also love Reformation. Snarky, sassy, and the ability to say a lot in like, 4 or 5 words. Their emails always give me copywriting envy

Does amazing copy have universal qualities? 

I think the most important universal quality for me is that it sounds like something a human would say.

Do you prefer to write with pen and paper or on a computer?

Love me some good ol’ fashioned pen and paper.