Tom Lynham is a freelance writer and image maker who helps organisations to articulate what they do and how they do it. His clients include LEGO, University of Oxford, WWF, Central Saint Martins, Southbank, The Design Museum and the Royal Society of Arts.
We recently caught up with Tom to talk about his process, where he finds inspiration and how to stand out.
Why do you love working with words?
The most important thing individuals, couples, families, institutions, businesses and governments should do is to communicate creatively, succinctly, and effectively. Communication is not just about information, but using the wonders of language to evoke empathy, provoke engagement, and trigger action.
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration comes from listening to people tell their stories. I don’t impose anything on clients but become their surrogate storyteller; sifting, amplifying, and shaping narratives so they reach out and grab the reader.
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
The variety. This week I am working with a major supermarket, a school, a contemporary art gallery, a tech start-up, and a human rights foundation. Some jobs can run for months while drafts do the rounds being finessed and resolved. Switching from one thing to another reboots me and I bounce back with fresh insight.
How do you approach a new project?
A commission starts with a brief from a design or strategy consultancy. We visit the client and facilitate in-depth interviews and workshops. These can be cathartic, almost therapeutic experiences. It’s often the first time a group of colleagues have really explored the essence of a project and their audiences. I want to find out how people speak. The phraseology and vocabulary. The nuance and emphases. The humour, metaphor, slang, rhyme and rhythm. And slowly but surely a tone of voice begins to emerge that is distinctive and authentic. Designers are fundamental to how the words and texts read, look and feel, and how websites and online vehicles function.
Travel is another passion of yours. How has it influenced your career?
Many clients are international so travelling is an integral part of the job. Visiting other countries is always eye-opening. How cities, authorities, transport systems, retailers, museums, charities, galleries and the hospitality sector talk to citizens and visitors. I love working with translators because – it is about the words – but more about the culture they spring from, and the meanings behind the messages.
How important is collaboration?
Collaboration is everything. Most projects involve consultants from different industries coming together to make something happen. Integrating, sharing and feedback are crucial to keep on track and meet deadlines, and they define the dynamics of the relationships.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your career?
Fight for what you believe in and argue your point of view. The most successful jobs are driven by a determined client with a clear vision and absolute autonomy leading an in-house team. Jobs flounder because they get bogged down in bureaucracy, fear of the unfamiliar, poor focus, and death by PowerPoint.
With the immediacy of creating content and the rise of blogging and social media, has writing changed during your career?
There are so many ways to communicate nowadays the context has changed beyond recognition. But the content will always be that same cocktail of invitation and attraction. Tell a good enough story and people will beat a path to your door.
What attracted you to teaching?
Many people lack confidence in their ability to write, but with mentoring and encouragement they can astonish themselves. We writers spend so much time interrogating our writing, we instinctively know whether a suite of communications is hitting all the right notes. Editing is a critical skill, and word count restrictions enforce a nimble resourcefulness. Good writing is not about style. Good writing is good thinking.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
I would fill my pockets with an infinite supply of seeds and travel the world planting trees.