In conversation with

Emily Ash Powell

Global Head of Creative at Tony’s Chocolonely



Emily Ash Powell has worked at some of our favourite consumer brands – Freddie’s Flowers, Skin+Me, and Lick, to name a few. And now she’s Global Head of Creative at Tony’s Chocolonely. We sat down with Emily to chat about how brand informs creative decisions, what makes a great partnership, and the joys of being a ‘commerical’ creative.

We also spoke about her newsletter Hurdling, which looks at how we get over all the obstacles that stand in our way. You can subscribe to it here.

Question and Answer

What are your top three lessons you’ve learned along the way?

I honestly still pinch myself every day. I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to write words and shape ideas for many brands I was already obsessed with as a customer.

Work hard and be nice to people: This is from an Anthony Burrill print (and a book, too), and I have it on a wall within eyesight of my desk at home. If I was going to obsess over the words though, I would swap ‘nice’ for ‘kind’. There’s a huge difference between the two. Doing the nice thing is often very short term, whereas doing the kind thing takes you and others further.

Do one thing well: This is from another poster that I have at home. It’s Hiut Denim’s brand ethos. Hiut Denim make jeans and that’s it, because they’re really good at making jeans. It’s easy to fill your days with distractions but really, we should always focus on our strengths and make the main thing the main thing.

Do it for your reader: Writing is for reading. So you need to write for your target reader. Who are they? What do they like? How do you need to talk to them? If you’re always writing with your reader in mind, you probably won’t go far wrong.

Tony’s Chocolonely is working to make chocolate “100% exploitation free”. How does that mission inform your role?

It informs everything we do – both customer-facing and internally. This mission truly sets us apart from every other chocolate brand out there. We’re not just making unbelievably delicious chocolate, we’re making people aware of the real exploitation issues in the chocolate supply chain and we’re changing it for the better, too.

Every piece of creative needs to ladder up to this mission. Every email, campaign, social post, ad, packaging – even the chocolate bar itself, which is deliberately unequally divided to represent the inequality in the chocolate industry. As Head of Creative, it also helps me to make decisions and prioritise work for the team. This mission is an incredible reason to turn up to work every morning – and to do brilliant things for a brilliant purpose.

You’ve worked with multiple tones for different brands (and worked with our tone of voice guidelines for Lick as a writer!) For you, what makes a good set of tone of voice guidelines?

I actually collect TOV guidelines, and those were the best tone of voice guidelines I’ve ever used. What makes a good set of tone of voice guidelines is how quickly they bring me into the brand’s world, how quickly I can grasp exactly what this voice is and how quickly I can put it into practice myself. Every writer is different, but to understand what the voice is, I need to understand what it’s not. ‘This not that’ sections are the best thing for this, with examples of copy that’s totally on point, and copy that’s not.

“What makes a good set of tone of voice guidelines is how quickly they bring me into the brand’s world, how quickly I can grasp exactly what this voice is and how quickly I can put it into practice myself.”

You’ve worked with your fair share of agencies. What makes a great partnership? And a… less great one?

The worst partnerships are the ones where the client sees the agency as a JFDI (Just Fucking Do It) executor of their own ideas. For me, what makes a great partnership is that word ‘partnership’. As clients, we need to empower agencies and see them as an extension of our team. You often pay a lot of money for agencies, and that’s because you’ve decided to bring in an extensive source of talent that you don’t currently have in your in-house team. (This usually isn’t because your team aren’t good enough – it’s because they’re likely too busy with the day-to-day tasks that keep the brand ticking.)

Other than Tony’s, what’s a brand you really admire right now for their tone of voice and creative? Why?

Tony’s Chocolonely tone of voice was at the top of my list for years, and I still can’t believe I get to work with them now. I’d still pick them! Other than Tony’s, I have a few that I always reference and look to as top of their game.

The first is Nike, and my team are sick of hearing me bang on about them. Their mission to ‘bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world (*If you have a body, you are an athlete)’ is the red thread that runs through y everything they do. You don’t even need to know their mission to feel it.

The second is Puccino’s. Their tone of voice is perfect for who they are and what they do. They’re a coffee shop chain found mainly at train stations – a prime spot for tired commuters who are probably sick of the 9-5 grind. Puccino’s use their real estate to brighten those dull mundane moments with a silly sense of humour. For example, instead of small, medium and large (or venti, twenty and plenty) they call their sizes Sharon, Ralph and Larry. Why? Why not!

And finally is St John’s Restaurant, a fantastic restaurant in London. Their Instagram captions read as deliciously as their food, with evocative descriptions and trundling stories that leave your mouth watering. They’re a perfect example of ignoring the ‘best-in-class’ techniques and letting your own USP and creativity shine through.

You’ve said you’re a ‘commercial’ creative. What does that mean for you? What challenges does it bring? What’s liberating about it?

As creatives, we use our ideas words and talents to sell stuff. For many that can leave us feeling like we’re selling our souls to the corporate machine by using our art to help big companies make more money. This is true, but the flipside is that in real life, you get to see what impact your words and your art have on real people. We’re also entertaining people, and feeling entertained is a huge driver for customers to choose brands and buy products.

I used to say ‘Oh, I’m only words, not numbers’ but then I joined a startup pre-launch where everyone was talking about costs per acquisition, retention and gross margin all the time. I was forced to understand how all my work contributed to moving business goals. Understanding the commercial context in a business is helpful in most work scenarios, but I think it can help you to work better with different teams. ‘Why do we need to say change this subject line, I liked it?!’ ‘Oh, it’s because we’ve identified that only 21% of the send list opened it, vs 68% last time.’ Ah.

Being commercially aware is a huge asset to any brand or agency, but for you personally, understanding the business impact of what you’re doing can help you to define your purpose at work. In moments of doubt, having that understanding might help you to decide whether it’s all worth it to you.

You also write a brilliant newsletter, Hurdling. It features conversations about ups and downs, interviews with writers, and book and film recommendations. What role does writing Hurdling play in your creative practice? How do you balance personal and work creativity?

Substack is an amazing platform that empowers writers by giving them a sustainable publishing model – one that directly pays them for their work!

My job now is less about creating and crafting things myself, and more about guiding a team to create and craft brilliant things themselves. I love what I do but I found that I was itching to have something to craft of my own – and I also realised that I had quite a lot of things I’d learned and wanted to say about the world of work and about life, in general.

Moving to a four day week meant I could carve out space to treat my Substack as another job, but I’m still one of those creatives who finds it hard to not immediately drop everything else when the lightning bolt of that idea strikes. When they do strike, I have to force myself to download everything I currently have about that idea into a voice memo in Google Keep, and then I can revisit it again when I have the space to work on it properly.

Hurdling explores the “things gone wrong”. What is something you’ve learnt from facing challenges as a creative?

HOW TO SAY NO. I moved to London from South Wales at 21 with a huge amount of excitement, energy and naivety – and then had my confidence shattered by a senior woman who I’d assumed would be a role model and champion for me. She told me I ‘was no writer’, and it knocked me sideways. To try and prove her wrong and make myself feel better, I took on every opportunity that came my way. But it still didn’t feel I was doing enough to prove myself.

There have been a few times when I crumbled under the weight of what I’d tried to pile onto my plate,  So instead of just saying ‘no, sorry I’m busy!’ up front, I’d say yes and fuck it up later. Now I say no. It’s wild how liberating it is to tell someone you don’t have capacity to do something right now instead of trying to convince everyone you’re a superhuman machine who can do everything everywhere, all at once

Emily's Storylist


  1. Courier
  2. Suitcase
  3. Cosmopolitan


  1. Sentimental Garbage with Caroline O’Donoghue
  2. Off Menu with James Acaster & Ed Gamble
  3. Where Should We Begin? with Ester Perel


  1. Tone Knob by Nick Parker
  2. The Hyphen by Emma Gannon
  3. Shut Up Evan: The Newsletter by Evan Ross Katz

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