Spotlight: Creative Director

It’s time for our latest Spotlight on another brilliant person in our business. This is our chance to scratch beneath the surface and really find out what they do all day and how working here is just, well, different to other agencies. This time around, we hear from our Creative Director, Sonali de Alwis.

Sonali talks about how she stays up to date with the latest trends, explains how we take a brief from concept to completion, and talks about why good relationships with colleagues and clients alike are so important (oh, and a ready supply of sweets in the office).

Hi Sonali! Thank you for sitting down with me and talking about being a Creative Director at The Online Studio – why don’t we start with a short intro on who you are?

Well, I have been at The Online Studio for just over two years, which I find amazing because it’s gone so quickly but I also feel like I have always worked there (in the nicest way). I came to OLS with a slightly unorthodox background as I had spent the previous 12 years working in the music industry, including 10 years at a record label and two years in New York working for an agency. I like to think that coming from a non-advertising background means I brought in a fresh way of thinking to this role.  

I’m an avid cook, I like trying my hand at new cuisines and have definitely had a ‘baking moment’, which thankfully for my waistline has been curbed a little recently. I’ve visited lots of countries and lived in a few, and I love finding the best local food to try out wherever I go. 

I try to dip into museums and exhibitions as much as I can, especially now restrictions have been somewhat lifted. I’ve got my eye on the ‘Life Between Island’ exhibition at the Tate next, which explores the positive impact Windrush identities and communities have had on post-war Britain.

So, what would you say a usual day for you looks like? 

I like to start each day with a studio stand-up. It’s great to run through our projects together but I also think there is something really valuable in us all being together as a team to kick off the working day. The rest of my day is always a juggle, moving between client calls, internal catch ups, reviewing work and internal initiatives. Across all clients I’m often working on 15-20 projects at any one time, so there isn’t much time to sit on my hands. As busy as it is though, the studio is run beautifully by our amazing team of Project Managers, so it’s a finely tuned machine that allows us to glide through that level of work easily. 

What is your favourite part of being Creative Director at OLS? 

Hands down it’s the people and the clients. Sometimes I feel guilty for liking work so much but it’s a genuine feeling and it’s down to the fact that everyone is so lovely. I hold nice people in the highest esteem, and don’t buy into the notion that talent comes hand in hand with ego or bravado. I feel like we are a great example of a studio built by good people, who employed other good people, who make a point of working with nice clients, and who all respect each other and actually like each other! It sounds idealistic but it works if it comes from the top down and it makes work a joy every day. 

As a Creative Director, how do you keep informed on trends or best practices?

I think it’s so important to stay plugged in – creativity is all about what’s new and what’s next. If you get complacent it’s easy to lose relevance and there will always be someone new and exciting snipping at your heels. I find signing up to newsletters the best way to stay updated on industry news and trends, and I have some favourite sites like It’s Nice That and WGSN that I plug into regularly as they have such wonderfully curated content. Working in the social sphere means that things are changing constantly so it’s even more important to keep on top of platform innovations and capabilities so we can offer clients the best creative solutions. 

Can you go into more detail on how you work with the other creatives on a project to concept a brief?

I’m all about collaboration – there is so much more power in bringing more than one person to the table when coming up with new ideas. I invest time in all the strategic insight we are provided by our clients, making sure that my team understands what our objectives are and crafting work that will get results. Most projects are a team effort between myself, our Senior Copywriter Dave and the Designer working on the project. If I have a strong idea I’ll throw it out there, and I’m all ears to everyone else’s ideas and input. I feel like the best creative is often the combination of everyone’s input, and I love being surprised by a great line of copy or an amazing transformation of assets into something fantastic. 

Would you say that what we do at OLS is different to other agencies who create content? If so, how?

I respect the hustle of every agency out there, everyone works so hard and there is a lot of lovely work happening every day. Where I see we have carved out a special lane for ourselves is our ability to take brand assets and completely reimagine them into something new and wonderful. We show brands every day that they don’t need to go out and constantly shoot new content to keep up with the pace of social campaigns. We can take what they have and create something perfect for now in a very short space of time. I think that level of creativity and agility is rare and it’s always great to see client feedback when they almost can’t believe what we have managed to do with what they gave us originally.

If the person reading this was interested in working with The Online Studio as a partner to create their social content, in your opinion why should they consider The Online Studio?

Well, it’s quite simple – we know what we are doing and we are really nice with it. We treat our clients as partners and friends, so working with us is an opportunity to build a new relationship that you can rely on and build upon, which I think is invaluable these days. We also have a lot of sweets and snacks in our office which is open to everyone :)