Humans of TMA: Leo Santos

October 22, 2021

Humans of TMA is a content series that showcases the diverse, interesting, and creative people that make up The Marketing Arm.

Let’s Get to Know Leo…

Can you describe what your role is at TMA? I’m the Creative “leg” of the stool that leads one of our Growth Teams—teams designed to run the business of specific accounts. As the creative lead—alongside my partners Lori Thelen in Account Services and Chris Lee in Strategy— our team services the Frito-Lay, Papa Murphy’s, and Advance Auto Parts/DieHard accounts. My job is assembling a talented creative team and nurturing an environment where they can deliver the type of work that moves hearts and businesses embodied in our motto: Creativity That Matters. There’s also a bit more of running a healthy business to it than anyone ever told me I’d have to do in Ad School, but I do enjoy a challenge.

What led you to this career/industry? Funny enough: peer pressure. I’ve always loved advertising growing up, but didn’t really have great designs to make a living out of it. In high school, I got the “most creative” superlative. Friends told me this is what I needed to do. I didn’t believe them at first. In Brazil at the time [my native country], you had to choose a major before applying to undergrad. I was indecisive and applied to three different majors in three different schools. For a whole year, I attended two colleges: one for Communications/Advertising, one for Foreign Trade. Eventually, classes started to clash and I made the choice. It’s funny to think I could have ended up an Electrical Engineer, though. That was the third school I also got accepted into. I was pretty great at math.

What’s the coolest or your favorite thing you’ve worked on? Ever? The work I’ve done for Doritos over the years has really forged who I am as a Creative. I’ll always have a huge debt of gratitude for what that brand has allowed me to be a part of over the years, from the smallest and most daring to the biggest projects any Creative could ever dream of. I’ll also always be incredibly proud of all the ways in which we helped transform the Cheetos brand into the cultural icon it is today. Recently? I have a lot of heart to the work we’ve done in the past year against incredible odds to bring the DieHard brand back to prominence, and for the way our team and the client team on SunChips have been in tune to create work together that we think is meaningful and with great attention to the craft.

What three words would your closest friends use to describe you? You’d have to ask them, but my best guess: Loyal. Creative. Introspective.

How do you bring your full self into your work? What unique perspectives do you bring? Oddly, by not bringing my full self into work. I’ll explain: Out of the many bits of wisdom I’ve been gifted by our CEO Andrew Robinson over the years, one that has framed my work life recently is the realization that my job today is to create and nurture the environment for great people to do great work. If you asked me what bringing my full self to work meant to me, I’d tell you it meant bringing my 20+ years of experience wearing many hats in this business, working as both a Copywriter and an Art Director (with short stints on the Account Services and Media Buying sides to boot), having been at 12-people agencies and 1,200-people agencies, doing work for the neighborhood flower shop and for Fortune 50 companies, to bear solving client problems. But today, a big part of it is knowing how to step aside to allow room for the fantastic people in our Creative team to do what they do best in solving those problems themselves—guiding them and letting them grow. My job is making our Creative team’s work better, not making their work mine.

Where do you find inspiration? We always say we should find inspiration outside the business, but as an inveterate lover of advertising, I still do look for great ad work being done out there in the usual publications—especially beautifully crafted broadcast work. Otherwise, I’ve been finding inspiration in Masterclass. Though I have no plans to become an actor, a documentarian or a master chef anytime soon, learning about the craft of some of the best people in a variety of fields has helped keep that craving for constantly learning alive through this new pandemic life.

What is your guilty pleasure? Brazilian soccer, red meat, and too much TV.

What has been your favorite cultural moment of the last few years? The new civil rights movements. We are living in an extraordinary time of a confluence of different movements, with disenfranchised people demanding rights they really shouldn’t have to ask for. Black Lives Matter. Women’s rights. LGBTQ+ rights. Migrant rights. Voting rights. Fatherhood gives you a different prism, and you think a lot about what world you’re leaving behind to your kids, what part you play and what can you do to make the world a bit better, or at least do no harm. I didn’t always appreciate what power we have to bring positive change to the world in what we do, in a way that’s also positive for our clients. I’m much more aware of that today, and much happier that so many businesses are also more willing to flex their muscles for justice.

What causes are you supportive of and why? There is no cause of justice and equality I’ll be against, but voting rights is of particular interest to me, as a believer in democracy and its power to bend the long arc of the moral universe toward justice. As someone who grew up in a country where voting is not just encouraged but mandatory [Brazil], I’ve witnessed the franchise’s ability to create widespread political engagement. This country is taking a dangerous and regressive turn as voting rights are concerned. Those who derive power out of apathy and disengagement are much more willing to openly fight against free and fair elections today, be it by restricting the ability to vote or discrediting the process itself. That is something anyone who believes in the ideals of this country should agree on and want to nip in the bud, regardless of political stance. But until that’s the case, I’ll be supporting those who do.

What’s your hobby or passion project outside of TMA? Raising a pair of remarkable kids to be decent human beings. The movies, the photography, the food, the sports—everything else that was once a hobby has become a lesser interest. I get unending joy out of the time I get to spend with my kids, and especially as a single dad who only gets to spend half their time with them, and who knows in just a few years I’ll become that lame old guy between them and their friends, I want to ride this joyride while it lasts, so that’s where most of my free time goes these days.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Stop worrying about what other people will think. I had to figure that one out on my own, and it’s one of the greatest gifts anyone can give themselves

What is one thing you wish more people knew about you? I’m too much of an introvert to wish to be more of an open book, but I hope people know I’m here to help. Whether it’s jumping on a project, sharing some of my experience in this business, moving furniture or just listening, I was raised to have a giving heart, and I like thinking I’m making those who raised me that way proud.

Quick Hits…

What are you watching? Way too many things for way too little time. Currently: Ted Lasso, AP Bio, Only Murders In The Building, Brooklyn 99, and Succession. What I’m waiting for new seasons of: Letterkenny, Handmaid’s Tale, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Tacoma FD, Ozark, Stanley Tucci Searching For Italy.

What are you reading? I’ll admit I have a terrible habit—born out of a short attention span—of abandoning books halfway through, but currently I’m trying to fight that habit on “One Hundred Years Of Solitude,” “March” (a graphic novel series on the life of civil rights icon John Lewis), and a whole lot of “Dog Man” with my daughter and “Captain Underpants” with my son.

What are you listening to? I’ve had a teenager’s taste in music lately. Been listening to a lot of Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” on repeat. For some adulting, I’ve recently rediscovered Miles Davis’ beautiful soundtrack to “Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud,” the whole Led Zeppelin catalog and the remarkable Brandi Carlisle. “13 Minutes to the Moon,” a BBC podcast about the Apollo missions, has been a walking companion. And whenever I’m driving my kids anywhere, I get to listen to The Toilet Bowl Cleaners. Don’t Google it.

Who are you following? Cannes Lions and the Ad Age Creativity Magazine for inspiration. Andy Slavitt and Charles Gaba for all things COVID. Stacey Abrams and Marc Elias for voting rights. Norm Ornstein, Dave Wasserman, Soledad O’Brien, John Stoehr and Paul Krugman for politics/current affairs. Mark Hamill for the good feelings.

What are you ignoring? All things after hours that can wait until the next work day. It’s a new thing I’m trying.

Leo Santos | SVP, Creative | Dallas Office

Following a brief career as a Copywriter, Leo Santos left his native Brazil to pursue an Art Direction degree at the storied Portfolio Center, in Atlanta. There, he earned the Grand Prize for best student portfolio in the country in the first Mother Of All Portfolio Contests, held by Bates Worldwide.

Since then, he’s helped turn a small, under-the-radar agency in Lower Alabama into Agency Of The Year in their local chapter of the AAF, survived some Detroit winters while working for Campbell-Ewald on Alltel, Michelin, and the often-parodied “Real Stories” campaign for OnStar, then finally made his was to Dallas for a stint with The Richards Group, on Home Depot.

Since 2008, Leo has been in the trenches at TMA, lending his experience and creative leadership to national brands like Doritos, Cheetos, SunChips, Papa Murphy’s, Advance Auto Parts and DieHard. His 20-year U.S. career has been recognized with over 100 industry awards in a broad span of categories, from Activation to Experiential, from Broadcast to Point-of-Sale.All that, however, is a side project to Leo’s true calling and full time job as the father and mentor of two creatives-in-the-making, Gloria, 9, and Nico, 5.