Leah Mammoliti didn’t know what an art director was until she was already studying advertising. But when she discovered the role she instantly realised that it was what she wanted to do.
It’ll be no surprise to you when you check out her work for OREO, Under Armour and Kubota, but although she is now officially an art director at Digitas UK, she’s sort of always been art directing.
Growing up in Perth, Australia in a tight-knit family with an Italian background, Leah describes herself as an “arty kid with a big imagination”. From sewing little clothes for her dolls and making her own jewellery, to building go karts and elaborate cubby houses – she was always making something. “So I guess it’s not a huge surprise that I’m still creating things today, just in a different way,” she says.
“I was obsessed with entering colouring-in competitions as a kid – I used to get super competitive with it,” she remembers. At first, these started with basic crayon or pencil entries, but Leah quickly realised she needed to step up her game with things like rhinestones and glitter glue. “And it paid off – I was flush with toys,” she says.
Leah did her share of odd part-time jobs while she was studying – from selling jewellery and shoes in retail, to shelving books and unjamming printers at her university’s library. Her first marketing-adjacent work came in the form of a short-term internship at university which was focused on event marketing. “I think that was when I realised that I wanted more involvement on the creative side of things,” she says.
After her broad degree, her tutors encouraged her to apply for a short course at the famous AWARD School. Run by creative leaders in the industry, each would give the students a new brief each week and help them assemble a book of creative ideas. “It was the most intense 12 weeks of my life, but well worth it when I finished top of my class,” says Leah. She made the most of the opportunities that were available at the time to make sure she got a head start, attending networking events and entering student competitions. “I think a combination of all these things helped me land work experience in the industry, which later turned into my first paid job as a creative,” she says.
Her first professional project was for a lottery and games company called Lotterywest. While Leah was still interning, a brief came in to come up with a TV ad promoting one of their new scratch tickets. “I wasn’t technically assigned to the brief,” she admits, “but I had an idea that I thought was worth sharing with the team anyway. I quickly scribbled down a storyboard, and the next thing I knew my idea was on TV. I got so excited every time it came on!”
That’s what Leah finds exhilarating about a creative career - relishing the process of “seeing an idea that started out as just a scribble in my notebook come to life in the real world.”
Trading Perth for Melbourne for a few years, Leah’s next job was at a full-service agency called Redhanded. “Being a smaller agency, everyone had to wear multiple hats, so I was not only art directing but designing too,” she says. “I was lucky enough to work with an amazing bunch of people who taught me so much about design, print production and new ways to develop my art direction skills.”
But apparently London was calling, all the way from the other side of the world. Together with her creative partner Chesney Payet she headed to the overcast city on the other side of the world. “It was a tough decision to move overseas,” she says, “but I’m so glad I did. I think living in another country has made me realise just how big and different the world is compared to back home, and has given me a new perspective on not only myself, but life in general.” It also landed Leah and Chesney a job at Digitas UK, where the pair have been working for almost two years now.
As an art director, aesthetics are important to Leah. But ideas need to be much more to satisfy her standards. “I’m always aspiring to make work that not only looks good, but is simple, clever, and driven by a human truth. I often see amazing work from others in the industry and think ‘wow I wish I had thought of that!’ and so I’m always aiming to create work that might get that same reaction from others.”
In pursuit of that response comes a big challenge for Leah: “Seeing a lot of cool ideas end up in the bottom draw.” For every brief she and Chesney get, they always brainstorm “heaps of different ways of executing it,” but in reality they can’t make them all. “I often look back through my graveyard of ideas and try to find different opportunities to bring them back to life,” she says.
Leah refills her creative fuel tank by watching a lot of cooking shows. “I find it so soothing to sit down and watch Nigella [Lawson] or Jamie [Oliver] cooking away, or the competition go down in the Great British Bake Off tent,” she says. Sometimes she channels this energy and bakes herself - an activity she describes as “super therapeutic and a really nice way to relax.” Her baking is likely to be soundtracked by Lana Del Ray, who she says is often playing on repeat while her mind wanders to where she might hop on a plane to when things like that are easier to achieve (Leah confesses to having caught the “travel bug” in recent years).
For a more active form of relaxation, Leah has maintained a love for playing netball since she was a kid. She also varies her workouts by taking fitness classes and doing yoga - a shortcut to feeling “fresh and energised.”
“I’m also really passionate about being able to use my creativity in a range of different ways – whether it’s through work, cooking, arts or crafts, I’m always looking for ways to keep creating,” she says. “I think I’m driven by my passion for creativity. Being able to make things, whether it’s art, food or ads, really excites me, and that makes me want to keep pushing and growing.”
Although Leah and Chesney care deeply about pushing their creative ideas to be the best they can, Leah remembers that whenever they were stressed or overwhelmed over a job, one of their creative directors always used to remind them: “We’re not doctors or firefighters with people’s lives in our hands – we’re simply making ads. If we make a mistake, we can learn from it. If we miss a deadline, we’ll survive. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and put things into perspective.”