We often look to the iconic leaders of our time for motivation and wisdom, but for many of us, this is purely inspirational and not as applicable to our everyday lives. We truly believe there is more benefit in looking to your left and seeking out a peer-to-peer mentorship with a colleague or friend you admire. Why? Firstly, they will likely have the time to be your mentor, and secondly, their advice will be relatable and allow you to see your path clearly while keeping your mind open to new ideas, identifying new opportunities, and helping you self-advocate. We call them Everyday Superheroes. In this new series, we talk to the people who are paying it forward, lifting others up and paving a smoother path for the next generation to come.
For Dana Marinovich, getting laid off was a fundamental part of her career arc, and a challenge that eventually led to her dream job as the Head of Creative Marketing for Old Navy.
After being let go, she took the summer off to reset and think about what she wanted next. “I gave myself permission to hold space for the change, to really evaluate what I wanted and recalibrate my intentions for the future,” Marinovich tells Create & Cultivate. “After a few months, I was reenergized, refocused and was able to set clear goals for myself that were true to who I am and what I want in my life, instead of being swept away with what was expected next.”
Now, as the Head of Creative Marketing at Old Navy, Marinovich leads a team of creative directors, writers, art directors, graphic designers, stylists, and photographers to help bring the brand’s vision to life through the creative in all channels. And with millions of people engaging with Old Navy each day, it’s safe to say that Marinovich’s work touches a lot of people.
Read on to hear how she went from agency world to in-house at Old Navy, how she finds the inspiration to create killer brand campaigns, and why believing in your talent is key to your success.
What did you study in school? And what did you want to be when you grew up?
I did not ever think that I would be in a creative industry when I was young. I grew up with a focus on math, science and literature. The closest thing to being creative that I could imagine, was to grow up to be an architect. So for a long time I thought that’s what I wanted to be.
While in college, I majored in Art and Design, with a focus on graphic design. I also studied Painting and Photography at Chelsea College of Art and Design and Central St. Martin’s. Through those programs I fell in love with art, with critical thinking and this truly changed and solidified my focus.
What are some of the earlier jobs that helped to shape your career path?
After college, I moved to NYC and one of my first jobs was working for a (then) small agency, YARD. What I learned there was invaluable in how to approach a creative project for a brand. At that time, most of the agencies were either branding or advertising focused. But YARD was doing something different – they were a creative agency that bridged the two and built the work with a solid strategic ground. It was all the things, intertwined – and I was inspired by this approach. So early on in my career, I realized how much I loved to build brands holistically… and to build a thriving brand you need great creative strategy, a killer voice, and image and branding that elevates it. This period of time was like bootcamp in creative thinking, iterating and pushing limits. It was really really hard, and I will forever be grateful for it.
What challenges have you faced along the way? What did you learn from them? How did they prepare you for your job now?
The biggest challenge I have ever faced is being laid off. I don’t think people talk about this enough transparently, like it should be a secret. Like there is stigma around losing your job. I have worked in retail or for retailers for a long time now, and the business is just volatile. There will be really high highs and really low lows. Some businesses can withstand the test and others are not so lucky. You have to ride the wave – and know that it will fluctuate.
When I was let go, I took the summer off to reset and think about what I wanted next. I travelled and spent a month abroad in Croatia with my family. I gave myself permission to hold space for the change, to really evaluate what I wanted and recalibrate my intentions for the future. It was honestly the hardest and best time for me in my career building. After a few months, I was reenergized, refocused and was able to set clear goals for myself that were true to who I am and what I want in my life instead of being swept away with what was expected next. It was a relief, like I finally took back control of what my days were.
Tell us about your role. What does it entail? Did you work your way up? What were the positions along the way?
As the Head of Creative Marketing at Old Navy, I lead and get to work with a diverse creative team. My role is to develop a clear creative vision of the brand that people can relate to and want to connect with. Old Navy is a brand for everyone, for families, for your friend family, for your community. It’s inclusive by nature. And we bring the brand to life through a lens of fun, fashion and making the most of life together.
To get to this position, I both worked my way up and worked sideways. As I mentioned, I started my career in advertising in NY, but when I moved to CA , I came in-house at Gap. This was years ago, and I moved my way up at that brand – starting as a Global Art Director (which meant I would translate the North America creative for Europe, Japan and franchise partners), but quickly after starting, some of the leadership team left, and I was promoted to lead the internal creative team. I worked on many things during this time – and wound up pitching against our agencies and took back in-house the kids, baby and body advertising work. It was fun, we even pitched against agency work for the Diane von Furstenburg x GapKids campaign work – and won the pitch. At the time, it felt like a big deal, the internal team was so motivated and we were so happy to be doing the work that we were doing. We had a lot of fun.
After a few years I moved on to be the Vice President of Creative at a small kids and baby clothing company called Tea Collection. I was there for about five years and helped solidify the creative look/feel and voice for the brand. And then I came back to Old Navy and was just promoted this past Spring to the Head of Creative Marketing role.
What do you love most about your job and why? Does the reality of your career match up to your expectations? Why/why not?
I love the people I work with, the team is very talented. As the Head of Creative Marketing, I get to work closely with a lot of different voices and I am energized by people’s unique point of views and helping the team grow and the work to push forward.
I love working in-house and getting to actually craft and dream and think about how this brand shows up to the world. The reach of Old Navy is quite breathtaking – millions of people get an email from us everyday, millions hear and see and feel and touch the work that my team puts out there. I love getting to work for a brand that touches so many people. With that comes a big responsibility, and I take that very seriously.
I honestly never would have thought when I started my career that I would get to the place that I am now. Of course, I had drive but where I am today truly came out of determination to always grow as a human. I wanted to do more, and I set my sights on the next and the next and the next. At the level I am at now, more of my responsibilities are in building talent, protecting the creative and pushing to the next. It’s a dream job honestly. Is it exactly what I would have expected in every moment? No — it’s a hard job! But it is all worth it.
What can you tell us about the company culture? What has encouraged you to stay?
I love working for an organization that champions inclusivity, diversity and fashion for everyone. This year we are pushing this even more. At the end of the summer, there is a big moment for the brand, and women in particular. It’s incredibly rewarding and impactful.
The people and the team at Old Navy is also what keeps me excited every day. I truly care for each of the individuals I work with and together we champion the work we do.
Talk us through your daily tasks and what a day in the office looks like for you. What’s the most rewarding part of your day?
Most of my day is spent discussing creative strategy, reviewing work and concepts and connecting with the creative team. The most rewarding part of the creative process is when the work is hard, when you’ve hit a wall over and over again, but you keep pushing – and then all of a sudden, the light goes on. That breakthrough moment is what it’s all about. It’s so rewarding to personally go through that process, but to also help a team through it – that’s what gets me.
What does your morning pre-work routine look like? What rituals set you up for success?
Well, each day is a bit different. Two days a week, I wake early and work out – this clears my head of stress. I find clarity and a good personal space is so necessary in this line of work. And the other three days, I focus on my other big role – I’m a mom of two small kids. And I love spending the mornings giving them my attention, sitting and having breakfast with them, talking Legos and unicorns, getting them ready and doing school drop off. It’s important for our connection that I show up at school, see and greet other parents and their teachers. It’s a balance and is so important.
For work, I also like to take one morning a week for an hour and plan my priorities. This helps me keep on track and not get swept away with the work.
Your role requires you to be across so many facets of the business—how do you manage your time effectively? What is your greatest productivity hack? How do you get it done?
I’ve recently read an article about the 12 Essential Rules to Live more like a Zen Monk, and found this very inspirational. A few of the rules are: Do one thing at a time. Put space between things. Develop Rituals. Think about what is necessary.
These are things to remind myself, to practice and get better at. Again, I’m always learning and growing. I’m very thoughtful and deliberate in my approach to projects.
Do you ever reach inbox zero? Do you believe in that? What is your inbox philosophy?
I had a dream once I got my inbox to zero. I believe in the power of search.
What is one of the biggest misconceptions about your job?
Being a leader of a creative team is not actually being creative or creating all the time. Often I am researching, reading, reviewing, discussing; I’m thinking strategically, I’m analyzing, editing and then I’m creating.
If someone wanted your role specifically, what advice would you give them on how to land their dream job/your current job?
Stay hungry. Love what you do. Be a team player. Understand you are only as good as the sum of your parts. Learn from your failures.
Have you seen a consistent standout quality or personality trait of successful people in your industry?
Confidence, transparency, honesty, and straightforward in nature, and people who like to have fun.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? And what’s the worst piece of advice you’ve been given?
Best: “Believe in your talent.”
Worst: “You need to diversify. So, let’s have you work on this pitch for a fast food account.”
If there was one person you admire that you could power brunch with, who would it be?