Women in Business Q&A: Marisstella Marinkovic, SVP, HMA Account Services, INNOCEAN USA

05/13/2015 05:25 am ET | Updated May 13, 2016

Marisstella brings to the agency a passion for building brands and providing business and creative solutions through collaboration. Throughout her awarded communications career, Marisstella has proven time and again, the ability to help develop effective and award-winning campaigns.

In her current role at INNOCEAN, she works closely with other members of the leadership team, including Brad Fogel (COO), Greg Braun (ECD) and Don Longfellow (SVP, Strategic Planning) to ensure integrated solutions are implemented across the agency. Prior to that, she spent 16 years developing effective and award-winning campaigns for automotive clients like Toyota where she was entrusted to lead Toyota's core models and strategic initiatives, and delivered every time.

In addition to her work on Toyota, Marisstella has also helped bring success to brands such as Roxy, Yonex, SquareSoft, California Bank & Trust, StyledOn and DIESEL. Her work has been noticed by the industry and awarded top honors from the likes of Cannes Lions, Effies, Webbys, One Show - Gold Pencil, Andy's, AICP, LIA, MIXX, D&AD, OMMA, IAC, The Bees, Beldings, Clios and thinkLA.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up with a really strong family and support system that helped shape me into the person I am. I think my father especially was a really big influence. My family immigrated to this country from Croatia when I was only three and his work ethic and passion consistently motivated me. Being from a country of hard-working, passionate people and moving to a country with people under the same ideal - coupled with the mentality of living the American Dream, white picket fence and all - it was always instilled in me that I have to love what I do and work very hard to make my American dreams come true. I can always remember my dad's voice telling me that hard work and dedication always pays off; give it 110%.

That same mindset helped me early in my career. As a young working mother, it was really about the ability to prioritize what was important. I've taken that notion with me as I've risen through the ranks. As part of the leadership team at INNOCEAN USA, I have to take a step back and really focus on what's important and inspirational for the team as a whole.

How did your previous employment experience aid your position at INNOCEAN USA?
Earlier in my career I had the opportunity to work across multiple disciplines within the advertising industry including special initiatives (from relaunching a brand to targeting enthusiasts), global launches, social and digital. It really gave me a wide range of expertise that helped prepare me for my role at INNOCEAN. Knowing how each department and team worked independently provided a strong foundation and understanding of how to improve collaboration and maximize marketing results.

When I was at Saatchi, I helped build the team from the ground up and put together a collaboration model that helped shape the work. So when I came to INNOCEAN, business was evolving and I was able to come in and provide leadership. I worked with other members of the executive team to collaborate and bring together the different departments/teams from creative, planning, digital, media and account to ensure our alignment was set up in a way to best benefit the client.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at INNOCEAN USA?
Anytime you join a new company, you have to learn how the company works (from the culture, to the talent, to the inter-workings) and understand the client's business needs, then act quickly to demonstrate how you'll impact the organization. And when you come into an organization in a leadership role, I believe that you really only have a short window to show your value. When I came to INNOCEAN in September 2013, I wanted to make an impact by working to redefine how we work as an agency. While this could be considered a challenge, I saw it as a vital opportunity to strengthen how we're developing big ideas to best serve our clients. From those changes the account, planning, media, digital and creative teams were all able to work more coherently and collaboratively. This led to multiple large campaigns that did extremely well, including Hyundai's Super Bowl commercial Dad's Sixth Sense, which ranked as that year's top automotive spot, and our #BecauseFutbol campaign during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

What advice can you offer those looking for a career in an agency?
I think it's important to try different roles throughout the agency. There are so many different jobs, so it's great to try out a few different departments to see where one best fits. Especially for those who just graduated college, it's great to explore your environment before you settle on a career path. Getting experience like internships is also very important. Reading and writing is very different than showing up and understanding the dynamics of agency life.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
As a working mom, work/life balance is something I really have to prioritize. They say it takes a village, and it's completely true. Luckily, I had a family and an amazing network that's always been a great support. I had my children early in my career. My parents and in-laws all helped with the kids. Even if I had to work late, I knew that my partner in crime - my husband - and our strong family support system would be there for me. It's something I never take for granted. My husband reminds me every day that there's a good man behind every great woman. The kids and I just laugh.

I'm also very diligent about taking time for myself. At least once a month I schedule something fun just for me - whether it's going to dinner with a friend, date night with the hubby, a morning hike with my BFF, spa time or reading a book. You have to have that time for yourself to relax and regroup. You're constantly putting in so much effort both in the office and at home, you have to remember to value yourself and take some "me" time.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think the ratio of men to women is still a pressing issue, especially in the advertising/marketing industry. If we look at the past decade, women have definitely made gains in the number of leadership positions. It's great and something we should value, but at the same time we have a long way to go. Many times, I still come to realize I'm the only woman in the room. In advertising, there are a lot of women at a certain level, but there aren't as many in leadership roles.

Not having enough female role models in higher positions can be discouraging for people, and the lack of women in executive leadership roles can send the wrong message to the younger generation. It's something that continues to motivate me, as I want to be a role model for my own daughter; I want my daughter to live her American dream. I am fortunate to be at INNOCEAN where we have several women executives and share similar values.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I spent a large part of my career at Saatchi, and one reason I did so was that I was able to find mentors to guide me into a new direction at every juncture. It's something I really valued and brought with me when I first started at INNOCEAN. I sat down with everyone on my 50-plus team to get to know each one on a personal level and understand the team dynamics and passions. Getting to know your team personally - from both a mentor and mentee perspective - can take you far.

In addition, in order to foster an environment of women support in the industry, I was one of the original founders of the Wine Not Wine Club, which gathers women once a week to discuss issues in the agency workplace and how best to help each other. These ladies' mentorship and experience were important to my personal empowerment. Plus they made me realize simple truths, like it's OK for to leave work at 6pm to spend time with family (leaving at 6pm in the ad world is like working half-days) and it's OK to have some me time. Thank you to all those amazing ladies - you know who you are.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I really admire those female leaders who through hard work and passion are living or have lived their American dream, like Diane Von Furstenberg (mother of the wrap dress, every woman's must-have), Tory Burch (who started her business from her kitchen) and Maya Angelou (who inspired us to be better people).

What are your hopes for the future of INNOCEAN USA?
I want to continue to build the Hyundai brand while also working to grow our client base, demonstrating success for our existing and new clients and growing our agency's talent pool.