Feature Story

Corky Merwin

Creative director for Drugstore.com and Beauty.com. Prior co-owner and creative director, Merwin Creative.

Q: What do you do for a living?

Corky: I am a creative director for a large online retailer, leading a 12-person creative team and responsible for the look and feel of both brands: drugstore.com and beauty.com.

I direct design, messaging and photography for the websites and corporate communications.

In my “free time”, I am an innkeeper. I own and remotely manage and market La Finca Caribe, a small eco-tourism Caribbean inn. You can learn more about it at www.lafinca.com.

It’s slightly whacky to do that when I also work full-time and raise a family in Seattle, but I’ve managed to pull it off now for 11 years!

Q: How did you come to be doing what you’re doing?

Corky: As soon as I graduated college in environmental economics, I realized that rather than head to law school, I really needed to rethink my plan – and do what I loved – and that was public awareness, communications, and marketing in all media.

From my first public radio job, I got into development which included design work. From there, when I married a filmmaker, I moved into writing short films and commercials. We started a production company- first just the two of us. Over the years, as new technologies and venues were developed , we expanded into interactive and graphic print media, and built a successful team of 70, working across the country and around the world.

Running an inn came as a exit plan – for when I knew I needed out of the rat race, which is getting closer all the time.

Q: How can others get into a similar career?

Corky: Here’s my formula: Be both humble and assertive. Be flexible and determined. And always do your job with a sense of humor, and as little ego as possible. Next, it helps to be lucky, smart, (wise enough to know the difference) and to take advantage of every opportunity that opens doors.

And, when interviewing for new opportunities: be careful and detailed – do your homework.

I’ve always thought that folks just graduating don’t take advantage of their parents and relatives, neighbors and teachers. Use those associations. Let people help you. Ask if they know anyone who knows anyone who may be able to help you get closer to your goals. People want to help others who are really trying. Turn your career into a viral marketing campaign.

People going into any sort of design, communications, public relations, or marketing should definitely first feel comfortable marketing themselves. Nail a great resume and portfolio – make a PDF of it and get it out there via email to every “grown up” you know. State your dreams – and what you are doing to work towards them.

Q: What do you believe your key strengths to be?

Corky: At this point, honestly, one key strength is my age — “maturity”. With my grey hair, which I refuse to color on principle, comes bigger-picture thinking and less drama.

My non-conformist way of thinking is essential to leading good creative. You can’t try to be original. It comes from really not caring — and sometimes not knowing— what trends are. I do my own thing, if it works for the problem at hand.

I believe in my deep commitment to humor and fun. If it ain’t fun, make it so. I love seeing the effect of a positive attitude on a tough project or cranky client.

Being able to look at things from both the business and creative perspectives — simultaneously.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

Corky: As a Creative Director: I love the pace at my job. It is dynamic and lets me see the fruits of my labors relatively quickly. Drugstore.com is a pretty entrepreneurial place. All ideas are considered, and there’s not a lot of red tape to jump through. I enjoy having the opportunity to work with and learn from all kinds of people; I generally learn the most from the more challenging ones. And I value the steep learning curve of moving into the retail arena, which keeps me from getting bored or complacent.

As an innkeeper: I love being my own client for all marketing materials from web to print to my painted floor rugs in the lobby. I get to see how each aspect directly builds a clientele that works for our place. So it is a win-win-win success. We have the coolest guests, and I feel like I’ve succeeded because of the sheer positive pleasure of helping people have a good time on vacation.

Q: Have there been barriers to your career? Like, what? And how did you overcome it?

Corky: Not many barriers really – I was my own worst enemy. I think I under-valued myself so I had a hard time asking for raises or promotions.

When I worked for corporations that were really male-oriented, with little room for a woman to get ahead – I left. Even if I could have clawed (or worse) my way to the top, who would want to be there?

Q: How do you manage to balance work and your personal life? Any tips?

Corky: HAH! Good luck and God bless. Some of us are better at giving to ourselves than others. I was never great at it. I wish I had given more to the kids and myself, but I am getting better at that now. With limited time, I combine social time with girlfriends (which also acts as therapy) with my exercise and go for a good brisk, long walk three times a week.

Tips? Don’t waste personal time watching endless television and movies or being online. Go out and live your life, rather than watching others live on a screen.

Q: Based on the lessons you’ve learned, what’s your career advice for women?

Corky: Learn to recognize your truest instincts. Usually they are right. Don’t be afraid to speak up and come forward with new approaches.

Spend more time coming up with solutions than dwelling on the problems.

Throw out the brainwashing that most media throws at us! Learn to recognize (and don’t believe) social gender and racial stereotypes.
Keep your values and family foremost in your decisions—and Mother Earth as well. In other words don’t do things at the job, or for your career, that go against your own moral code. If you find yourself justifying them as industry norms, think about changing industries.

Carpool or take public transportation. It gets you out in the world.

And live abroad if ever possible. Learning from other cultures helps you keep ours in perspective. This lifestyle is only one way to do things, not the way.