Linda Kaplan Thaler on Using Grit for Good

Colloquium on Marketing Leadership

On her first day at her first job, Linda Kaplan Thaler was asked to come up with ideas for a five-second Kodak ad. She returned with 25 possibilities, and, after review, her boss rejected every one as awful. “I asked as I was leaving what I could do to make them better,” Thaler said, “and my boss looked at me and said, ‘Linda, one day you’ll have your own agency.’” Thaler asked why. “Because you didn’t complain,” her boss said, “but instead asked how you could improve. That’s resilience.”

Thaler did go on to found her own agency in 1997, and within two years led the fastest-growing marketing firm in the U.S.

Speaking as part of the Yale Center for Customer Insights Colloquium on Marketing Leadership on April 13, Thaler described not just the arc of her career, but also what four decades of marketing leadership have taught her about achieving success. The key ingredient, Thaler said, is grit, which she has converted into an acronym: Guts, Resilience, Initiative, Tenacity. “The thing about grit is that you can develop it when you’re eight, or when you’re 88,” she said.

Thaler said there are four components that constitute grit. Guts, she said, is the pursuit of the uncomfortable; it is pushing oneself into new arenas. In describing resilience, she mentioned James Dyson, creator of the bag-less vacuum cleaner, who persevered through 5,126 prototypes to find a model that worked. In discussing initiative, she advised avoiding a “my-way-or-the-highway” mentality, suggesting instead that initiative, like bamboo, must be flexible. “Don’t fall in love with Plan A,” she said. “Plan B is often the best thing that can happen.” And, finally, tenacity means holding on when most people are falling off.

Thaler made clear that honing these traits should not be conflated with developing ruthlessness in business—quite the opposite, in fact. When founding her own agency, Thaler and her partner decided to lead with a distinct moral philosophy: “Our mission was to do nothing except make sure that those who worked with us knew how much they were valued,” said Thaler. This kindness assured their success; it is the necessary complement to grit. “The best thing is to use grit for good, to help each other,” she said.

About the Event

We take for granted that success is rooted in connections, genetics, or some combination of the two, but research shows that we far overvalue talent and intellectual ability in our culture. The fact is, success is determined by grit; the hard work, resourcefulness, and resiliency behind many of our most successful figures. In her talk, Linda Kaplan Thaler will explore the importance of having grit in the business and marketing world. She will talk about how she turned long, grueling hours of work and endless perseverance into some of her most successful campaigns, including the Aflac Duck, Kodak Moments, and “I Don’t Want to Grow Up, I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us Kid.”


Lunch will be served. Please register in advance.

The first 20 attendees to arrive at the event will receive a copy of Linda’s latest book, co-written with Robin Koval, Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take Your from Ordinary to Extraordinary.

Event tags

Speakers

Linda Kaplan Thaler

Former Chair of Publicis Kaplan Thaler

Advertising Hall of Fame luminary Linda Kaplan Thaler is the creative force behind many of the industry’s most famous campaigns, including the hilarious Aflac duck, Kodak Moments, and the daring “Yes! Yes! Yes!” for Herbal Essences. Much of...

Advertising Hall of Fame luminary Linda Kaplan Thaler is the creative force behind many of the industry’s most famous campaigns, including the hilarious Aflac duck, Kodak Moments, and the daring “Yes! Yes! Yes!” for Herbal Essences. Much of her work has become part of the pop-culture landscape, including “I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us Kid,” America’s longest running jingle. Linda has also worked on presidential campaigns for Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. Linda is the co-founder and former CEO of the Kaplan Thaler Group, which she grew from a small start-up in her brownstone to a billion-dollar agency working with Procter & Gamble, Pfizer, and Wendy’s, to name a few. Following their integration with Publicis Worldwide, she became Chairman of their flagship office, Publicis Kaplan Thaler. Linda is also a best-selling author and television personality appearing on “The Apprentice,” CNN, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and host of the Oxygen series “Making It Big.” Her collaborations with coauthor Robin Koval have all become best-sellers: The Power of Small, The Power of Nice, and Bang! Getting Your Message Heard in a Noisy World, and most recently, Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary. Linda’s talents have earned her the prestigious Matrix Award, the Muse award, the Advertising Woman of the Year award, and she is recognized as one of Advertising Age’s “Most Influential Women in Advertising.”