Advertising hall of famer alum Linda Kaplan Thaler visits CCNY by Carol Commissiong
Linda Kaplan Thaler, a City College graduate and superstar in the advertising field, didn’t take a direct route to her chosen career. “I wasn’t accepted to the clinical psych programs I applied to and I had enough credits as an undergrad to get my MA in musicology. It was tough, but I plowed through it,” said Thaler, chairman of the ad agency Publicis New York. “I attended a summer program to get my teacher’s license; I didn’t know if I’d ever need it but I wanted to make sure I had some income if nothing else panned out.”
Perseverance, passion, and pluck finally helped Thaler land a job in advertising. Last week, Thaler spoke to a group of communications major students and faculty from CCNY about her success in advertising and her new book Grit To Great. Thaler appeared as part of the ad/PR program’s Lunch w/Leaders series, co-sponsored by the Branding + Integrated Communications master’s program CCNY AAF club.
She broke through at first job at JWT Ad agency as a copywriter on the Kodak account. “That was the luckiest break of my life because within my first month there I sold a national TV spot I wrote for a Kodak camera,” she said. “Very exciting to see it air on TV!”
Thaler spent the next 17 years creating notable campaigns including the famous “Yes, Yes, Yes” ads for Herbal Essence shampoo and AFLAC duck commercials. In 1994, Thaler was named one of Ad Age’s 100 most influential women in advertising for her innovative work.
Thaler would agree her natural ability to bounce back from client rejections, and thousands of rewrites took her the rest of the way. That skill has helped her handle some high-profile clients: Hillary Clinton and the Bill Clinton-Al Gore 1994 campaign. “He really understood the magic of branding and the importance of connecting to voters,” said Thaler of Clinton. “One of my proudest accomplishments was writing and producing the Clinton biographical spot that aired a couple of months before the election. One of the staff members called me after the Clintons had seen the rough cut and said they were so moved by it they were crying! And then they kept watching it over and over and over again,” added Thaler smiling.
Thaler appeared on The Apprentice with Donald Trump. “It was exciting and fun! Lots of cameras following us everywhere and it was terrific advertising for our small fledgling Ad agency, said Thaler. “Trump was great and said amazing things about us on camera because he loved the way we treated his wife when she appeared in one of our AFLAC commercials. See, always be nice!”
Life has been rough for Thaler at times. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. “Fortunately, after my mastectomy, I did not need treatment,” said Thaler, who is 64 and lives in New York with her husband and two daughters. “In fact, perseverance and the value of hard work have been always considered to be core elements of raising and educating the next generation.”
Grit To Great is on sale at the CCNY bookstore.