Linda Kaplan Thaler

Being nice has put Linda Kaplan Thaler at the top of the advertising industry. As the chief executive officer and chief creative officer of The Kaplan Thaler Group, which Linda founded in 1997, she is responsible for some of the most effective and famous commercials including the quacking Aflac Duck campaign and the memorable Clairol’s Herbal Essences commercials.

From appearing on Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” to garnering the title of Crain’s “100 Most Influential Women in Business,” Linda is making an impact in the industry. She shares with NYWICI her humor, her manners and her musical aspirations.

From your book (with co-author Robin Koval) The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness, the philosophy is simple: It pays to be nice. How has being nice contributed to your success?

It has helped in more ways than I had candles on my last birthday cake. Fortunately, I had a dad who was a terrific boss to his staff, so from the age of seven, I learned first-hand the power of positive imprinting. By living by that philosophy most of my career, I planted some very “nice” seeds along the way with co-workers and colleagues. When I opened my agency over 25 years later, several of those people had built up their own careers and companies. And, you guessed it: Many of them came back to me and gave me their businesses to advertise! It’s the reason, I tell young people especially to start planting those seeds as early as possible.         

You hosted Oxygen’s TV series “Making it Big,” where young professionals competed for their dream job. What advice can you offer today’s young women to get their dream job?

First off, except for that show, which was quite nurturing in nature, don’t take any business lessons from TV reality shows! They are strictly for entertainment, and they don’t replicate, in any way, what really goes on in today’s boardrooms. People eating their young in order to step up the ladder is simply not how it’s done. Being mean, I like to say, is “so last millennium!” The most successful CEOs are, in fact, the ones who answer every email, return phone calls, compliment their staff and work collaboratively.

Advertising has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. How did you break into and stand out in this industry?

I think it was mostly good luck on my part. I always worked hard and was very pro-active on any assignment I was given. If my boss asked for one script, I did three. If he used a joke in a piece of copy, I’d stay up all night until I could offer up a better one. I obsessed over details, and took rejection exceedingly well. I also never, ever tried to be “one of the boys.” I insisted on being accepted for who I was, gender and all. I also had a great boss, the now famous author James Patterson, who was gender blind — the one who had the best idea won his support.

What have been some of the most memorable achievements in your career?

Composing the “I’m a Toys R’ Us Kid” jingle, because I just loved hearing kids across America singing it on the streets. To this day, they still run the jingle, and now I believe it’s the longest running one in American history. I had been writing children’s songs for years, but this was the first one that actually caught on. My other achievements were actually giving birth to two “Toys R’ Us Kids” of my own. They’re teenagers now, and raising them is an achievement worthy of an Oscar.

If you could star in a Broadway show, which one would it be?

Hmm, interesting question since I began my career performing in off-off-Broadway shows. Well, I think my favorite show of all time is “Guys & Dolls,” and I actually played one of the leads in my college theatre group. My husband is an award-winning composer arranger and actually has written for Broadway, so I’m still hoping one of these days we will collaborate on writing a show together. But first I need a nap...

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Rachel Buttner