By Suzanne Cohen
Robin Koval has stood out as a driving force in the advertising world for over 25 years. A marketing strategist and new products expert, her experience spans almost every category from beverages and beauty to pharmaceuticals and distilled spirits. Her successes include the iconic AFLAC duck quack heard ‘round the world, the “Yes, Yes, Yes” Herbal Essences campaign and Wendy’s “You know when it’s real.”
As President of the Kaplan Thaler Group, ranked by leading industry publications as one of the nation’s fastest-growing ad agencies, Robin is responsible for general management including client services, new business and strategic development. From its startup with co-founder Linda Kaplan Thaler in 1997 as a six-person, boutique advertising operation to the full-service company it is today with fully integrated capabilities and over 200 employees, the Kaplan Thaler Group’s work has received many awards including Clios, Effes and Webby Awards, and today it has generated over $1 3 billion in billings.
Despite all her success, however, Robin believes in leading a full, balanced life, and she advises women to do what’s in their heart. She is an accomplished figure skater who loves the sport because she can always set a new goal. “Taking baby steps toward a goal can put you on the path to delivering a true competitive advantage,” Robin points out. That perspective likely served Robin well as she fast-tracked her way through account-side work, eventually serving as Executive Vice President, Group Account Director of Interpublic’s Gotham, Inc. But sharing a muffin one fateful day with Linda changed the course of her career. When Linda decided to start her own agency, a mutual client suggested that she and Robin meet. Linda arrived at the meeting to find Robin was already seated and had sliced an oversized bran muffin in two, saying she thought they might share it.
That small gesture of kindness offered something big in Linda’s eyes — Robin’s considerate nature and her proactive leadership qualities. Small acts of niceness like that are, in fact, themes of bestselling books co-authored by Robin and Linda and have created a culture where “little things and niceness do make a difference” and are the driving philosophies behind their agency. The two even maintain that all phone calls and emails must be returned. “It’s not an either/or proposition. You can be nice and successful,” Robin stresses.
In recognition of her success, Robin has already been honored with the Advertising Women of New York’s “Working Mother of the Year Trailblazer” Award and the Women’s Leadership Exchange Compass Award, among others, and she has been named among Self-Made’s top 50 “Women Entrepreneurs Who Inspire Us.”
The Matrix Award, however, fills her with gratitude. “It’s an incredible honor not only to receive the award,“ Robin says, “but also because of NYWICI’s steadfast commitment to inspiring and empowering young women in this ever-evolving world of communications.” Robin does a fair amount of inspiring herself both when she’s solving clients’ problems and teaching in NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development She often reminds her students that “progress occurs in very small increments.”
She even suggests it’s a good life metaphor: “If you work at looming goals in small increments, your accomplishments may surprise you.