…#TalentNotTenure. Let’s address ageism in the advertising industry. While it primarily affects older individuals, there are also biases toward younger people. We read lists of the “30 Under 30” and “40 Under 40,” celebrating the accomplishments of the young up-and-comers. It’s rare to see recognition for experience in an industry focused on youth. At the same time, talented young people generating ideas are often discounted for their lack of experience.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marla Kaplowitz. Bringing 30 years of industry experience in marketing and communications, Marla joined the 4A’s in May 2017 to help define and shape the future focus for the association. Under her leadership, the 4A’s purpose is to help empower its members to deliver insightful creativity that drives commerce, and influences culture all while moving the industry forward. As the former CEO of MEC North America, beginning in 2011, Marla drove the agency’s strategic initiatives with a focus on delivering growth for its people, clients and the industry. Marla led MEC to become a major disruptor in the area of talent management with its innovative approaches to attracting, nurturing and retaining the industry’s top talent. MEC NA was cited in Fortune’s “Great Places to Work” feature and was named in Advertising Age’s “Best Places to Work in Advertising and Marketing” in 2015. Prior to joining MEC, Marla spent 12 years at Mediavest, where she oversaw the Procter & Gamble Communications Planning assignment for North America, and previously managed a multi-client team. Marla began her career at DMB&B before moving to Ammirati Puris Lintas. Marla serves on the Boards of The Ad Council, Advertising Self-Regulatory Council (ASRC), Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), and Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG). Marla is a member of the Women’s Forum of New York. She was recognized by Advertising Age as a ‘Woman to Watch’ in 2012 and was honored by The John A. Reisenbach Foundation in 2016, receiving the Distinguished Citizen Award.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I entered college intent on becoming an attorney. Once I realized that I had other interests and took a communication studies course, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in advertising after reading Ogilvy on Advertising. I switched my major to sociology, as I’ve always been fascinated with understanding people, and later identified media planning as the right department for me within an advertising agency.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I was hired to bring new ideas, capabilities and transformation to the organization. That meant change. And that is a polarizing word. I started at the company energized and excited to drive change. And because this was the remit from the board, I believed the majority would eagerly embrace the possibilities. I realized very early on that I needed to address it differently and be more open to the experiences people had with change. Certain environments and cultures are more accustomed to change and embrace it as the norm. As an impatient person, I needed to quickly remind myself that leaders always need to bring people along with them…even if it takes more time.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It seems so simple, and yet I had to learn that when someone senior shares any type of confidential information, it should not be repeated — to anyone. Luckily, I learned that lesson early on in my career, when I shared a confidential bit of news with a colleague, and it came back to me. My supervisor was understanding but also reminded me that knowledge is power. Trust is critical, and you need to ensure others trust you with information.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The 4A’s stands out for much of the work we do to support and champion our members and the industry. But one program resonates widely: our Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP), established 46 years ago. As part of our 4A’s Foundation, MAIP’s mission is to connect the industry to diverse talent to ensure that agencies, and the work they create, reflect the world we live in. Each year we thoroughly vet and train more than 200 fellows across nearly 20 markets with a 12-week training course, followed by a summer internship that culminates in an event that brings all the fellows together for a career fair — which boasts a hiring rate of 96%. We also stay connected with more than 3,000 MAIP alumni and host events to support their ongoing learning and development. In addition, we support two New York City public high schools with advertising competitions and a curriculum to educate students on the potential career paths for advertising and marketing.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re working on an exciting new initiative called Workplace Enlightenment Criteria (WeC), focusing on addressing bullying, intimidation and retaliation in the workplace. The program includes workshops, training and standards for marketing and communications agencies. The goal is for accreditation against the criteria and standards addressing six areas of difference: race/ethnicity, gender, LGBTQI+, age, veterans, and differently abled.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Teams thrive when there is a strong understanding and alignment to the overall vision and mission of the organization or team. The best leaders — regardless of gender — have three core traits: curiosity, generosity of spirit, and a belief that anything is possible. Those traits in a leader inspire a team to thrive and accomplish significant goals together.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Sometimes size can be daunting. Don’t believe you need to do it all. You need to have a strong team around you that complements your strengths and opportunity areas. Ensure they are empowered and clear on the overall mission and tasks.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have several people along my career path who believed in me, taught me and guided me. Recently, I had the privilege of working for an incredible leader, Charles Courtier, for five years when I was CEO of MEC in North America. He encouraged me to take risks, champion new ideas, and even supported me when I made mistakes.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My success is a result of focus, resilience and the generosity of others who have inspired and supported me throughout my career journey. I strongly believe you have to pay it forward and mentor others, formally or informally, and ensure that people know you are there to support and encourage them to be the best that they can be. That includes honest, real-time feedback and guidance. We all need someone championing us along the way and reinforcing the strengths and unique talents we contribute.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Early on in my career, I recognized that each person I worked for would teach me and allow me to identify aspects of their leadership I wanted to replicate and incorporate as I developed my own traits and style, as well as those to avoid based on the impact of those actions. So I have at least one takeaway — to replicate and discard — from every experience. Here are five key lessons:
- Broaden your perspective. This was great advice my boss gave me when I was running a large team and needed to ensure I was staying abreast of the latest industry trends and areas of innovation. He reminded me that I didn’t need to be the expert on everything but that I needed to have access to the right people who could share their knowledge. I forged strong relationships through my curiosity and interest in new areas to leverage experts for my team and clients.
- Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. The first time you do anything can be daunting. I remember the first time I had to moderate a panel at a client conference. I had never done it before and wanted to ensure it went well — especially in front of nearly 100 clients. I spent a lot of time prepping — also important — and ultimately enjoyed guiding the conversation. It’s important to view discomfort and new experiences as part of the career journey. Personal and career growth does not come from stability and continuity. Just do it!
- Go above and beyond. This was advice my mother gave me as a teenager babysitting (and I always earned extra money). It became part of my work ethic and paid off in my first job after college, when I was an assistant media planner. Someone who started two weeks prior to me was next in line for promotion, but he grew complacent with the lack of movement, while I remained committed and focused. So when a role became available, I got the promotion.
- Always be thinking. Early in my career, I had a boss who could be quite challenging. I focused on the positive and always remembered that he encouraged me to “always be thinking — even in the shower.” Now while that sounds stressful to constantly be thinking, the reminder is to be open and aware of your surroundings, because you never know when a great idea may come to you. I spend a lot of my day identifying opportunities and solving problems. Sometimes it’s the moments when my mind shifts to something else that I’m able to see an issue clearly. For me, the best way to open my mind and think differently is to go to a museum, or look at unique solutions in a design catalog.
- Embrace change. I was a senior executive at an agency leading a large team. I never considered the possibility of being a CEO — to me, that was daunting and not an option. After moving to another agency in one of the most senior roles, I soon found myself with an amazing opportunity to become the regional CEO. I initially wavered and then realized it was an incredible role filled with potential, where I could implement my vision through new ideas. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made, with a steep learning curve and tremendous personal and professional growth, working with amazing colleagues and a supportive and generous boss. Change is pervasive, and while it can be challenging at time, it’s always exciting to me to lead or be part of change, because it means something new is created. Be open to the possibilities.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
#TalentNotTenure. Let’s address ageism in the advertising industry. While it primarily affects older individuals, there are also biases toward younger people. We read lists of the “30 Under 30” and “40 Under 40,” celebrating the accomplishments of the young up-and-comers. It’s rare to see recognition for experience in an industry focused on youth. At the same time, talented young people generating ideas are often discounted for their lack of experience.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The surest way not to fail is to determine to succeed.” — Richard Brinsley Sheridan
This quote was framed and presented to me several years ago by a client who was introducing me to her successor. She shared the story of how we first met years earlier, and the challenging situation I inherited as the new leader of the team. The client noted how determined I was to fix the issues and be a strong partner while also demonstrating resilience and focus. While failure is a reality and learning opportunity, one should go in with every intention of succeeding.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Oh, there are so many people I would love to have a conversation with to fuel the curious infotainment junkie in me. If I have to focus on just one, I would choose business leader Mellody Hobson. I’ve seen Mellody on a few conference stages and it’s clear she leads with great purpose, integrity and intention. Her insights and advice are powerful and inspiring.