Marla Kaplowitz on what she's learned during her 30 years in advertising

by Lianza Reyes

October 30, 2018

4A’s president and CEO credits entrepreneurial spirit for advertisers’ thriving amidst rapid change

Marla Kaplowitz
Marla Kaplowitz

“I was ambitious at a young age,” says Marla Kaplowitz. “I loved the industry and was pretty excited about it. I was always passionate about the work I did.”

Kaplowitz attributes her success to that passion. Before starting her current tenure as president and CEO of 4A’s, an advertising trade association that helps member agencies with everything from marketing research to political lobbying, Kaplowitz had already built a name for herself in the advertising industry. Her 30 years of experience include being CEO of MEC North America, managing Proctor & Gamble at Mediavest, being named a “Woman to Watch” by Ad Age and receiving the Distinguished Citizen Award from The John A. Reisenbach Foundation. She serves on the boards of the Ad Council, Advertising Self-Regulatory Council, Digital Advertising Alliance and Trustworthy Accountability Group.

Kaplowitz visited the Newhouse School recently to talk to advertising students as a guest of the Eric Mower Advertising Forum. We talked with her about the knowledge she’s gained during her years in advertising.

What inspired you to work in this industry?

In my sophomore year [at UC Santa Barbara,] I took a class on communication studies and read a book called “Ogilvy in Advertising.” I thought, “That’s what I want to do.” I had an internship at a little ad agency and decided I was very interested in media planning. Then I thought, if I wanted to go into advertising, I had to go to New York after graduation, which is the heart of it. So I did. I moved to New York after college and never looked back.

What are some of the best parts of working in the industry? What are some of the challenges?

One of the most exciting things about being part of advertising is how dynamic it is. It’s always changing. There are always new things to learn and understand.

I think some of the challenges are about the changes that are happening in the platforms, in the landscape and [in] the consumer’s ability to [enjoy rather than endure] advertising. Another challenge is that there’s such complexity in business and growth for many companies right now. But I also believe that outside perspective and outside provocation [are] so critical. Because if you stay in your own bubble within your own company, you’re not getting that external thinking. You’re not getting someone who is pushing you and provoking you to think differently.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the past 30 years?

Digital didn’t exist [30 years ago]. That actually created so many possibilities, making it really exciting. But it also increased the speed at which things need to happen. You have immediate results, [then] you have immediate needs. Sometimes you feel you’re on this treadmill and you can’t really get off. But it’s also incredibly exhilarating and exciting to see what those possibilities are.

What’s one truth that hasn’t changed in the advertising industry?

I will quote Rishad Tobaccowala, who is the chief strategist of Publicis Groupe. He always describes the advertising industry as “cockroaches, not dinosaurs.” By that, he means [advertisers are] survivors. Advertising agency people are entrepreneurial, and they’re constantly innovating. That has never changed in this industry, and that’s what excited me. It’s what really attracts people to be a part of it.

If you could describe your leadership style in three words, what would they be?

Curiosity, generosity and optimism. And that’s how I define leadership, too.

Lianza Reyes is a junior broadcast and digital journalism major at the Newhouse School.