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Kaplan Shares Keys To Corporate Success

Heights Staff

Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

When Karen Kaplan applied to work as a receptionist at Hill Holliday in 1982, she was not sure if she wanted to work there or even if she wanted to work in advertising. She had graduated college as a French literature major and intended to go on to law school. What she did know was that she wanted to meet the then-president of Hill Holliday, Jack Connors, BC ’63. After getting that job, Kaplan never left Hill Holliday and now serves as the president of the company.

As part of the Lunch with a Leader program, run through the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics, Kaplan came to the Fulton Honors Library on Tuesday to talk about her experience rising through the ranks at Hill Holliday, as well as share her understanding of the current advertising landscape for college graduates looking for jobs. She also talked generally about how to succeed in the corporate world.

“Once you get yourself into a company, find a sponsor or a mentor,” Kaplan said. “A sponsor is a senior person who is really committed to helping guide and cultivate emerging talent. Those with sponsors consistently get better assignments, they get paid more, and they are promoted more often.”
Kaplan also expressed her negative views about formal mentorship programs.

“I don’t believe in formal mentorship programs where people are matched,” she said. “I think you need to find the person that is right for you. I think the best mentors and sponsors are those who have the innate ability to open themselves up fully and share not only their successes, but also their failures. I think a hallmark of a great sponsor is that he or she is willing to give you a task that is much bigger than you think you are at the time.”
When looking at the trends in advertising today, Kaplan noted that the emergence of digital media was the change in the last several decades that had the greatest impact on the advertising industry. Because of this change, she stressed the importance of young people, or “digital natives,” in the field.

“Everything moves at ‘the speed of digital,’” Kaplan said. “Our business has changed more in the past five to 10 years than it did in the 50 years before that. The three key impacts of technology on consumer behavior are distraction, participation, and sharing. They’re not bad things. They just require us to look at branding and story telling differently. The old rules don’t apply, but you don’t have to unlearn those old rules.”
To all of those in the audience who were interested in the field of advertising, she offered some advice on how to succeed.

“Always pay attention,” Kaplan said. “Originality requires attention and there is a premium placed on the creation of original ideas. This is virtually impossible while you are texting, tweeting, and watching TV all at the same time. Human beings are not truly able to multi-task. Always be confident and optimistic. Embrace what makes you different.”

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