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Marisa Thalberg: A Changemaker and Innovator who is Paving the Way for Working Moms
By Beth Feldman
Matrix Awards honoree Marisa Thalberg has advanced throughout her 30-year career by embracing change and bringing her family along for the journey. A pioneer in digital marketing, Thalberg has been at the forefront of developing innovative and creative campaigns for consumer brands that touch nearly every aspect of our lives, including beauty, food and home. As the founder of Executive Moms, she has also paved the way for tens of thousands of working mothers to imagine and create attainable ways to strive for personal and professional fulfillment.
When it comes to fearless female leaders who have made a profound impact in the communications industry, Thalberg leads the charge.
Thalberg spoke with New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) to talk about how she’s redefining what a working mom is and what winning a NYWICI Matrix Award this year means to her.
I went from luxury beauty at The Estée Lauder Companies and became the CMO of Taco Bell. Luxury beauty to fast food was surprising to many, but frankly, the harder personal adjustment was relocating my family from my lifelong home of New York City to Southern California. Then in early 2020 I made another major industry and geographic leap, in going from Taco Bell to Lowe’s Home Improvement, relocating again in the process to Charlotte. It’s easy for people to look at those scenarios and see the dissimilarities, but I think it’s more interesting to find the common threads. At times my life feels unrecognizable to me to what it had been for so long, but I’ve learned how much excitement and wonder exists in making the journey an adventure and stretching your boundaries.
There’s no question that being a mom and starting Executive Moms influenced my career and how I’ve grown as a leader. Executive Moms gave me an unbelievable lens and platform to speak with authenticity to women like myself who wanted to be spoken with realistically and optimistically, as whole women. I also sought to debunk the unfair stereotypes of how working moms are portrayed in the media, which has been particularly concerning to me in terms of the cultural signals it sends to all of us, and the rising generations of Executive Moms. I remain passionate about the need for like-minded women to feel that sense of connection and support. Most “executive moms” are doing better than we think. Within corporate agendas, it’s imperative that we continue to create the right models and examples of leadership. It’s become increasingly clear that several of the qualities prevalent in women are not only acceptable in leaders—they are proving to be key to the best, modern archetypes of leaders.
I have a daughter who’s about to graduate from college this coming spring, and so I’ve been reflecting on this as she starts taking those first steps into her own career. My 20s were very angsty! And I don’t wish the same for her, because I was extremely impatient with myself in terms of the expectations I had about what success was supposed to look like. The advent of social media has only exacerbated the tendency to benchmark ourselves against what we see, accurately or not. I wish I could tell my younger self to abandon the expectation that it is going to be a clear, straight line, to trust the journey even at its most confusing or disconcerting points, consider it all a bit of an adventure and continue to believe in yourself no matter what.
I’ll give you an example or two of the more visible ones, and an example of what is less visible. On the visible side, my favorite recent accomplishments entail solving a real business challenge in a uniquely creative way, so that it surprises, delights, gets people talking and fundamentally drives new behaviors. In the midst of the pandemic, when all attention was turned to the home, partnering with NY Fashion Week helped those designers, put fashion in a relevant context for the moment and was a shot in the arm of Lowe’s reputation when it comes to all the great style and décor we have. The Taco Bell Hotel is another, as it was the apotheosis of all of the work leading up to it to position Taco Bell as a lifestyle brand, and thereby put it in a class by itself from the rest of fast food. I love hitting that perfect intersection of business and buzz. The less visible but even more important accomplishment of which I’m proud is building teams of diverse, passionate, talented people. When you come in as an outsider, with a team that needs to be transformed, and then you see people not only accepting you but embracing you and your vision—and doing things together they might never have before—that’s where my greatest pride lies.
I’ve been lucky in the past few years to have been the recipient of some really wonderful industry recognitions, and I’m fully aware that as I work in large organizations, those recognitions are a reflection of true team effort. However, winning the Matrix Award has special meaning for me. I reflect back to 10, 15 years ago when I was invited to sit in that Waldorf ballroom, seeing these iconic women being honored and thinking: That was making it. Imagining if there might ever be a day when I could be a Matrix Award winner. Over the years of ups and downs, big bets and bad risks, there were many points where that seemed impossible and elusive. It is a dream come true to hit this moment where it’s actually, amazingly, come to fruition.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Beth Feldman is President of Beth Feldman Media and a co-founder of Beyond PR Group.