My guest today is Marisa Thalberg, Chief Marketing Officer of Taco Bell, founder of, and listed as one of the top 25 Most Influential CMOs in the World by Forbes.

Takeaways from this Episode:

  • Do you lack a support group? Create it. See a void in TV programming? Produce it. Marisa Thalberg was unafraid to play where no one was playing and created many of her “next” opportunities.
  • We often discuss executives that come in and “save” failing companies or brands, but sometimes your greatest challenge is figuring out how to keep an already successful endeavor successful. Think about the potential and the possibilities, and how you can do what has historically been done well while adding other things that “delight people.”
  • Invisible stuff matters. While Marisa has been named as a top CMO, she acknowledges that her success is very dependent on the team she has curated around her. She maintains the vision and the narrative, but her team propels the work forward. Sometimes a leader’s biggest contribution is “knowing when to say ‘yes.’”

The idea of “playing where no one is playing” appears to be second nature to Marisa. While a student at Brown University, Marisa actively sought out development opportunities, even going so far as to call up New York City communication companies to tell them that she wanted an internship. By graduation, Marisa had cultivated a resume interesting enough that she was noticed by the marketing agency Saatchi & Saatchi.

Years later, when Marisa became a mother, she sought out a working mothers group in New York City…only to find that there wasn’t one. So, she created her own—

“I just wondered where were all the other working moms because I knew I was going back to work, both out of desire and necessity, and I wanted to feel connected to people like that. I was new at this motherhood thing and…I think I realized early on that just the power of just connection and recognizing that sense of common connection with other people, that really is so powerful.”

After working in marketing for several years, Marisa noticed a gap in cable news programming. Despite having no previous experience in television, Marisa wrote a programming proposal and pitched the idea cold to a cable news channel. She found herself thrown into the deep end of the pool, producing a two-hour daily show alongside individuals who had been in the industry for years.

“An incredible life lesson in terms of…how to draw connections and I realized it wasn’t actually that different, in the sense that, if you’re a good marketer, you’re thinking about your consumer and you’re curating content that will resonate with them and that’s what producing television package was. What I didn’t know, of course, were the technical parts of the job, and that was the part I had to learn.”

Marisa Thalberg, CMO of Taco Bell

Now the CMO of Taco Bell, Marissa finds ways to innovate even while keeping the brand on the steady trajectory it was on when she was hired.

“This was already a very successful brand when I arrived, and in some ways that’s more intimidating…than going to a brand or business that is struggling because you know you’re there to try to fix and here, you know, it was a little like taking the Hippocratic oath, “First do no harm,” and then how do you make it even better. It’s harder.”

I greatly enjoyed hearing Marisa’s story, and gaining just a small insight into how her mind works. I think you’ll enjoy it, too. Listen on iTunes or in the player above, and if you enjoy the show, please consider clicking here to leave us a review.

Links From the Episode and Transcript Download

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