Shelly Lazarus, Ogilvy & Mather
From Lessons from the Top
he exact numbers vary, but it is not hard to believe that the average American is
exposed to hundreds of commercial messages every day. There are, of course, the spots
on radio and television. But that's just the beginning. There are the billboards we pass on
the way to work, the ads in the newspapers and magazines we read, the corporate logos
imprinted on the clothing our friends and colleagues wear: even the office equipment we
use. Everywhere we turn there is another bit of advertising.
It is not surprising then that all those commercial messages start to blur, and when asked,
we are hard-pressed to recall a fraction of the ones we have seen even in the past 24
1997-PRESENT Chairman and CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide
1995-1996 President and COO
1994-1995 President, Ogilvy & Mather North America
1991-1994 President, Ogilvy & Mather, New York
1989-1991 President, Ogilvy & Mather Direct U.S.
M.B.A., Columbia University, 1970
B.A., Smith College, 1968
Married, George Lazarus; three children
Born: Brooklyn, New York, September 1, 1947
OGILVY & MATHER
Company: Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide
Location: New York, New York
Leader: Rochelle Lazarus
Ogilvy & Mather at a glance: Ogilvy & Mather is a worldwide marketing
communications company founded by David Ogilvy in 1948, and now wholly owned by
U.K.-based WPP Group. Its client roster includes such well-known brands as American
Express, Ford, Hershey, IBM, Kodak, Mattel, Sears, and Unilever. The agency also
employs over 10,000 people based in 377 offices in 97 countries worldwide.
Gross Billings: $8.8 billion
This is not good news, if you are in the advertising business where clients pay you to
make a lasting impression.
While some firms are determined to "break through the clutter" by screaming louder at
us, others use humor, or off-beat approaches, to get our attention.
Shelly Lazarus has a different idea. She starts with the premise that a client does, indeed,
emit a constant stream of messages about its products. She is not just referring to its
advertisements, but everything from the company's packaging and brochures to its sales
materials and order forms. If you are going to send out all these messages, she says, they
all should work together whether at home or globally. That way when a potential
customer receives one impression, it reinforces all the other ones that came before.
With an international roster of clients that includes such leading companies as American
Express, Ford, IBM, and Unilever, it is clear that Lazarus's approach has made an
impression with clients.
It is easy to imagine the engineers at the Ford Motor Co. starting the meeting with a hint
of skepticism. What was an advertising person --a woman at that--going to
explain to them about the process of running an automotive company better?
To her credit, Shelly Lazarus knew her audience.
"One of the first things I said to them was, I'm relatively new to the car category, but
here's something I don't understand. If a Ford is different from a Jaguar, is different from
a Mazda, is different from a Buick and a Volkswagen, why do all the showrooms look the
There was silence as the group came to the same conclusion simultaneously. All
dealerships do, in fact, look the same.
Lazarus then drove the point home.
"You have an audience that's so interested in what you are selling that they have actually
driven to your place of business to give you an hour of their precious time to check out
what your product is all about. And what do they see once they get there? These faceless
"Now, contrast that with Nike Town, which is a store but is really a living brand filled
with interactive experiences. Why can't you do a Nike Town for Ford?"
You can, of course. And calling for that kind of all-encompassing brand experience is at
the center of Ogilvy's mission in planning and executing Ford's advertising strategy.
"On-brand" showrooms are only one example of what Lazarus calls "360-degree
branding," which is not just about advertising. It is about making a significant impression
every time a company comes in contact--directly or indirectly--with a customer.
"The process we have gone through with Ford is simple. We go through every point of
contact, study it, and ask, 'Is this "Ford"?' And in most instances it's not, just because no
one ever asked the question before. Here's one example. We're doing some really
interesting work for them right now on their web site. The site was composed of all these
That was not surprising. It is hard to find a corporate web site that has the same look and
feel as the rest of the company's marketing materials. That, Lazarus argues, is a waste of
"It goes back to 360-degree branding," she says. "If you believe every point of contact
should reflect the brand, it seems to me we have to be able to do that on the Internet as
"Early on we had some people here at Ogilvy who were very interested in interactive.
This was 10 years ago when no one was even talking about it. And in the last 12 months
interactive has just taken off. It has become a very significant part of our business.
"Because it was a new technology, a lot of our clients initially went to shops that
consisted of four guys with earrings. They went there because they thought these guys
knew how to create web sites with all these spinning images. But the clients are now
realizing that that's not really what it's all about. They now know the web site must be
informed by all the insight have into their customers and the insights they have into their
brand. So a lot of them are coming back to us, as the brand keeper for them. I expect this
part of our business to grow enormously, although I don't think it's going to stop the
growth of the other disciplines we have. I think all of our marketing tools are going to
play a role, it's just that the communications portfolio that we construct for any one client
going forward is going to be so much more interesting, richer, or more varied."
Here's What the Brand Represents
But whether it is web sites, showrooms, brochures, the price sticker on the car, or
television commercials, the objective is always the same: to make sure the client is
clearly communicating what their brand is what it stands for.
Lazarus adds another example to illustrate what she means.
"One of our most senior creatives on the IBM account has been working with the client to
bring the brand mind-set to places that fall between the classic 'marketing communication
cracks.' One of his projects for six months was to be the on-site brand consultant to the
team developing IBM's new exhibit at Disney World's Epcot Center.
"Now he doesn't know anything about theme park design or interactive installations. But
he does know the brand--and by this I do not mean that he just approves the blue color
scheme or typeface.
"He worked intensively with the architects and the designers. His job was to question
each decision, the layout, the ergonomics, the language, the signage, the total experience.
His job was to make sure everything said 'IBM brand,' said 'friendly,' said 'accessible,'
that it offered a smile. In short it all had to make a visitor feel good about IBM."
Lazarus returns to Ford to further elaborate on the power of brands.
"I love talking about brands to people who don't ever think about them. Because as soon
as you talk to them about it, they're right with you because they're consumers at heart.
They understand how these things work if you actually take a moment to explain it to
And because they understand, the working relationship between Ogilvy and Ford has
grown even closer.
"Some of our guys have been invited to join the product development groups. This has
happened because management beyond marketing is saying, 'Okay, I get it.' The engineer
says, 'Why doesn't someone who understands the brand stay with me when I'm first
thinking about designing products? If they did, I'd design products that actually represent
the Ford brand.' As opposed to designing a product--and this is the way it has
traditionally happened--and then asking what mark we should put on it? Jaguar? Mazda?
Mercury? Lincoln? Ford?
"It's very interesting for us, because our world is becoming much larger."
And intriguingly, 360-degree branding gives Ogilvy's clients a way to break through all
the commercial message clutter that is out there. When you live in a world where
company names or mottos can be found on fresh fruit, where banner ads jump out of
every web site, and where you would be pressed to spend an hour of your day without
seeing a commercial impression of some kind, making your message stand out becomes
even more important.
This is something that Lazarus keeps uppermost in her mind.
"About a year ago, we asked our managers at Ogilvy to track and show us what percent
of a client's total budget they're working with. I'm no longer interested just in how fast the
advertising budget is growing, because I think that's a short-term objective. I'm more
interested in what they're doing that integrates everything where the brand touches the
consumer. Asking this question has changed our focus and attention."
Will These People Fit?
Ogilvy, like most advertising agencies--indeed, like most companies in general--has a
particular way of doing things. How does Lazarus maximize the chance that people who
join her firm will fit into the culture?
"It's so much in the fingertips," she says. "I don't know that there are any particular
questions we ask, but I do know that you can sense the fit right away. I have spoken to
any number of people who I would deem brilliant and provocative. These are people I'd
like to have dinner with who I wouldn't necessarily bring into Ogilvy because of my
sense that they wouldnít thrive within our culture."
What is that culture like?
"Like many great companies, ours is a very value-driven culture. And when I hear people
talk disparagingly, even if they're humorous about people they work with or about their
clients, I know that person won't do well here. We have such inherent respect for each
other and for our clients. It might work elsewhere--in fact, there are agencies that pride
themselves on that attitude--but it just doesn't work here.
"This is a nonpolitical culture, a place that hates politicians, hates politics. You don't play
people against each other. You just don't do that here. It's an organization that holds its
people accountable. We have a very hard time keeping people here who are not
contributing. Not because of senior management holding people's feet to the fire, but
because the people around them actually resent it and they resent it vocally.
"Sometimes you might want to keep somebody because you see that a year from now
they'll really be in a position to make a contribution, but it's hard in this culture to do that,
because everyone holds each other accountable."
If it sounds as if Lazarus spends a lot of time paying attention to the corporate culture, it
is because she does. She has decided the culture creates an environment that allows
employees to do their best work. She says you can trace the origins of this nurturing
culture back to the founding of the agency.
"We've just had our 50th anniversary, so I have been thinking about David Ogilvy a lot.
His genius was taking a very strong point of view about how to run an organization and
from that point of view developing a set of principles--such as the amazing amount of
intellectual rigor that is required--that have actually lived on in our people."
Ogilvy wasn't Lazarus's mentor. By the time she joined the firm, the advertising legend
was only working about three months a year, about three weeks at a time. But it is clear
that he did have a lasting influence on her.
"I did get to know David because he's very democratic in the sense that he had no idea
what titles or positions anyone ever had in the agency. I think he made it a point
not to know. And he would just find people who interested him. I got to meet him
because one of the times he came back, I was nine months pregnant. And he had never
seen anybody nine months' pregnant working in his agency. So every afternoon at six
o'clock I would look up from my desk and there was David standing in the doorway. He
would just stand there and stare and when I looked up he'd ask, 'Is everything all right?'
He'd come in and we would just talk. And I got to know him extremely well because of
"I always talk about this place as a meritocracy, and that's because of the way David ran
it. Not only did he not care that I was a woman and pregnant, he actually like it, because
it was like a challenge to what everyone else believed. Remember, this was a lot of years
ago. My son is now 24. There were still companies that made you leave when you were
pregnant. At General Foods, at that time, as soon as you wore maternity clothes you had
to leave the building. To David, this was another way of challenging the status quo."
In David's Image
As a woman, CEO Lazarus knows that she is a role model, although it is not something
she is particularly comfortable with.
"I'm not presumptuous enough to think that what I choose to do, what I wear, and how I
lead my life are things that should be modeled by other people. It's the way I live. Still, I
accept it and I'm aware of it. I'm a very private person. The fact that people are watching
is probably what surprises me more than anything. But just this morning, at an industry
conference I was attending, some woman came up to me and she was practically in tears
and she said to me, 'I just wanted to introduce myself. I heard you speak at an event four
years ago, when I was pregnant. And I heard what you said about balance and I have led
my life for the last four years based on the things I heard you say. It has made a huge
difference to me, but more importantly, to my daughter.'
"I was actually a little bit surprised because if I give a speech I just don't think about the
fact that there may be people sitting in the audience who are going to take what I have to
say as a way to live their lives. But I have come to accept it.
"I know that work-family balance is important and it cheers me when I hear that because
I choose to always go to the school play, and field day, and all that, that it gives other
women in the company, or clients, the confidence to be able to say, I'm going too."
Since Lazarus is a role model, young women ask her all the time for career advice.
"There's one thing I say all the time: You have to love what you're doing in your
professional life. If you ever want to find balance, you have to love your work, because
you're going to love your children, that's almost a given.
"When things get out of balance, and where women become miserable, is when they
actually don't like what they're doing professionally. They then resent every minute that
they're away from the things they love and, therefore, the jobs gets worse and worse,
because more resentment fills their lives.
"From this, I have made two observations. The people--men or women--who are most
successful, are people who love what they do and are passionate about it.
"So the first bit of advice I give is to find something you love. Don't stay in something
where you find it a little dreary and not particularly interesting.
"And the second thing I say is that loving your professional life is the way to find
balance. Because even when you have those difficult moments and you have to choose
between something you want to do in your personal life, at least it's an
approach/approach problem, which is much more satisfying and fulfilling than to have an
approach/avoidance conflict with the whole thing."
It is clear that Lazarus has found the right balance for both herself, and her clients.