Shelly Lazarus, Ogilvy & Mather

From Lessons from the Top
The 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 hours.

Shelly Lazarus

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

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 same?"

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 showrooms.

"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 disparate images."

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 resources.

"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 well.

"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 them."

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 that.

"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.