Advertising Week

Shelly Lazarus Shares Five Tips for Succeeding in the Ad Biz

Ask Bigger Questions, Think Like Business Owners

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Shelly Lazarus arrived on the scene at Ogilvy & Mather in September 1971. She spent more than 40 years shaping the agency, before stepping down and assuming the role of chairman emeritus in July. Ms. Lazarus got her start in account-management roles, eventually becoming CEO and chairman in the 1990s.

Shelly Lazarus
Shelly Lazarus Credit: Mark Schafer

"A leader of Shelly's caliber is a pearl beyond price," Steve Hayden, former vice chairman of Ogilvy' class='directory_entry' title='Ad Age LookBook '>Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, recently wrote in Ad Age .

During Advertising Week in New York, Ms. Lazarus teamed up with Lauren Crampsie, global chief marketing officer at Ogilvy, for an on-stage chat. Ms. Lazarus regaled the crowd with stories of famous ad campaigns and clients, as well as more personal anecdotes.

For example, Mr. Hayden jotted down Motorola's famous "Intelligence Everywhere" tagline just a few hours into an epic 14-hour briefing that "made my hair hurt," Ms. Lazarus said. And back in the late 1960s, Ms. Lazarus enrolled in business school, because she figured if she had an MBA she wouldn't have to type, like so many women of her generation. Still, like so many women today, Ms. Lazarus has indulged in "Fifty Shades of Gray" -- for the sake of staying up-to-speed with pop culture, she said -- though she stopped part-way through the second installment, because it was "boring."

Here, Ms. Lazarus shares five tips for succeeding in the ad business.

Figure out if you really like the ad business. "It sounds simplistic. But if it feels trivial or silly to you, it's never going to work," Ms. Lazarus said. "It's a great game to me. One of the great intellectual puzzles of all time is to figure out how you can persuade people of something."

Ask a bigger question. One of the things Ms. Lazarus loves about the ad business is that there's always a different marketing problem or business challenge to tackle. At Unilever, for example, Silvia Lagnado believed Dove could be used to change the way people thought about women. "You sit up and say, 'now that 's a challenge,'" Ms. Lazarus said. "Selling more soap is easy. I always say to clients, 'ask me a bigger question.'"

Think like a business owner. Motorola used to have an 8:15 a.m. daily meeting where it shared sales results with its partners at Ogilvy. "That was the happiest, most motivated account group we had at Ogilvy at the time," Ms. Lazarus said. "I don't care how many awards you win at Cannes. It's much more fun for an agency if you feel you have some measure of sales."

Don't forget the internal audience. Despite the availability of email and webcast, Ms. Lazarus emphasized the importance of showing up and interacting with people in person. "Go to the ladies' room. I hate these people that have their own bathrooms. You find out more in the ladies room," she said. "Go the cafeteria. It's amazing what you can learn standing on line."

Make yourself indispensable then ask for what you need. For parents, in particular, it's important to set priorities and vocalize them. "I never snuck out for a pediatrician appointment or a school play. I always walked down the center aisle," said Ms. Lazarus, a mother of three. "Think of everything in terms of outcomes -- the outcome of not going to the meeting vs. the outcome of not going to the school play."

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