100 Most Influential Women in Advertising

Steve Hayden on Shelly Lazarus: 'There Is No Substitute'

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Shelly Lazarus

Chairman Emeritus, Ogilvy & Mather

Running a global ad agency is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage, intelligence, speed of thought and action, great people skills, a finely tuned BS meter, superb taste in creative work, great marketing instincts, charm, wit, unshakable self-confidence, the ability to resolve seemingly unresolvable paradoxes and an understanding that the numbers are your guide -- not your master.

And that , in a paragraph, is pretty much what Shelly Lazarus is all about.

I first met Shelly when she and Charlotte Beers were interviewing me for a position running the newly won IBM account at Ogilvy & Mather. She'd just presented Ogilvy's first successful worldwide campaign for IBM, "Subtitles," commercials about how IBM technology touched everyday lives all around the world.

It was clear that Ogilvy had a hit on its hands. "Solutions for a small planet" rocketed IBM's brand value from dead last to No. in 12 months. Why did she need me?

Thankfully, Shelly felt it was impossible to throw too much talent at a challenge like IBM and enthusiastically brought me onboard.

A leader of Shelly's caliber is a pearl beyond price. She can hold forth with the scariest of CEOs and bring out the shining best in the greenest of young creatives. She can pick the winner out of a shuffle pile of ideas and spin it into gold. She can say no when every other person in the room is screaming "Yes!" And vice versa.

Once, when the morale of the agency was utterly crushed by account losses and changes in senior leadership, Shelly transformed the whole vibe in under 10 minutes. People respond to her the way kittens respond to milk and Chia Pets to water.

I've sometimes worried that the guys who run the big holding companies don't fully appreciate the level of talent required to run a major agency. I get the impression that they think agency heads are interchangeable parts. One's pretty much like another. Plug and play.

But when it comes to Shelly Lazarus, the old Porsche tagline applies: "There is no substitute."

Steve Hayden is the former vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and member of The Collective.

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