The most valuable asset for a company is its brand: Shelly Lazarus

By Neha Kalra , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | November 04, 2009
With India being amongst the three fastest growing markets for Ogilvy, Shelly Lazarus, chairperson, Ogilvy Worldwide, talks informally about Ogilvy and her 30 years with the agency on her trip to India

Shelly Lazarus, chairperson, Ogilvy Worldwide makes a visit to India exactly after a year. The last time she visited India, she spoke about honouring the 25 most powerful women of India.

Lazarus, who says it's always heartening to visit India and finds it quite a treat, feels that though 2009 is a challenging year, one needs to get to the place which makes a difference to the global map - and according to her, India is a country that makes a difference.

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After spending 30 years with Ogilvy, one wonders if, as a woman, she ever found herself hitting the glass ceiling. She entered the business when there were hardly any women in the picture. She, who believes herself to have been unusual, remembers only one instance in her career when a client did not prefer to have a woman working on the account. In fact, a lot of times, she enjoyed the privilege of being the only woman in the room whom agency members turned to for opinion!

Without explicitly talking numbers, Lazarus says that India is growing at an increasingly fast rate and has been impacted much less by the global recession as compared to other markets -even developed ones. As a creative force, Ogilvy India is at an advantage wherein the quality of the work done for clients is remarkable. Ogilvy India was one of the few agencies invited for the Vodafone global briefing, along with agencies from the UK. She also gave the instance of setting up of the global hub for IBM out of Ogilvy Bengaluru, which is quite a feat for the agency in India.

Lazarus adds that clients are getting more efficient in terms of the money they spend on advertising and about productivity. Red Works, a global Ogilvy company, was set up three years ago to cater to the client's needs of adapting advertising campaigns in the Ogilvy quality across the globe. "It continues to grow as a global offering - clients are taking the savings from Red Works and putting it in for strategic works - which is for ultimate good." Clients such as Unilever make the most of such an offering as different countries require different interpretations in the form of adaptation.

In India, Red Works is yet to witness a formal launch. It is slated for a phased launch in 2010, beginning with Bengaluru, followed by Mumbai and later, Delhi.

Pratap Bose stepped down as chief executive officer in 2008, and since then, the position lies vacant. Is the agency considering looking at a head for the Indian counterpart at all, or is it contemplating region-wise supervision for the country? Lazarus reiterates that Ogilvy does not follow a structure per se - each country's local heads are given the freedom to take a decision on the same.

With Piyush Pandey at the helm of Ogilvy India, does the agency need a head at all? "Piyush is the leader of Ogilvy India and is also the creative leader. The more times I can get a creative leader to be a leader, the happier I am! I think that we are an agency that is all about creativity - we stand for the work that we create for clients. We are only as good as the work we do for clients.

"The combination of a great creative head doesn't go well with that of a person who can also lead the country - but in Piyush, we have him - and he's going strong. We don't anticipate any changes. Also, the best thing he does is develop young creative people."

Having worked on the client side for three years, Lazarus understands that it is important for agencies to befriend their clients, who are sometimes going through a lot more on their end with sales targets, budgets and other issues.

In terms of faring in rate of growth and revenue figures, as compared to other markets, India is one of the three fastest growing markets for Ogilvy, with China being one of the others. Latin America is also one of the faster growing markets, Lazarus brings out. Brazil has been almost not affected at all by the recession.

Clients have begun to look for integrated solutions. However, traditional media, Lazarus personally feels, will never go out of fashion. New media have begun to find place in the communication mix. She cites the instance of the rising importance of public relations as a discipline for Ogilvy in the US, where digital influence is measurable, to tell clients about what people are talking about on blogs, and what is being sent around.

"Lines are blurring, which is very interesting and due to which things are changing," she emphasises.

Ogilvy is seen more as a traditional-led advertising agency. With new media gaining strength in the scheme of things gradually, where does Ogilvy find place with other agencies across the globe being stronger in the new media space? "More than 50 per cent of Ogilvy's revenue comes from new media. The world's biggest jigsaw puzzle for Lipton Tea was a fantastic idea! Unless you have an idea, it doesn't matter how many media you spread out to," Lazarus explains.

Giving the example of the Zoozoo, she believes that it is essential to first have an idea in place - "the mistake that some people make is that they take it as it is and slap it on," she exclaims.

Lazarus does not rule out the possibility of acquisitions and setting up new offices in India, however, only if it is validated with an appropriate access to talent.

Recently, Ogilvy bagged the global account of UPS. Speaking about clients awarding agencies businesses through global alignments, what's in store for Ogilvy in India? "Though we can't spend much time on this, some things seem to be taking shape. However, I can't confirm these as of now," she tells afaqs!.

In an ideal world, Lazarus believes in specialisation, along with integration. However, "no client will trade off expertise with integration," she clearly brings out.

With FMCG companies being the obvious advertisers despite the recession, she reveals that financial service brands and automobile brands were some of the few that stayed away from advertising. IBM was an exception, she adds, which advertised last November - during the bleakest time.

Which is the one thing that hasn't changed about advertising in the last 30 years? "There's nothing as valuable to a company as its brand. There is no asset that a company has that has more value than its brand," pat comes the reply.

Lazarus is proud of the culture of Ogilvy. "Our culture is stronger than it's ever been. The culture was defined by a single man - 60 years ago, the agency was based on a set of principles and values. He set up the company, went for 25 years to France, retired and died - the things that people believe in are stronger than they have ever been."

On a concluding note, she brings out that the culture exists in every Ogilvy office around the world. "You can feel it, you can define it," she smiles.