Why Ogilvy & Mather's Shelly Lazarus says investing in your brand makes good sense Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2010

Every time Shelly Lazarus talks to executives who are managing through tough times, she poses a straightforward question: What is the value of a brand?

It’s a simple question that often leads to a more detailed discussion.

“Is it a revenue or a cost?” asks Lazarus, chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, an advertising firm that, over the past 60 years, has helped build some of the most recognizable brands on the planet. “I would argue a revenue driver. If you spend money during a recession, you can come out ahead. Those companies and brands that invested through this (recession) will come out stronger and ahead of their competitors.”

Lazarus shared her thoughts on brand value, managing through tough times, how to deal with Gen Y and the future of advertising at the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum 2009.

On managing through tough times

The best thing you can do is state the problem clearly but stay optimistic about the outcome. It’s not ‘rah rah’; people can see through that. But you have to get yourself to a place where you see the path. And when you’re comfortable, communicate, communicate, communicate. You have to get out with people and share what’s going on so they can assess the situation and have an understanding of where you’re heading and feel a sense of comfort.

Everybody is looking at you to see how you react to the ups and downs of the marketplace. The biggest mistake people make in communicating is that in many companies, the last group of people that the leaders communicate with is the employees. That’s a mistake — they are the most important constituency you have.

The second biggest is that you better not sugarcoat the news. You need to have a good sense that people in the company trust the leadership. And to have that trust, you need honesty and transparency.

On managing Generation Y

This is a different generation in the workplace than the previous generation. The average tenure for Generation Y employees today is 16 months. You’ve got a sea change coming toward us that we have to deal with. But there are things you can do. If there is an expectation that jobs are episodic, is there something you can do with jobs in a company? Can you make the job more satisfying? And how do you create the balance they seek? We are dealing with a population, a generation really, that doesn’t want to do things the same way you do. You need to rethink the nature of the job.

On the future of marketing

Less than 50 percent of our revenue comes from traditional advertising. There are so many new ways to communicate that we’re inventing it as we go along. But there’s a danger of fragmentation. It’s imperative to ensure your message and brand is consistent. That way, wherever people choose to find you, the brand message is the same.

No matter what you choose, a mix of media always works better than a single medium, and the more different media that you use, the better your results. But you need to know what role each effort plays and how it’s going to get to a transaction. Things are so fast that you can now move from ‘I never heard of that before’ to a transaction within 24 hours.

So, when determining where to advertise or market your message, be demanding. Find out how you’re getting from the first insertion to a sale. If that is your mindset, it becomes much easier to adapt.

How to reach: Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, www.ogilvy.com

Five keys to an economic revival

Today, business leaders are struggling to balance the near-term needs of survival with the long-term demand to find new sources of growth. Never has the need to innovate and be entrepreneurial been more urgent. Ernst & Young LLP has identified five areas where entrepreneurship and innovation are the keys to a global economic revival.

  • Entrepreneurial thinking. In a recent Ernst & Young survey, the majority of entrepreneurs said they saw the economic slowdown as the perfect time to pursue new market opportunities. In addition, economists, academics and industry leaders all agree that recessions tend to favor the naturally innovative temperament of entrepreneurs. Some of the world’s largest companies were born during a recession.
  • New market leaders. The market leaders of today are not necessarily the market leaders of tomorrow. Dominant corporations are constantly replaced by entrepreneurial-minded enterprises that grow at incredible speed and gain significant market share.
  • Innovation can — and often must — be disruptive. Industries, companies and economies all suffer initially as innovation challenges the status quo, but strong organizations embrace shake-ups and ultimately thrive.
  • Entrepreneurs are not bound by size. Large companies are often hampered by institutional structures that may view unconventional ideas or strategies as impractical, unwise or threatening. But large corporations can still innovate successfully if they build and sustain innovation-oriented cultures.
  • Government support. Government policies that encourage entrepreneurship are most likely to result in increased innovation. Governments, which are often viewed as most effective when they stay out of the business sector’s way, actually play an important role in nurturing and protecting one of their most important engines of growth: entrepreneurs.

Source: Ernst & Young LLP, www.ey.com