Restoring Belief in a Struggling Business – Case Study: Ogilvy & Mather

In a career that spanned from the end of the Mad Men era to the digital age, Shelly Lazarus has always believed 'If you think you can do it, you can do it!'

Looking back on a huge advertising career, Shelley Lazarus, Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather worldwide, knows what her biggest career challenge was: turning a near dead business around. Lazarus tells the story of how she got Ogilvy Advertising in New York up off its knees in the 1990s. It’s an old story but there are plenty of pointers in it for the here and now.

 The company was suffering. Revenues were down. Everyone had their CVs out in the marketplace. The company was haemorrhaging its most talented people. Those who remained looked battered and bruised. Clients were taking their business elsewhere. Sound familiar?  So what did she do?

According to Lazarus, in a struggling company, your first goal must be to restore people’s belief in themselves. The marketing and ad business are founded on confidence so you can’t win with a team of people whose knees are shaking. She ran a three-point strategy.

Lazarus’s three steps back to life

 Shelly Lazarus set manageable goals. Rather than say to her top team: “I need you to turn this business around”, she gave them bite size goals like “I need you to get some really good projects in from Maxwell House”.

Market opportunities were grim. She needed to create some success so she went round town pulling in favours from  clients who had left. She told them straight: she needed an assignment and was prepared to do it for little money. Everything was riding on that new business so the client could be sure they would get a brilliant outcome. She confidently told the client that they were in a lucky place. She got a few breaks and her team could see she was beginning to turn the ship around. 

The last step was easy. Build on the positive momentum. Momentum can be a powerful force once you get it moving the right way and she made sure the small successes were celebrated.

“If you can just start with a little success, slowly, slowly you can build on that and get people to start believing. The business success wasn’t even the best part. The best part was looking at what we had done as a team with everyone giving everything they had and then being able to look back and say: Yes, we did it!”

Within one year, Lazarus had turned the business around. So it can be done!