Shelly Lazarus on the Responsibility of a Powerful Brand

lazarus portrait

When Shelly Lazarus became worldwide CEO of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather in 1996, she likely didn’t realize that along with the usual responsibilities accompanying the top position in a large company, she would also be acquiring a new passion: conservation.

“I came to WWF in sort of an unusual way, but also kind of a wonderful way, when I started to get into the leadership of Ogilvy,” Lazarus says. “I came to discover there had been a longstanding relationship between David Ogilvy and the company he founded—Ogilvy & Mather—and World Wildlife Fund.”

Indeed, O&M wasn’t the only entity David Ogilvy could lay claim to: He had also helped found WWF.

And Ogilvy & Mather was one of WWF’s first conservation partners, contributing its creative services over the years to help raise WWF’s profile and build brand awareness.

“So while my involvement with WWF started professionally, the closer I got to the organization, the more fascinated I was by the work being done,” Lazarus says. “It was such an easy thing to become personally involved.”

“I’m not sure we all appreciate every day what a gift it is to have a brand that’s as powerful as WWF’s.”

Shelly Lazarus
Secretary, WWF Board of Directors

WWF’s black-and-white logo was modeled after a panda named Chi Chi, who came to live at the London Zoo in the late 1950s. And while the panda hints at the origins of an organization founded to save species and their habitats, WWF’s mission has evolved over a half-century into one that includes the well-being of people as well as animals and nature.

But WWF’s entry point into most people’s consciousness will almost certainly always be wildlife. And that’s a good thing, says Lazarus: “One of the advantages WWF has is we’re associated with these charismatic, gorgeous animals that you must pay attention to.”

Another undeniable advantage is the WWF brand. WWF’s panda logo has become synonymous with conservation and is instantly recognizable—fully 90% of Americans are familiar with it. “Organizations never take advantage enough of their brands,” says Lazarus. “I’m not sure we all appreciate every day what a gift it is to have a brand that’s as powerful as WWF’s.”

Lazarus recalls that after attending her first WWF Board meeting, a fellow member asked for her impression of the experience. “The honest answer was that my head was spinning,” she says, laughing. “But probably the biggest takeaway was how something I may only have considered to be a stand-alone problem—species loss, for example—was actually part of a much bigger chain of issues.

“And in order to be solved, that whole chain had to be dealt with together. I think that’s what is really fascinating about WWF’s work—this holistic view, this integrated approach, to putting all the pieces together to ensure we save the planet for the future.”

One of the key pieces WWF has identified is citizen involvement. “The flip side of having such a powerful brand is the responsibility to do something powerful with it,” says Lazarus. “And WWF wants to mobilize hundreds of millions of people in support of conservation.”

Along with strong brand identity, Lazarus also identified the urgency of WWF’s message as an important asset—that what the organization is doing and what it has to say is important to the future of the world. “Urgency instantly elevates your every action and gives people a reason to pay attention, if only for a moment. What you do with that attention—and that moment—is what makes the difference.”

Explore More

World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

View all issues