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W2O Group, an independent global network of leading marketing communications firms, today reported another year of growth and progress with a 10 percent increase in revenue to nearly $83 million in 2014 from $75 million in 2013. W2O Group companies, comprising WCG, Twist and Brewlife, now employ more than 425 people in 10 U.S. offices and a growing London office and EMEA presence.

W2O Group Pragmatic Disruption Ad copyThe company also announced key senior management promotions designed to enhance client service and delivery, foster continued innovation of software-enabled services grounded in state-of-the-art analytics and insights, and position W2O for future growth and evolution internationally. Exemplifying this evolution, the firm’s digital health ecosystem and insights platform, MDigitalLife, stores more than 500,000 unique digital footprints of the world’s doctors, patients and health systems. This resource is used by numerous global clients, including nearly 70% of the world’s top pharma firms.

“2014 was a purposeful year of well-managed, profitable growth that will enable us to further diversify and innovate with our clients on a more global scale,” said W2O Group Chairman and CEO Jim Weiss. “We focused on getting the right systems in place and people in the right positions to ensure that as we expand into new regions and industry sectors, our teams are optimized to deliver flawlessly for our clients and that our infrastructure is aligned to support international growth. The moves we have already announced in 2015, including the acquisitions of ARC2 and VinTank and the hiring of Dorinda Marticorena to lead our Entertainment practice demonstrate how we are continuously evolving the firm to partner with clients in the most productive way possible. We will do all of this while staying true to our foundational #GoAhead #MakeItHappen culture that values and respects quality results and achievement, intelligence, independence, curiosity, courage and a #ChooseHappiness mindset.”

Key management promotions include the following:

Bob Pearson, President of W2O, will now also serve as Chief Innovation Officer to accelerate the firm’s software and technology offerings and facilitate and incubate new practices, offices and game-changing talent.

Jennifer Gottlieb, formerly President of Twist, which has more than doubled in size in the last three years, will become Chief Operating Officer and Head of Client Service for W2O Group and will run its three integrated marketing and communications firms.

Annalise Coady, who has run W2O’s London office and EMEA region, will become President of Twist, expanding the firm’s global footprint to accelerate and facilitate international expansion.

Aaron Strout, who has led the exponential growth of the Technology practice in the last few years, has been promoted to President of WCG. He is moving from Austin to the company’s Silicon Valley office to further focus and grow this area of expertise.

Carolyn Wang, who has been with the firm for over a decade, overseeing investor relations and corporate communications capabilities for life sciences and digital health clients, has been promoted to President of BrewLife to grow that firm in much the same way Jennifer Gottlieb led the growth of Twist.

Paul Dyer, who pioneered the firm’s social media, influencer analytics and digital capabilities, will become President of the firm’s centralized, yet-to-be renamed Analytics and Insights company and shared SaaS capability, which will serve W2O clients as well as its own client base. Seth Duncan, who has been integrally involved in creating the firm’s well-respected, industry-leading Analytics and Insights offering, has been promoted to Managing Director. He will work closely with Paul Dyer to enhance the current offering and develop a differentiated market research and influencer audience targeting sciences business.

Paulo Simas, formerly President of BrewLife, and Gary Grates, formerly head of W2O’s Global Change and Corporate Reputation practice, will now lead and grow a Global Business Design practice. That new practice will comprise those existing capabilities and expand beyond them to bring a differentiated branding and reputation offering to clients that will leverage the firms’ collective integrated analytics, insights, creative, digital technology and strategic media planning capabilities.

Mike Hartman, Chief Creative Officer of W2O Group, will expand the remit of that shared service to include strategic account planning and digital agency services such as customer user experience, e-commerce and social CRM planning and execution. He will also enhance the firm’s media and engagement and entertainment offerings with agile content development through W2O Group Films.

“Bob Pearson and Jenn Gottlieb will work together with this amazing group of people, who are stepping up into new roles and responsibilities, and their capable teams to deliver services, software and solutions that will exceed the expectations of our clients,” added Weiss. “We are expanding our healthcare offering, building technology into a practice as important to our future as healthcare, and developing our capabilities to create unique advantages for any brand in any industry. I have never been more excited about our future than I am today, and remain committed to making W2O Group the very best it can be for our clients and our people.”

Click here to view the press release.

Recently, I joined the Arthur Page Society Future Leader’s Experience for a workshop on “Business Acumen,” which took place in the backyard of our SF office and in the heart of Silicon Valley. We spent some time at Facebook, where we had a Q&A with Sheryl Sandburg and chief communication officer (CCO) Mike Buckley, and at Stanford, where we met with a number of other CCOs and got a peek at how communications is taught to students in the rarified airs of the school’s MBA program.

It was fun to geek out at both institutions – and I came away with some inspiration as well as reaffirmation around the way we lead within W2O Group. My top five takeaways:

1. We are first and foremost communications professionals…

…not “healthcare” or “technology” (or fill in your choice of industry) communications professionals. We should appreciate the discipline we’re in as industry agnostic and not be afraid to build our career from there. I was struck by how many times the CCOs we spoke to (from Levi Strauss, Chevron, etc.) have changed industries while moving up the ranks; proof positive that our skills can be applied across industries. As one CCO pointed out: you always have that first 100 days to learn as much as possible and ask as many questions as you can.

2. In order to lead, you must fully embrace and personalize the company’s mission

Leaders truly believe in what their company is trying to accomplish. At Facebook the belief is “the world is a better place open and connected,” and staff are encouraged to build their own communities. Our tour guide has started her own non-profit; other employees initiate all kinds of charity and community campaigns on their own. Staff also police themselves and have created an internal listserv called “FaceWorld Problems,” where employees will call out others within the company if they are seen doing something countercultural. (I’m guessing this is defined by what hyper-ambitious, intelligent developers with a hacker mentality deem as “uncool.”)

On-site printing facility enables Facebookers to create  signage and promote their own messages wherever they like

Particularly striking is how all Facebook employees introduce themselves – by either showing their audience their own Facebook page (if presenting) or by providing a fairly intimate bio on who they are (and what makes them unique), what brought them to Facebook and what they’re passionate about. And this takes us to #3:

3. It’s important to build and “own” your personal brand as a leader

Sheryl Sandburg and Mark Zuckerberg each actively engage with core policy issues that impact their business and with core policy issues that they personally care about that impact the community at large. For Sandburg its female peer leadership mentoring and empowerment; for Zuckerberg its immigration reform.

Zuckerberg also does a weekly stand-up ever Friday for the entire company to inform employees and openly discuss challenges. He has been known to stop the proceedings and ask for tougher questions. That reminds me of someone else

4. Celebrate failure

This idea of making it okay to admit weakness – starting at the top – is interesting. It stands in stark contrast to a culture of “group think” where individuals are challenged to prove there is a problem before senior leaders will respond. At Stanford, we went over the multiple NASA disasters and probed how the internal culture contributed to failures that resulted in loss of lives. It was clear that NASA historically has not conducted meaningful inquiries to learn from mistakes, shocking for a science and evidence-based organization, nor had it implemented any sort of individual accountability.

The Apollo 13 Mission, which astoundingly was survived by all of the astronauts on board, was deemed a failure by NASA because it didn’t succeed in a moon landing. When the movie was made, it rewrote history for a lot of the staff at NASA, who finally recognized perhaps there was something worth celebrating…and learning from.

The question I left with was, how do we ensure institutional learning so we don’t continue to make the same mistakes? What are the cultural changes necessary?

5. “Keep your head down, and keep shipping.”

Like most companies, Facebook bases its decisions on four things: financial implications, legal risk, product impact, and its Board; and now data governs it all. The communications team is using predictive analytics to calibrate response to user feedback on new product features: for Facebook, media has become a predictive tool for user trust. Facebook conducts 10,000 user surveys every day and can now directly correlate negative coverage to user sentiment and the impact it will have over the short and long term.

Generally – they’ve found that short term dips in user trust do not warrant a reaction (a.k.a. panic) and have developed a motto heard around the campus, “keep your head down and keep shipping.” (They’re referring to code.) Buckley predicted to us that future communications departments will allocate 30% of their resources to analytics.

And that’s where things got a bit awkward when I started doing the W2O cheer…

Today, FDA held a tweetchat to provide further clarity and answers around its guidance on mobile medical app regulation. The basic takeaway on the guidance (which can be found here) is … it’s good! It’s clear! It’s pro-innovation! That’s great for companies and developers, but doesn’t make for a very exciting Twitter exchange.

Essentially the types of medical apps the FDA intends to regulate are largely unchanged from the draft guidance, but impressively the areas where FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion – in effect, a hands-off policy – are significantly expanded. As you may have read in my colleague, Brian Reid’s blog post on Sept. 24, big pharma and health care solution providers will, for the most part, be able to develop away with little interference.

Apps that help patients manage their own condition (without providing specific treatment suggestions), organize their personal health information, provide access to information regarding their condition or treatment, help them communicate potential medical conditions to care providers, automate tasks for care providers or enable patients to interact with their personal health records or electronic health records are all fair game.

And FDA certainly had its talking points down, per @FDADeviceInfo: “FDA’s final MobMed guidance supports innovation & protects consumers”. That was a message that got repeated.

FDA did provide a little more color around its philosophy:
• “Enforcement discretion” = FDA is not actively enforcing requirements for manufacturers to register and list with the FDA
• FDA will review apps in a way that balances risks/benefits without creating unnecessary burden for app developers
• The FDA guidance reflects its focused priorities on apps that pose greater risks to patients & is a big de-regulatory action
• Apps that require FDA review will be evaluated according the same risk-based system the agency applies to other medical devices

A brief recap of select Q&A from the tweetchat can be found below. The full tweetchat can be reviewed online at Twitter.com, #FDAapps:

Q. How will FDA be monitoring apps for compliance? Browsing the Apple/Google Play stores?
FDA: Our efforts are focused on education and clarity at this time; we are focusing on clarifying areas that need oversight and looking for voluntary compliance.

Q. Logging and recording data seems to be fine, but what about interpreting data and making care recommendations?
FDA: Apps that meet definition of a medical device but pose little risk to consumers are an area where the FDA is exercising “enforcement discretion”; however, making recommendations that change dosage would raise risk to consumers.

Q. Some dosing apps are simple calculations routinely used in clinical practice. Will FDA exercise enforcement discretion for them?
FDA: Yes – please see appendix B in guidance (pg. 23).

Q. Under what circumstances would FDA choose to alter its enforcement discretion paradigm as explained in the guidance?
FDA: We intend to follow this [enforcement discretion] policy unless we have new info that raises public health risk. If/when we change policies we will follow public processes.

Q. Is the FDA checking apps’ algorithms and/ or checking validation/evaluation of apps?
FDA: It depends on the risk of the device & patient exposure. With regards to functionality, it would be similar to other high risk development.

Q. Is there a time at which you hope to transition to another phase–one of enforcement and action?
FDA: We will allow reasonable time for app developers to be into compliance prior to enforcement actions.

Q. How long does app rev/approval typically take?
FDA: On average, it has taken 67 days for clearance but it depends on the complexity and functionality of the app.

Q. Approximately how many ‘clearances’ of apps are we talking about up till now?
FDA: The FDA has cleared about 100 mobile medical apps over the last 10 years

Other resources:
• For questions about a specific app, please email: mobilemedicalapps@fda.hhs.gov
• Health professionals & consumers may submit reports of mobile medical app adverse events or problems to FDA online & by phone @ 1-800-FDA-1088

Recently I flew with two of my colleagues for a somewhat formulaic client meeting. We all work out of the same office, however each of us lives near separate airports and under normal circumstances we would meet on the ground when we landed. This time I insisted we all fly together.

Though all three of us were prepared and already had a plan for the meeting, and even though the three of us work within steps of each other’s offices, we simply had not left the time or the space to ideate and discuss, and generally riff with one another so we could go in with additional fresh thinking that could further inspire our client team at the start. In fact, our day-to-day madness and competing travel schedules discouraged it. Even though our flight was under an hour and a half, I was hoping the time together would allow us to walk in with more of a roadmap that would generate feedback. What resulted, which I couldn’t have anticipated, changed the entire focus and tenor of our meeting that day.

This is a plane storm, the bad kind, and actually counterproductive to “planestorming.”

For those of us that aren’t terrified at the prospect of getting on the plane, oftentimes there’s a diametrical sentiment: It can be uplifting and inspirational. After all, an open sky is often associated with freedom and taking flight with endless possibilities, and the corny poetic parallels don’t stop there. Though most of my air travel these days involves a client at one end, for the majority of my life travel has been associated with more exotic destinations and the anticipation of adventure. To this day, airplanes and new experiences remain firmly entwined for me. Perhaps for that reason, simply being in the air enables our minds to wander, inspiring clear thinking. Wanderlust has long engendered both creativity and camaraderie, why wouldn’t those mental and emotional states translate when colleagues are traveling together?

On this particular flight, we had trouble staying focused – not unsurprising given the early hour and hyperactive nature of our agency-adapted brains. Though we tried to stay focused on the subject at hand, we kept sliding into other, unrelated conversations. Perhaps this meant that some part of our collective mind was free to focus on the core issues we needed to address while we moved from one topic to the next. Then the spark hit, when we realized that before we could do what our client had asked of us, we needed to help them address a significant barrier that they’d not yet identified. It was an “ah-ha” moment for sure, and it allowed us to formulate a somewhat brazen new structure and approach that resonated strongly with our client that day. Ultimately, we didn’t accomplish what the client asked us to in that meeting; instead we gave them a new way of thinking about their business. We’ll figure out the details on another day… perhaps on another flight.

P.S. I believe I have an idea why @bobpearson1845, @tmarklein and @psimas1 spend so much time in the air.

*Acknowledgements to @tmarklein for coining the term “planestorming.”

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