After successful events in New York City and Los Angeles, emerging leaders in the W2O Austin office brought the Firing-Up Emerging Leaders (FUEL) Forum to Austin last month to explore how individuals and organizations can embody the entrepreneurial spirit. This spirit is a natural occurring phenomenon in Austin as the city’s culture fosters the elements needed to be a successful entrepreneur, such as diversity, purpose-driven work and fearless ambition.

While the entrepreneurial spirit may pave the way for innovation, it is often filled with lots of doubt, fear and risks, leaving individuals unsure of how to move forward. To address these very thoughts, FUEL brought together emerging leaders from around Austin who embody this spirit to share their successes, challenges and advice on how to succeed in this ever changing time. Check out the recap below.

Panel: Cutting Through the Noise

Speakers: David Fossas, Director of Brand of WP Engine and Britt Knighton, VP of Marketing of Camp Gladiator

Moderator: Naimul Huq, Senior Director, W2O

David Fossas, Director of Brand of WP Engine and Britt Knighton, VP of Marketing of Camp Gladiator sat down to discuss the challenges and successes of their brands and how they navigate saturated markets – both in Austin as an innovative city and within their perspective industries. Additionally, they discussed how their companies empower their employees to raise the bar and foster the entrepreneurial spirit. Check out their panel below.

Panel | Am I Qualified? Looking Beyond the Degree

Speakers: Angus Cann, Senior Producer of Whole Foods, Katie Danielson, Co-Founder of ZenMonkey Breakfast & Nicole Mills, Director of Advisory Services, NewsCred

Moderator: Corina Kellam, Content Strategist, W2O

We had the opportunity to hear this panel discuss how their careers have evolved – and how their different experiences have led to their roles now – even if they didn’t necessarily go the “traditional route”. Nicole said it best, “It’s not about faking it to you make it. It’s about being up for stretch development opportunities.”

Panel | Side Hustle to Real Hustle

Speakers: Jane Ko, blogger at A Taste of Koko and Mica May, founder and CEO of May Designs

Moderator: Janelle Laqui, Analytics Associate, W2O

How do we transition a “side hustle” into a “real hustle?” Jane Ko, blogger at A Taste of Koko and Mica May, founder and CEO of May Designs, were there to answer that question.These women entrepreneurs discussed how they transitioned their side passions/ideas into full functioning businesses.

Did you attend our event? Check out the photos on Facebook!

Fireside Chat | From Introduction to Impact: The Importance of Building Your Personal Brand

Speaker: Justin Johnson, Global Marketing, Facebook & Host of the Jacob & Justin Show

Moderator: Blaire Clause, Senior Marketing Manager, W2O

During this fireside chat Justin shared his experiences that led him from graduating The University of Texas to his current role at Facebook. He touched on the importance of being intentional, authentic, curious and open to new opportunities. In our ever changing, digitally-focused world, he emphasized the importance of building true human connections and said it best with the follow up, “in order to be interesting, you have to be interested”.

Panel | Provider, Patient, Product – The New Prescription of Healthcare

Speakers: Dr. Skye P. Clarke, DO, Baylor Scott & White & Zac Jiwa, Co-Founder and CEO, MI7

Moderator: Steven Cutbirth, Product Commercialization, W2O

The healthcare industry has evolved so quickly due to the access to technology, data, and information. Dr. Clarke and Zac discussed how this evolution is currently impacting healthcare, what it means for the industry’s future and what role Austin will play in the future.

Fireside Chat | What Not to Do: The Entrepreneur Edition

Speaker: Joshua Bingaman, Founder of HELM Boots

Moderator: Maya Ollie, Marketing Associate, W2O

Being an entrepreneur isn’t an easy feat. There are challenges and victories along the way which ultimately means a plethora of lessons. Joshua Bingaman has founded 3 separate businesses and has a keen understanding of what to do and what not to do. He was gracious enough to share with us.

Thank you to all the speakers, attendees, volunteers and W2Oers who made this event possible!


Recently, several colleagues and I had a chance to network, share best practices and brainstorm solutions to industry challenges with more than 50 of our agency peers, pharma clients and top-tier media at the 13th exl Public Relations and Communications Summit. The energy was high and the crowd was never at a loss for words or ideas, with discussion centering on the following themes.

Analytics: Use It or Lose It

From condition education to the value and pricing debate, Analytics helps guide content and channel strategy, customize messages for optimal audience impact and measure ROI – a challenge PR and Comms professionals frequently face compared to other Marketing disciplines. If you are not employing Analytics, you will fall behind the competitive curve.

Deep and Meaningful Engagement: Yes, We Can…

Digital and social communications play an increasingly important role in the overall patient experience, including reaching, influencing and supporting people with divergent needs. The review process may be daunting as pharma continues to become more comfortable with digital and social engagement. But, it is possible to establish branded and unbranded Facebook pages, coordinate Facebook Live events and push the envelope further. Vet concepts in advance, share real-world case studies and trouble-shoot potential issues with Legal, Regulatory and Corporate teams to help minimize potential roadblocks.

Content: Still King if It’s Relevant and Authentic

With the multitude of current and emerging social and digital communications channels, we can expand content reach and impact by repackaging or tailoring it to address the needs of multiple audiences. As an industry, we strive to be authentic and build engaging voices. It can be challenging in our highly-regulated industry, but we can be successful by listening carefully to what is important to our stakeholders, incorporating feedback, flexing based on broader industry trends and being relevant and real as we engage with various audiences.

Value: Like Beauty, It’s in the Eye of the Beholder

Many speakers addressed the value and pricing debate head on. They urged communicators to take a more proactive approach to shape and share the story.

Celgene CEO Mark J. Alles, for example, implored attendees to focus on patient outcomes and clearly convey the life and death difference that pharma innovations make as critical to the industry’s value proposition. Value and price, two separate concepts, do not resonate with detractors, but you can’t argue a patient outcome.

Among other points, Acorda Therapeutics’ CEO Ron Cohen, M.D., noted that the money needed to innovate in healthcare is an investment in the future. Eventually pharma innovations, which may appear costly initially, go generic, broadening their reach, which can improve patient outcomes and decrease cost of care over time. The focus must be on the patient and patient outcomes, as well as healthcare’s impact more broadly.

What’s Next?

As communicators, we are uniquely positioned to play a critical role in helping inform and guide people as they seek health solutions and in demonstrating the value that our industry brings to patients, their caregivers and healthcare providers.

Analytics can help us understand the landscape more clearly and how to be relevant to our audiences. Insights garnered from Analytics, research and our relevant experience combined allow us to create content and communities that educate and meaningfully engage diverse audiences about important health issues.

Teaching & Transitioning Veterans to the Public Sector

There are some causes that know no boundaries.  They are not democrat or republican.  They are not state or federal.  They are simply important and deserve the attention and focus of all of us.

One of these causes is how we educate, train and prepare veterans for their transition back into the corporate world.  Yes, it is important to get a job.  It’s even more important to build a career and that is what The Vetted Foundation is focused on.  The Vetted team is creating a unique educational curriculum, built by leading universities, to take the skills learned by our veterans in the field of battle and complement them with new business skills that prepare our veterans so they can succeed and grow their careers in their next phase of life.

Today was one of those special days as the Chancellors of The University of Texas (Admiral William McRaven) and Texas A&M (Chancellor John Sharp) spoke at a press briefing along with Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who served in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and as a member of the US Naval Reserve, State Representative Pat Fallon of Frisco, Texas, a member of the 1988 Notre Dame championship football team and US Air Force, Linda Mays McCaul, who worked in Naval Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency and is Vice Chairman of the Vetted Board, Tracy King, Vice President of Public Affairs for AT&T and Michael Sarraille on the importance of Vetted and the commitment of their institutions and foundations to this pioneering effort.  They were joined at the podium by Admiral Bobby Inman, the Chairman of the Vetted Board and Molly Mae Potter, who is Ms. Veteran America 2016 and an executive at Dell Technologies.

The founder of Vetted is Michael, a Special Forces veteran who worked under the command of Admiral McRaven, the past leader of the United States Special Forces Command.  Michael is focused on building a program that translates military skills into business skills to give veterans the opportunity to prove their worth.

The initial goal is to enroll more than 80 veterans per class who will learn from the best at The University of Texas, Texas A&M and other participating universities, such as Rice University.  They will receive training on business topics plus counsel on how to navigate the corporate world.  With time, this number will increase and it is expected that this program will evolve into a national model.

Texas is a great place for this type of program to start, since we have over 1.7MM military veterans in the state today.  Texas A&M has graduated more military officers than any university in the country, according to Chancellor Sharp and we have government leaders, such as Land Commissioner George P. Bush who care deeply about the future of our veterans and how they integrate into U.S. society.

Admiral McRaven made a great point this morning as I said, “We need to get over the stigma that veterans are broken.  Absolutely nothing is further from the truth.  Veterans are ready for corporate challenges”.

In this statement, Admiral McRaven summed up the idea of Vetted.  Military veterans are future leaders of departments, future leaders of companies, future entrepreneurs who will start companies of all types and they represent untapped intelligence and knowledge for today’s company.

Equally exciting to see is the creation of Vetted from an idea to reality.  I give a lot of credit to AT&T and Tracy King for stepping up and being the first major corporate sponsor.  It takes courage to be the pioneer and show the way.  There are many more pioneering leaders at companies who will soon join and show the country how we can do this well.  I also want to thank Commissioner George P. Bush, a military veteran himself, who leads key initiatives for Veterans in the State of Texas that are forward-thinking.  Admiral Bobby Inman and Linda Mays McCaul are critical to Vetted’s success as Chair and Vice-Chair of the Board. In addition, Linda mentioned that her Foundation will become an official partner along with AT&T.  Representative Pat Fallon represents the spirit of legislators who are always ready to make the decisions necessary to help the transition of veterans.

Great causes lead to innovative new approaches.  Every new model that succeeds needs a team that believes passionately in the vision of what can be done to make a difference.

This morning we witnessed who this team is and why The Vetted Foundation will start to make a difference in the lives of our most heroic and important leaders and how future business leaders will start moving through the Vetted program to continue to make a difference in our world.

If you are already helping Vetted, thank you.  It is making a difference and it matters.

Best, Bob

(Note: I am a volunteer co-chair of the strategic advisory board)

Check Presentation During W2O at SXSW 

Today, I had the opportunity to keynote at The Advertising Research Foundation meeting on Audience Measurement in Jersey City.

In my keynote, I addressed eleven trends that are increasing the value of market research, redefining what we mean by the term “research” and how media, behavior and machine learning are teaming up to make it possible for insights we could only dream of a few years ago.

Here are the eleven trends.

#1 – Human beings are telling us exactly who matters, what they want and why.  Earned and shared media hold the clues that can make paid and owned more powerful.

#2 – The 1,9,90 model works worldwide.  We’ve been banging on this important media model for a decade.  It works as well in China as in Brazil as in the UK.  We know who tells the story.  We know who shares the story.  We know who impacts SEO.

#3 – We can identify and track our exact audience online.  The emergence of audience architecture allows us to “align” with our audience, rather than “promote” to it.  This is more important than ever, as we leave a 2016 election season where 72% of voters said their primary source of candidate information was Facebook, up from 12% in 2012, according to Brad Parscale, who led the digital work for the Trump Campaign.

#4 – The ability to micro-segment is game-changing in how we target our audience.  We are flipping the segmentation model on its head.

#5 – The personality of each audience becomes clear over time.  Which words accelerate, decelerate or change behavior?  More importantly, how do you measure silence or apathy?  Time points and lack of movement are often more revealing than actual use of words in a community.

#6 – Our brains prefer to learn visually first, text second.  How video is evolving and what it means for agile campaigns is a critical new skillset.

#7 – We can finally determine what WOM is really all about.  We can see which people have influence on a specific topic in a specific town and what content type they prefer.   Prospective planning of WOM is possible.

And there are four important trends that are emerging as we speak.

#8 – We are entering the era of “object influence”.  The shift is from “strings to things”.  Strings link words.  Things like objects.

#9 – We will learn how to tell stories without words.  We are doing this, to a degree, via Instagram, Snapchat and our use of emoji’s.  This can make it easier for comprehension (we like visual content) and can cut through language barriers in new ways as we globalize.

#10 – We can see how thought leadership has shaped a category over a period of years.  We can see exactly which publications and people make the difference, which may not be related, at all, to the perceived power of certain publications.

#11 — A new form of ESO-driven media planning will optimize media budgets. If we know exactly what customers want, where they hang out and who they respect, we can also see outlets won’t perform BEFORE we spend.

We are entering a new era that will continue to enable us to evolve media models and derive a wider and more precise set of insights.  The hard part will be evolving the status quo approaches to marketing and communications as our intelligence and market knowledge explodes.

Best, Bob


This past week, I participated in PRWeek’s Hall of Femme breakfast in New York recognizing “breakthrough women” in the communications profession. The Hall of Femme honors women who have made a significant mark on the work, people and the growth of the industry.

The event had special meaning for me on a number of levels and I experienced a range of emotions, some overwhelming at times.

First, our very own Jenn Gottlieb and Annalise Coady, were honored as 2017 Champions of PR! Jenn and Annalise are certainly “champions” and their contributions and leadership are felt by all of us and our clients each day. We extend our heartfelt congratulations for their respective personal sacrifices and professional commitment to making the firm the best it can be!

Annalise, Jenn & Eric at the #PRWeekUSHallofFemme
Photo Credit: Eric Bacolas

Second, my life has been shaped by tremendous influences, many of them women, starting with my mom who died two years ago of advanced lung cancer. She was a successful business owner and CEO in a very male-dominated industry and I witnessed first-hand her incredible intellect, drive, perseverance and integrity. She and my dad, an optometrist who owned his own practice, instilled an understanding of equality, inclusion, confidence and respect in me and my siblings Beth and Harry, which directed our beliefs, attitudes and actions through our careers and in our lives.

Third, when I started the firm, it was literally me and what came to be known as the “Marin Mommies,” women equally dedicated to their families and their work. Together, we forged through the early years building a strong foundation for what was to become W2O Group years later. Our work ethic and philosophy based on equality, inclusion, quality work, client service, empathy and diversity catalyzed our relationship and set the tone for the future.

I’ve always taken this all pretty personally and that hasn’t really changed.

So, I applaud PRWeek – particularly organizers Julia Hood and Bernadette Casey — for driving the discussion and creating a forum to explore critical issues of gender work and pay equity to ultimately improve our collective thinking and behaviors. I plan to remain a major voice and active catalyst to drive real action and change in the industry.

In assessing the topic of women leaders, the profession has come a long way in terms of diversity, inclusion and respect but certainly there is more to do.

Much more.

Accepting that perfection is an aspiration not a destination and learning is a continuous path for firms like ours, corporations, practitioners, peers and colleagues, allows us all to seek deeper knowledge.

The keynote address was by Michael Sneed, CCO, J&J, who spoke of being encouraged by his grandmother, an early entrepreneur in the healthcare field, and infusing the lessons she taught him regarding values (knowing your job, your business), resilience (bouncing forward through adversity), confidence (turning thoughts into actions), and impact (leaving your mark on everything you touch).

Listening to the formidable women honorees tell their stories of perseverance, struggle, anxiety, self-worth, and achievement was incredibly moving, personally inspiring and professionally enlightening. In addition to listening to these various women leaders share their experiences and insights, I was privileged to sit on a panel called “Everyone’s Issue: Male Execs Weigh In” with Richard Edelman, CEO-Edelman; John Brockelman, Global Head of Marketing and Communications-State Street Global Advisors; and Tony Wells, Senior Vice President and CMO, Schneider Electric.

So what did the men have to say?

Photo Credit: Eric Bacolas

There was no debate among the male leaders that pay equality, respect, inclusion and career advancement must be an organizational imperative permeating the entire business, and all pledged to continue ensuring values, policies and behaviors reflecting such commitment.

In W2O’s case, I shared some important and exemplary facts – three of our five “OpCos” are led by women, 67% of our entire workforce are women with 57% at/above director level. Our pay scales are regularly reviewed and updated to ensure pay equity mostly based on value, first and foremost, an individual brings to their jobs, clients, colleagues and the company, regardless of gender or any other factor.

But these are just numbers and by that measure we are doing pretty well compared to our and most every other industry.

While I’m proud of this, we must recognize continuous improvement is necessary from listening to and really hearing your needs, working with different styles of managers and colleagues, addressing unconscious bias and encouraging and developing mentors who reflect our values and motivate the right actions and behaviors.

Getting there is a mission we all need to sign up for.

It comes down to staying awake, showing up, listening fully, and taking action!  In other words, we are always ready to #DealWithIt.

As a firm, an important step was bringing in our first Chief People Officer, Eric Bacolas, to lead our HR area and the dedicated pros who work diligently to help us scale and strengthen our culture and work environment. Eric and team are in the throes of designing systems, processes and tools to help us improve our ability to work collaboratively and deliver at scale as #OneTeamOneDream that is #BetterTogether. We are fielding a survey soon to get your input and welcome your input and ideas proactively at any time.

Beyond that, as a leadership team we are actively involved in creating and sustaining a diverse environment supported by a culture of inclusion — whether it’s by investing in recruiting, training and development, succession planning, relatively free ability to move to new offices or new roles, innovative programs like The Fourth Trimester to ease job re-entry for returning parents or other ongoing or planned cultural initiatives.

We are also committed to developing the next generation of professionals through partnerships with organizations such as The LaGrant Foundation – to foster diversity in healthcare communications – or through our relationship with Syracuse University and the W2O Center for Social Commerce all of which actively help change our professional landscape for the better.

Our goal is clear and has never changed: to create and sustain a firm where ideas count and people can do their best work for clients regardless of gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity! It has been and will always be a meritocracy where those that do their best and make us the best firm we can be for clients do the best.

My mom and dad (and certainly all of you) would not let me or us have it any other way … you have my word on that.

“If you want to truly achieve something, then learn to thrive in ambiguity. No rule books. No instructions. Envision the reality you want to happen and then Go. Ahead.”

“Moral and intellectual courage can be harder to find than physical courage!” 

 “Actual fake news is a gateway drug to say that everyone you disagree with is fake news.”

 “In 2016, 72% of voters got their candidate info from Facebook vs. 18% in 2012.”

“Growth isn’t something you get. It’s something you do.”

 “It’s about the why. Helping people find meaning.”

 “Information saves lives.  Never hesitate to communicate.”

 “We have to get rid of perfect. We have to be fearless.”

 “Authenticity takes on many forms. How we act defines us.”

The above quotes uttered by leaders from business, academia, media, military, government, and nonprofit sectors last week at the 8th Annual Summit on Strategic Communications capture the range and dimension of topics, insights, and lessons shared among more than 100 attendees. Sprinkled through hard hitting stories from the last presidential election (former Digital Director, Donald J. Trump For President, Inc.; and Media Producer, Showtime’s The Circus: Inside the Biggest Show on Earth), deeply insightful lessons on talent curation (Characteristics of Highly Effective Entrepreneurial Employees – our own Jim Weiss), and warnings about “fake news” and the dangers inherent in calling anything you don’t agree with fake, there were inspiring tales of heroism from Colonel William Reeder recounting his brutal captivity in Vietnam.

The common theme throughout this year’s Summit was focused on a world in constant motion, driven by technology and its impact on perception, opinion, realism, productivity, and purpose. Respected brands such as Hershey’s, FedEx, Takeda Pharmaceuticals (W2O Group client), Johnson Controls, GE Oil and Gas, Capital One, and Arrow Electronics shared the stage with the U.S. Army, Politico, Bell Helicopter, and others to paint both a challenging yet hopeful picture for finding success.

As Summit Co-Chair, W2O Group, including Jim Weiss, Bob Pearson, Aaron Strout, and myself injected both a strategic archway supporting the new weight placed on communicators and marketers in a world of big data and the comforting cushion of translating information to insight and precise action.

Check out the panel I moderated on the foreign policy of global business.

Bob Grupp, Summit Director, who created the forum, moderated the two-day session, called it the “best overall content in the eight years it has been held.”

In capturing the top-line takeaways for use in our day-to-day experience, four specific points emerge:

  1. Communicate in Tight Windows…Brevity Breaks-Through
  2. Explore Behaviors to Understand Cause…Stop Chasing Symptoms
  3. Challenge Your Truth…Experience Life Through Other’s Eyes and Ears
  4. Instead of Hitting Back…Try A Little Humor

We captured most of the speakers in our “What 2 Know” podcast – moderated by our CMO Aaron Strout. You can experience for yourself the energy and expertise emanating from the summit – simply subscribe and listen for yourself.

“It’s so important to our future to be engaged in meaningful conversations directly and indirectly impacting business and society,” offered Bob Pearson. “The Strategic Communications Summit provides a 360 degree view of the world today and a glimpse of what’s ahead.”

Check out Bob’s panel on data that turned the world upside down

Perhaps the most practical comment came during Jim’s talk, when he told the group a key to individual success is contained in the phrase: Pick up the trash. 

Check out my conversation with Jim on the traits of entrepreneurial employees 

“This is personal to me,” he said. It’s a metaphor When I started W2O Group, I picked up every piece paper I saw on the floor and now 16 years later I still do. And I notice when people do the same. It speaks of ownership. It speaks of respect. It speaks of attitude.”

Learn about the National Summit on Strategic Communications.


PS:  Special shout-out to Ally Masi who managed the event from beginning to end providing discipline, creativity, and support throughout!

Check out some of our favorite moments from #STRATCOMMS17 on Twitter!


It’s 8:00 pm on a Wednesday night at a Silicon Valley law firm. 70 accomplished medtech executives sit in a conference room, doing meditative deep breathing, with their eyes closed. Wait, what?

Strange scene? Yes. Did this actually happen? Yes – at MedtechWomen Bay Area’s March event “The Impact of Chronic Stress on Women’s Health,” part of the organization’s women’s health series. During the evening, we listened to four impressive panelists, led by moderator Donna Petkanics from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, as they talked about how chronic stress affects women’s long term health and how we can more effectively handle the stress that comes our way.

As someone who’s always lived a very full life (rigorous MBA program while working full time? Bring it on!) I’ve always written off stress as a necessary evil of trying to pack as much action as possible into my days. Since I became a parent in 2015, however, I’ve been more acutely aware of the impact living at such a breakneck pace can have on both me and my family. So I was excited to attend this event – and left with three main takeaways:

  1. Stress is necessary – From my perspective, Panelist Rachel Abrams, MD, MHS, ABIHM, from Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine hit the nail on the head when she said “How can we be inside our busy lives in a way that’s joyful?” In fact, stress is a necessary part of living life. Stress that’s “good” can keep us focused and energetic, and may be the push we need to go that extra mile personally and professionally. “Bad” stress, however, can lead to breakdowns and burnout. The blog Precision Nutrition has a link to a great chart on this topic.We need to find the right amount of stress – one that will inspire us, not leave us feeling overwhelmed. For more information on finding your own personal stress “sweet spot,” see the full infographic from Precision Medicine.
  2. Stress can have serious health consequences – Panelist Deborah Rozman, Ph.D., President and CEO of Heartmath, Inc. cited a startling statistic from JAMA Internal Medicine: 60-80% of primary care doctor visits are related to stress, yet only 3% of patients receive stress management help.[i] So stress is a common cause of emotional and physical symptoms – from the obvious like anxiety, headaches and muscle tension to the less apparent, like digestive disorders and heart disease.[ii] And there’s evidence that women are affected more seriously by stress than men (I’ve got an infographic on that one too – enjoy.)[iii] Thus, learning how to manage stress – not ignoring it or pushing it down to deal with later – is really important to a healthy lifestyle.
  3. We can change how we think about stress – A big topic of conversation throughout the night was around changing our stress response mindset. Perhaps our natural inclination is to panic, and all the associated physiological symptoms get triggered. Or, can pause, regroup (because really, is the world ending?), take some deep breaths and try to calm ourselves down. Both Dr. Rozman and panelist Manuela M. Kogan, MD and Clinical Associate Professor at the Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine led the group through some simple breathing exercises that frankly could be done at your desk, on the train, or in a meeting without your boss taking notice.
  4.  During the Q&A session, at the end of the workshop, someone asked the panelists what they would do if they only had a few minutes a day to try to manage stress better. Dr. Abrams commented that every morning, before she gets out of bed, she takes a couple deep breaths, says a few gratitudes and then sets one intention for every day. It helps her feel more prepared for what life throws her. I love this idea, and feels “right sized” for my chaotic life. I’m adding this to my daily routine.

For more information on MedTechWomen, visit



[1] JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(1):76-77.



From speaker videos to event photos our recap page of W2O at SXSW has it all!

Each year, our handpicked Center for Social Commerce Student Ambassadors are given the opportunity to attend W2O Group’s events at SXSW, where they are added into the thick of things the first day, assisting with live social media efforts across W2O Group’s events. Our 2017 Student Ambassadors, Janine Bogris and Amanda Dominguez, both juniors at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, have shared takeaways from their SXSW experience below. We’re looking forward to Janine and Amanda joining us as interns in our NYC office this summer.

A special thank you on behalf of the Ambassadors and the Center for Social Commerce team for the generosity of Jim and Audra Weiss and W2O Group for sustaining their commitment to an invaluable program that bridges the gap between the classroom and the industry. The annual trip to SXSW is an incredible way for students to gain exposure to leading industry ideas and meet with executives who are shaping the future.


The Center for Social Commerce team taking a quick break for a photo at SXSW. 
Ambassadors Amanda Dominguez and Janine Bogris speak with guests and W2O Group team members at the Movers & Shapers event.

Janine Bogris

I was so excited when I learned I was selected as a 2017 Student Ambassador for the Center for Social Commerce. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off my Ambassadorship than with a trip to W2O Group’s SXSW events in Austin, TX. I worked in collaboration with my co-Ambassador Amanda and intern Brittany Pearson to coordinate behind-the-scenes social media at the events via several platforms, including Snapchat, Periscope, Twitter and Instagram.

We began our adventure in Austin at the PreCommerce Summit, which featured a full day of speakers from various industries. One speaker who stood out to me was Mary Ellen Dugan of WP Engine. She spoke about diversity, specifically at the C-Suite level. Dugan concluded her speech with a powerful idea: “I hope in five years diversity is no longer on the agenda to talk about, it is just something we have.”

The Movers & Shapers event also featured an incredible lineup of speakers. One of the highlights for me was Dr. Jessica Mega, Chief Medical Officer at Verily, who spoke about how technological innovations continue to improve the healthcare field. We now live in a world where glucose-sensing contact lenses allow diabetic patients and their healthcare providers to obtain accurate blood sugar data in real-time.

During our backstage interviews, one speaker suggested the best way to make the most of your time at SXSW is to meet with as many people as possible. I certainly took that advice to heart, grabbing the rewarding opportunity to speak with our diverse guests, sponsors and W2O Group subject matter experts. I can’t wait for my next adventure with the Center for Social Commerce.

Amanda Dominguez

Attending W2O Group’s SXSW events was an incredible way to begin my Ambassadorship. I was very impressed with the dozens of inspiring leaders who participated and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to meet many of them behind-the-scenes during the events.

At the PreCommerce Summit, Rohit Bhargava, CEO and Founder of Influential Marketing Group, started things off strong by providing insights into how to predict trends across industries. To use his own words, “The signs of the future are already here, you just need to see the trends.” Another highlight for me was a talk by Ray Kerins, Head of Communications and Government Relations at Bayer. I had the opportunity to capture an interview with him for W2O Group’s Periscope account, during which he underscored the importance of corporate social responsibility. His willingness to take a moment to share his guidance with a college student reinforced the ideas he spoke about.

At Movers and Shapers, I enjoyed meeting two entrepreneurs who appeared on one of my favorite shows, NBC’s “Shark Tank.”  Bryan Thomas and Amelia Cosgrove co-founded PopUp Play, a company that allows children to custom-design their own toys. They talked about the idea that providing the opportunity to customize a product or experience signifies that a brand is attuned to their customers’ unique interests and needs.

Throughout both events, each speaker shared a distinct perspective, yet one common theme resonated throughout: Advances in technology, data and analytics will continue to have an enormous impact on the way we do business, consume information and relate to the world around us.

Bonin Bough kicked off the second half of our 2017 Movers & Shapers conversations with a bang. You can check out my part 1 recap post here if you happened to miss it.

Topic: Keynote Discussion with Bonin Bough

Bonin Bough, Host – CNBC’s Cleveland Hustles; Follow Bonin Bough on Twitter @boughb

Key Takeaways:

  • Bonin has tons of digital and e-commerce in his background—he took Mondelez’s e-commerce revenue from $65 million to $285 million in the 18 months he ran it. To do that, he started looking at the fundamental aspects of the business, supply chain, product group, insights group, etc. Many of those functions used old technology and were built for success in a world that has long since changed.
  • By working with teams, Bonin was able to shorten product development cycles from 9 – 18 months down to 6 weeks
  • Large companies tend to be data poor. Newer startups like Dollar Shave Club and Nature Box are built on data and algorithms. That’s why companies pay a 10x premium vs. revenue to buy them.
  • Bonin sees the concept of Chief Growth Officer, those people who can mine for gold in new places as something that will be much more important for companies in the future. In other words, those people don’t believe the company today will be the same company in the future.
  • Bonin explained the Naturebox model and how they use customer purchase and subscription data in 8-week cycles to predict product sales in food service and big box retail
  • Growth comes down to answering this question: how can we digitize the nuts and bolts that drive these businesses?
  • Bonin believes messaging will be much bigger wave than social media; Per Facebook, 1 out of 5 minutes is spent in the Newsfeed compared to 4 out of 5 in Facebook Messenger; Messaging is where all the discussion we care about is happening.
  • Messaging as a trend: In 2011, Skype was the only messaging app in the top 10 downloaded apps. Today, 7 out of 10 of the most popular apps are messaging ones. 4 billion people use messaging apps.
  • Since messaging is where customer’s attention is today, brands must figure out how to be there.
  • Bonin believes every piece of ad tech that exists for social media today will exist for messaging tomorrow.
  • Chatbots have the hype. But in Bonin’s view, humanation is the key. Humanation = bringing the promise of social media (direct engagement with customers) together with the promise of A.I and machine learning. It’s a combination of automation augmented with human interaction.

Bonin’s session starts at 44:52 in this video.

Topic: Women Founders & Entrepreneurship

Jan Ryan, Partner – Capital Factory; Follow Jan Ryan on Twitter @janryan

Jory Des Jardins, Co-Founder – BlogHer and Virago; Follow Jory Des Jardins on Twitter @JoryDJ

Key Takeaways:

  • Jory has been advising startups since com acquired BlogHer in 2014.
  • Women entrepreneurs struggle to raise capital. Jory wanted to dig into that to find out why, which led her to co-found Virago
  • Virago hosted the inaugural version of The Scale Collective event in late 2016. Purpose was to allow 250 women founders to meet up with investors and advisors to give them opportunities to talk and understand each other better.
  • Both Jory and Jan agree there’s a need to understand how female founders think vs. how (largely male) venture capitalists think to close the gap to see more funding for women-founded companies.
  • Besides her work at Capital Factory, Jan also started a group called Women@Austin, which is now 700 members strong.
  • Per Jan, though women run 38 – 40% of startups, only 2% of venture capital funds are invested in those companies.
  • 3 discrepancies between female founders and investors: 1) women tend to lead with passion vs. numbers; 2) women should seek feedback earlier in the process; 3) It’s important for women to think bigger in terms of scaling their ideas.
  • Women tend to lead with passion vs. numbers. VCs almost exclusively focus on return on investment, so numbers are primarily important.
  • Jory agreed with that, and made the point that VCs also care about underlying technology, as well as numbers.
  • Per Jan, male entrepreneurs tend to seek feedback earlier in the process compared to women. By contrast, women tend to work in silos spending more time to perfect their products or ideas. In essence, male entrepreneurs seek feedback early on from VCs and advisers, where female entrepreneurs go to those meetings seeking funding. Jory made the point that women founders tend to think they need to be 90% there in terms of business performance before seeking funding. That
  • Per Jan, funding is a 95% relationship game. That’s why it’s important for women to build those relationships earlier than they tend to.
  • Per Jan, it’s important for women entrepreneurs to think bigger. Many times, the ideas that women entrepreneurs start with their families or at a local level. Many of those ideas can scale to a much larger business need. Discussions with mentors can help broaden the thinking.
  • Per Jory: It’s a fine line between being honest, yet being open to possibility.

This co-talk starts at 1:11:21 in this video.

Fireside Chat Topic: Adaptive Thinking

Chris Preuss, SVP, Marketing & Communications – Delphi; Follow Chris Preuss on Twitter @CPreussCarWild

Jeff Haydock, VP, Communications – Best Buy; Follow Best Buy on Twitter @BestBuy

Gary Grates, Principal – W2O Group; Follow Gary Grates on Twitter @GaryGrates

Our own Gary Grates sat down with Chris Preuss from Delphi and Jeff Haydcock from Best Buy to talk about how to navigate businesses through massive change. A pertinent topic to two leaders from industries dealing with massive change: automotive and retail businesses.

Key Takeaways:

  • Per Chris: The automotive industry is undergoing massive change. There’s been more change in the automotive industry in the last five years vs. the last 50 years.
  • In that last 5 years, Delphi has added about 20,000 software engineer employees as they transition the business from high-capital manufacturing to software and sensor technology that is the backbone of autonomous driving.
  • Per Jeff, when he started in 2003, running the business was easy: was a “stack ‘em high and let ‘em fly” strategy. In the last five years they had to rethink how we work with customers, how we think about and communicate the technology our customers buy.
  • Asked about how they work with leadership to navigate change, Chris said discussions with leadership is where he spends a lot of his time. The narrative is not just about a value proposition for customers. It’s also key to helping us attract the right talent through this transformation. Leadership has to balance the short-term pressures of being a public company with longer-term investments necessary for the future.
  • Both companies have to communicate to a diverse set of employees. For Delphi, it means everyone from migrant workers in manufacturing plants in places like Africa and Mexico. For Best Buy it means reaching 125,000 employees, only which about 5,000 are in the corporate office with access to e-mail and computers. It’s critical that Best Buy conveys their value proposition to retail employees, since they are the most effective ambassadors to their customer base.
  • Delphi faces a similar situation: Out of 170,000 global employees, only about 30,000 have access to computers or e-mail. That’s why mobile and face-to-face communication are both critical.
  • For both companies, what happens externally increasingly informs what they communicate internally.
  • In terms of employees what are you focusing on communicating? Chris: We spend a lot of time talking about the company’s core values, since that is the thing that binds employees at all levels together. Building employee pride is a focus area as well. At Delphi, he uses the external activity to motivate employees internally. Chris mentioned Delphi being the first company to complete a coast-to-coast autonomous drive became a huge rallying cry for the company’s employees as an example.
  • Communicating company strategy can be boring. For Best Buy, they try to inject charm or humor into shorter communications, taking a page from how employees get news and communicate using social media vs. long emails or 30-page documents from the past.
  • Experimentation: Per Chris, Delphi spends a lot of time understanding technology and how employees consume information in the workplace. Even with an increasingly younger workforce and lots of different tools, survey and employee feedback emphasize the importance of interpersonal communications between managers and staff. That means arming leaders and managers with consistent information they communicate to their teams. Traditional things like employee town halls continue to be important.
  • Best Buy uses a lot of live events to communicate to employees. They also regularly bring in employees from the field to talk to corporate employees and leadership.

This session starts at 1:31:40 in this video.

Topic: Talking to Your Home Isn’t As Crazy As It Sounds

Dan Herscovici, GM, SVP, Xfinity HomeComcast; Follow Dan Herscovici on Twitter @DanHerscovici

Stacey Higginbotham, Founder – SKT Labs/Internet of Things Podcast; Follow Stacey Higginbotham on Twitter @gigastacey

Key Takeaways:

  • When asked about the state of voice control, Dan believes progress on the underlying platform front (provided by companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Comcast and others) are making it easier for customers to bring smart technology into their homes. That means consumers no longer need to use 17 different apps to control devices.
  • While these platforms and devices are still in early stages, it’s starting to come together.
  • Comcast has had voice capability in homes for the last 2.5 years. That means more than million voice remotes in consumer households which have resulted in over 5 billion voice commands. Though the majority are used in conjunction with the Xfinity X1 TV experience, they are beginning to see more activations geared toward home automation requests (security, temperature, lighting, etc.)
  • Voice is an interface, it’s not THE interface. There’s benefits to using television, smartphone apps, etc. Voice is good for some functions.
  • Top Alexa commands? 1) Set kitchen timer 2) Play music 3) Turn on the lights. After that, even commands like what’s the weather barely even register.
  • By contrast, a voice-capable remote is more useful in conjunction with a TV screen. Example: If the answer is a list, then show the list items on screen and allow users to select preferred option via voice.
  • Is Dan worried that other voice-capable options like Google Chromecast or Amazon’s Fire TV gets more traction than Comcast’s solution? No, our job is to create a superior experience for our customers. If we aren’t successful in that effort, customers will choose other options.
  • What’s next for voice? Per Dan: as voice evolves, it will become more contextual and conversational. We’re still in early stages of that happening.

This session starts at 1:53:40 in this video.

Topic: Measure Once, Cut Twice: Why Your Current Approach to Analytics Will Get You Fired

Mark Stouse, CEO – Proof; Follow Mark Stouse on Twitter @markstouse

David Berkowitz, Chief Strategy Officer – Sysomos; Follow David Berkowitz on Twitter @dberkowitz

Chuck Hemann, Chief of Staff/Technical Assistant to the VP of Regional marketing – Intel; Follow Chuck Hemann on Twitter @chuckhemann

Key Takeaways:

  • What’s wrong with current approaches? From Mark’s perspective: Too many efforts are implemented after the campaign is in motion versus starting with the business goal and deconstructing how to best get to that point. Per David: so many of us in the marketing space have gotten away with bad behavior, or taking the easy way out. As long as people continue to not get fired for taking the easy way out, complacency is an issue.
  • David: I find the term data-driven culture terrifying. We are steeped in data. That’s why I don’t like using the term. We need more people who can ask the right questions. It’s more about a question-driven culture. That’s what lead companies to more insights.
  • Mark agreed: Learning to ask the right questions is profoundly liberating. Knowing from the data that your efforts generated a specific portion of revenue over time is empowering.
  • How do we get more employees to be data advocates rather than consumers of data? From Mark’s perspective, it’s about taking departmental KPIs that already exist and figuring out ways to tie those directly to business results. But being too automated is a risk. Employees need to interact with data a bit to feel the cause and effect. From there, they can build more of an emotional connection and make better decisions.
  • Per David, it’s important that insights from data come up more regularly in meetings, performance reviews and other traditional business conversations.
  • Per Mark: the language of business is numbers and analytics. You must be able to speak that language convincingly before you’ll have any chance of success.
  • Per David: One of the only things that’s consistent in both the agency and the brand side—I want to work with the smartest customers possible. That pushes us on the partner side to ask the toughest questions.
  • Per Mark: People, processes and technology are always important in terms of analytics. Technology can be a catalyst, but all three are important. The economic alignment piece won’t happen until all three come together.

This session starts at 2:14:13 in this video.

And that about wraps it up. Thanks to all our speakers who made our 2017 events some of the strongest I can remember. If you want to check out more of the related discussions that took place on Twitter, take a look at the hashtag #W2OatSXSW.