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One of the most important aspects of a growing firm is to constantly look ahead yet be grounded in improving core aspects of the business and ways to truly deliver for clients, accelerate growth and create an environment of learning and opportunity.

This is a major balancing act we seek to master at W2O Group on our mission to Become the Best.

Our ability to do this lies not in the tangible assets we develop or acquire but in the recognition and assimilation of how we work together, learn from one another, interact, focus, ideate and solve problems for our clients and for ourselves.

As we evolve based on the shifts in business, something we’ve managed over the last 16 years, there are some key learnings – or what I’m calling our 5 “truths” – that guide our thinking and provide the context necessary to do our jobs every day:

  1. Digital is Everything and Everything is Digital – There has been much discussion and even debate over PR vs. marketing. The truth is that digital envelopes everything. Digital is a way of life. Digital gives consumers and employees the power in relationships with brands, redefining expectations and value propositions. We all must become “digitized” or see what we’re doing through a digital lens. We must all become “marketing scientists” leveraging analytics and insights to guide what we do. We all must read and embrace the gospel of our already published textbooks PreCommerce, Digital Marketing Analytics, Location Based Marketing for Dummies and Storytizing and two new ones we will publish next year The Agency of the Future and The Future of Data.
  2. We are Interdependent – Each and every one of us is critical to our success and we can only succeed if we work together, respect each other, and rely on each other in delivering for our clients. Do we see ourselves and our colleagues this way? We need each other more than ever to navigate what is becoming an increasingly complex marketing and business environment. Are we talking with each other and with our clients in a dialogue that makes things better or talking past each other?
  3. Our Business is Getting Bigger So We Need to Think Bigger –As we scale and grow, our perspective must get larger and wider. We must see things from a higher perch. Client expectations are rising in terms of ideas and solutions.  Are we thinking and delivering at the highest possible level for them?
  4. We are One of the Big Kids Now – While it may seem odd to say this since we always see ourselves as the underdog, the profession increasingly views W2O as a major player they can’t quite figure out. Our new brand platform conveys this positioning. But, are we ready to act like a leader and come ready to play to win each and every time?
  5. Curiosity Rules – Regardless of where you sit in the firm, the one constant for all of us remains – curiosity. Why? Curiosity makes you smarter and benefits our clients more. The more we probe, delve, inquire, ask and seek, the better we understand and the more confident we become. What are you curious about?

As much as we work to design the most effective system to deliver “unfair advantage” to our clients, these basic truths of our firm will persist.

Imagine how far ahead we can get if each of us made these “truths” a personal commitment?

Think about it and continue to BUILD. Yours with these in mind.

Sincerely,

Jim

Reflecting on Five-Year Journey with Syracuse University and the W2O Group/Newhouse Center for Social Commerce; And Second-Year LAGRANT Foundation Fellowship Program

This November we will celebrate the five-year anniversary of the W2O-Newhouse Center for Social Commerce at Syracuse University. It has been an incredibly fast five-years and I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to all the W2O folks who have participated in the Center’s activities and interacted with students and professors during this time.

All of us at W2O Group should be very proud of the Center for Social Commerce (CSC) as it has become one of the most successful industry-academic partnerships in the profession. When Audra and I decided to establish this program our only goal was to offer students the opportunity to better understand the changing communications and media landscape so they could make an impact on day one of their careers.  To date, the Center has enabled more than 1,000 students to immerse in the thinking, models, methodologies, and approaches inherent in today’s digital and social marketplace.

Each year, the CSC:

  • Conducts twice annual “Social Commerce Days” immersing students and professors in the latest thinking on social and digital strategies, tools, techniques and models
  • Welcomes keynote presentations by major thought leaders from automotive, energy, financial services, medical technology, consumer brands, and technology
  • Leads interactive workshops, classroom visits, and career guidance opportunities with students

In addition to “Social Commerce Days,” the CSC:

  • Spearheads several initiatives and opportunities to help students gain an edge, including a year-round Student Ambassador program, wherein two SU students are selected to represent the CSC and intern with W2O Group
  • Publishes notable research in the field
  • Sponsors a trip to the firm’s digital-focused SXSW events in Austin, TX
  • Provides a Newhouse student for an internship at W2O client, Medtronic, working in both the firm’s Minneapolis office and the company’s headquarters on its business providing a dual experience.

Both the Center along with W2O Group’s second-year relationship with the LAGRANT Foundation, which is a first-of-its-kind healthcare communications fellowship for ethnic minorities, are making it real in terms of ensuring the next generation of leaders are ready for the challenges ahead and the organizations themselves are creating diverse workforces and inclusive cultures to provide maximum value to customers and employees.

The W2O Group LAGRANT Foundation Fellowship in Healthcare Communications is a three-year commitment to support ethnic minority candidates pursuing careers in healthcare communications.

The Fellowship:

  • Exposes candidates to careers in healthcare communications with major pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, and digital health companies via a 10-week paid fellowship each year in one of our offices – San Francisco, New York, Boston, Austin, or Minneapolis
  • Promotes a diversity workforce in a truly meaningful way

We often talk about the need to give back and reinforce our purpose throughout the business and marketplace. Supporting students in their career development and providing opportunities for young professionals in an important field such as healthcare are excellent examples of making a difference.

On behalf of Audra, thank you for making these initiatives the “Best” they can be!

“BUILD. Yours!”

Jim

If you’re a client (or potential client) there are so many reasons to choose W2O Group – like our ability to provide insights-driven, custom-developed, marketing communications (across PR, advertising, digital marketing, corp comms as well as paid, earned, shared and owned media); Or the fact that when it comes to healthcare marketing communications – specifically the intersection of healthcare and tech – we are leading the way!

But actually, this post isn’t about clients. It’s about YOU and about building your career at W2O. It’s about why now is the perfect time.

I joined W2O with an incredible optimism about what could be possible, a bit of pragmatism about what was probable, and a healthy dose of skepticism. Fast forward six months and I couldn’t be more thrilled at the speed of our progress thus far, and more optimistic about our collective future… as well as the future of those joining us now.

Here’s why:

1. We’re ahead of the curve as it relates to the agency business model.

We’re not a holding company. And don’t intend to become one. (In fact, we’ve remained independent.) And it’s interesting to note how the holding companies are looking to replicate our model. Our client-centric approach, which we’ve undertaken from the beginning, allows us to deliver excellent service to clients and a great platform to build a career (few silos, few egos, and even fewer competing priorities means there are few limitations to your career growth and trajectory). It’s also helping us achieve double-digit growth.

2. We’re maintaining our ‘start-up’ DNA while maturing in our processes.

The agility and uniqueness of a start-up is something we continue to nurture, even as we grow. And we’re beginning to shed the frustration that goes along with the lack of process at start-ups. About 18 months ago we moved from being completely founder-led, to bringing in an investment partner so we could put in place better infrastructure and systems to deliver work – like smarter finance systems and tools for real-time decision-making, or leaders with expertise to scale. There’s still more to be done, of course, but these new systems are the foundation of our continued growth.

3. We’re making strategic investments (in people, process, technology, and capabilities).

Investments in our business have allowed us to expand our reach and capabilities, increase people and training to improve benefits and programs (like unlimited PTO, 16 weeks of maternity leave, and a unique offering for new parents). These investments also allow us to recruit talent with broader and deeper skills to better balance the workload (a 60% increase in new hires over last year), and really beef up our analytics tools and offerings (like MDigitalLife, Call-Center Analytics or Linguistics to name a few).

 4. We’re still evolving so it’s easy to make your mark here.

Since its inception some 16 years ago, W2O continues to shape itself into something new and different. To be successful at W2O, you will need to thrive on ambiguity, challenge, and collaboration; and get energized by constantly challenging the status quo.  Doing so here allows you to make an incredible impact on your clients, on the firm, and on your career.

Take Brian Reid, for instance. He realized that pricing and politics where going to take its toll on our clients’ business. So rather than wait to be asked, he developed a proposal. And in a matter of months, it was funded and turned into a new  practice that is helping to change the way the industry approaches this issue.  Or Rob Jekielek who is finalizing a new approach to corporate reputation with our Relevance Model and Index as a leading indicator of corporate brand health.

We’re looking for more people who have that entrepreneurial drive and grit to help shape our future.

5. We’re making it easy for you to find purpose here.

Selecting a job is easy. Finding a career that truly resonates with your “why” isn’t. But when you do, it’s very rewarding. At W2O, what you do contributes to improving lives or transforming the world – whether it’s working on business that helps those with cancer or other debilitating illnesses; or helping to drive transformation through technology and reinventing how we live and work.

So, if you’ve never considered W2O, we’d love to hear from you… and if you have in the past but weren’t sure the time was right, perhaps this glimpse into what’s been going on might give you reasons WhyW2O Now More Than Ever! Here’s a link to our latest jobs: http://www.w2ogroup.com/culture-and-careers/

The best way to to hear our thoughts on industry news is to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Here are our insights from our favorite recent stories.

 

For a large part of our society, people’s daily lives are focused on themselves. There is nothing wrong with this. But this is the nature of most 9-5 jobs. They are nothing more than a way for an individual to acquire means to survive. To be able to help other people is sanctified to the rare and few.

Here at W2O Group, we are given that rare opportunity to work on projects that provide value to humans.

Now the beauty of this statement is in the fact that it’s near impossible to dispute. The basics of healthcare technology is to improve and care for human lives, so that people can live longer and healthier. Could you ask for a more meaningful mission statement, that encompasses what it means to help others?

A few weeks ago, I went for a walk with Mike Nelson, who is a Managing Director within W2O Group. He explained to me the importance of understanding the bigger picture, and how our roles as individuals and as a company fits into that:

“The way I view our work here is sort of like the bridge between science and society. We help communicate the value that science brings to people.”

Understanding this higher-level idea is so essential to creating enthusiasm on a Sunday night before the work week ahead. Furthermore, the opportunity here at W2O is illuminated when coupled with this much larger perspective. The drugs and therapies we help bring to market are saving lives and helping people across the developed world.

But the kicker is that these solutions are not just for Americans or Europeans or even the Japanese. They are for human healthcare problems that have never been adequately solved before; and as the rest of the world is developing, these solutions will benefit our entire species for decades to come.

We are helping biotech and pharma companies pioneer treatments by driving exposure to the very people and organizations that these companies wish to serve. We are helping share their unique scientific advancement in a way that is understandable. We are using robust analytics, creative strategy and cross-disciplinary collaboration to ensure that these transformative solutions are broadcasted, shared and ultimately applied to humans.

The harder we work, the more lives will be saved, not just now, but always.

Our mission is so much more than helping a company with a press release, connect to a certain media outlet or prepare for a news interview. We are trailblazers. We play an integral role in pushing forward how discovered scientific solutions get displayed to the world, so that our clients, can forever benefit our species.

The tragedy of Hurricane Harvey hits close to home for our team in Austin. We knew we had to act quickly to aid our friends, families, and fellow Texans who were impacted by the storm. Within 24 hours we identified a Houston organization with W2O connections to partner alongside and assembled a team to execute.

We approached our CEO Jim Weiss with our plan and he simply said, “make it happen.” So, that’s what we did. We chose to partner alongside Ecclesia Houston, a church leading the charge matching those in need with volunteers and equipping teams with tools and supplies to assist in cleanup and recovery. Ecclesia is located at the foot of downtown Houston and is dedicated to taking care of all parts of the community – making them the perfect partner for us.  They sent us a list of necessary recovery supplies, unavailable in Houston, and we got to work purchasing them in Austin.

Jim immediately committed $5K of his personal funds which allowed us to buy flood relief supplies, but our leadership team wanted to do more, so they took things one step further. We set up a fundraising campaign and W2O committed to matching all donations up to $5,000.

Due to the amazing generosity of our fellow colleagues along the long hallway and others, we surpassed our goal in under 24 hours and the donations continue to come in, putting us at over $8,500 raised by W2O employees and families so far. Combined with the $5K match and initial $5K donation, these efforts will result in over $18,500 to support recovery efforts.

Donate here if you’re interested in contributing to the W2O Group Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

Friday morning the ATXers loaded up the truck and our team headed out to Houston!

When we arrived in downtown Houston, we joined a frenzied effort to unload and organize recovery supplies for volunteer teams currently working at flooded homes. Ecclesia had run out of dehumidifiers, a prized commodity in these times, so the 11 dehumidifiers and 10-15 fans/blowers were a welcomed delivery which were immediately put to use. And the outpouring of support continued as trucks and cars loaded down with supplies continue to pour in. Seeing the need, we jumped in to help unload supplies for 2.5 hours before heading back to Austin. Here is a quick walkthrough showing the amount of recovery supplies:

Thanks to everyone who donated your money, supplies, talents, or time. We wouldn’t be able to #MakeItHappen for those effected by Harvey without you! Thank you for reminding us that we truly are #BetterTogether. And finally, here is a personal thank you from Chris Seay, lead pastor at Ecclesia Houston:

Contributions to this post were made by Steven Cutbirth, Operations Lead of MDigitalLife and Chris Olfers, Senior Manager of Applied Analytics at W2O Group.

Last week in Philadelphia – against the backdrop of Independence Hall and the legacy of Rocky Balboa (for anyone who hasn’t see the Rocky movies, the premise is a blue-collar guy from the streets of Philadelphia fights the odds to become a heavyweight champion boxer) – we held our fourth BUILD. meeting.

BUILD. has become our annual immersion in connecting different parts of the business to our growth strategy with the goal of accelerating integration, strengthening client service, and increasing agility in a complex, distracted world.   It begins with each and every one of us dedicated to the spirit and opportunity of relentless pursuit on behalf of our clients and ourselves to win in the marketplace.

At BUILD. 2017, we had our biggest attendance yet reflecting W2O’s growth and the resulting expectations before us. The meeting featured approx. 70 presentations regarding our capabilities, client cases, new and innovative services, marketplace and business insights, and discussions on integration, account management, and financial acumen.

Over the next several weeks, you will be seeing and experiencing various parts of BUILD. 2017 through your manager, OpCo president, or Practice leader.

The purpose of this effort is so that you can BUILD. Yours!

BUILD. Yours! is all about taking ownership of your responsibilities and our future.

We are a different firm. New people. Familiar people but new roles. Different skills emerging. Different capabilities.

We’re different because the world is different. Socially, politically, technically, consciously.

Business is different. Our clients are different.

Relevance dominates the marketplace. Digital is a lifestyle.

Customers and employees are in control.

Evolution has been a sort of mantra for me the last several years. We are evolving. Two years ago I likened our journey to that of a teenager becoming a young adult. Everything you thought about yourself and the world around you was a new experience and reality.

Like Rocky, who in the first movie was just seeking an identity…to Rocky II, when he won the championship achieving relevance.

It didn’t come easy.

Hard work. Attention to detail. Being honest about weaknesses and working to improve them. Remaining humble.

We ceased being a traditional PR/Communications firm years ago with our analytics-led approach and by virtue of how we think. We’ve moved quickly over the last 18 months to dimensionalize our offerings in digital, creative, marketing, and strategy with communications at the core.

Now it’s about integration and solutions to give our clients an Unfair Advantage.

I’m proud of what began in my condo some 16 years ago. A young entrepreneur in a yellow robe with a small group of dedicated people intent on being the “BEST” for our clients to where we sit right here, right now. It happened through a relentless pursuit of “what’s next”. A fearless approach to learning new things regardless of failure.

And an unwavering focus on client satisfaction.

The future is fraught with uncertainty as technology is never ending.  But we must be willing to embrace the changes necessary to secure our future. We must savor the journey.

We Can Do This…

Go. Ahead. BUILD. Yours!

Jim

We agree. Simplification is required in these complex times.

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal by Alexandra Bruell titled “Ad Groups Try to Simplify in Complex Times” discussed the difficulties of transforming from the traditional ad agency model to one driven by data science, technology and the mashup of services that were siloed for far too long.

The article and the industry angst resonates deeply for us at W2O Group since we have been transforming our firm this way since 2009.  Of course, back then, it didn’t seem all that cool to add in data science, fully embrace technology and start reinventing traditional communications and marketing models.  Now, it’s a no-brainer and a race to evolve quicker than market needs.

Here is what our clients are asking for that was emphasized via this article’s focus.

#1 – Clients Want Real Integration – They want analytics, planning, creative and the resulting campaigns to reflect intellectual, not physical integration. We like to say that if insights are driving our decisions, we are in the right mindset.  Gone are the days when we just “had an idea.”  Now, every aspect of our offering is driven by insights.

#2 – Work for Clients Like You Are the Client – Sir Martin Sorrell said “ensuring our people work seamlessly together through client teams and country and sub-regional managers to provide integrated benefits for clients is absolutely essential.”  We agree and we have found that actions matter far more than words, which is why we have always operated with one P&L for our five operating companies.  Our teams know that the only thing that matters is building the right team that brings the requisite solutions to our clients’ business problems.  We believe P&L infighting is the scourge of our industry and we want no part of it. Neither do our clients.

#3 – We Are ALL digital – Many of the larger agencies are struggling with “who owns” digital? For us, it is easy. Everyone. We ask 100% of our team members to understand digital, understand analytics and know how to solve problems and spot opportunities.  If everyone is digital, we are also media-neutral in how we approach a client’s need and that also improves how we integrate and build the right teams.

#4 – Earned & Shared Media Are Redefining PESO, Particularly Paid – In the article, Ms. Bruell writes “the holding companies’ complex structures have also impeded their ability to move quickly at a time when clients are demanding more real-time digital marketing responses to daily events, particularly on social media.”  We agree and see the emergence of audience architecture, social graphics and agile media planning reinventing how we build campaigns.  In today’s world, via our algorithms, we can identify and track our exact audience.  We can determine what content they desire about a brand or related to it and we can adjust to their needs by the hour, day or week. The headline is simple. Our customers are driving earned and shared media, so if we listen closely to their exact needs, they show us the game plan. If we are tracking paid media primarily, we only know how successful our campaign was, but we learn very little about what our customers actually want. Combining earned, shared, owned and paid will change how we plan, think and act.

#5 – The shift from video to visual experience – Everyone is pushing hard to provide more videos for social media platforms. We’re continuing to explore how our brains process visual experiences, so we can provide the right visual content at the right time, whether it is the right image, video, website or other visual educational content on the journey to form a view on a brand.  You need powerful analytics and a heavy dose of the right machine learning models to see how significant it is to know what will resonate inside our brains. In general, about 2/3 of us prefer to learn visually. It feels like the very beginning of a new way to reach our customers is starting to happen.

#6 – Clients Don’t Want to Pay for Overlapping Services – The article states that “what they want is a single business relationship that gives them access to creative, technology and media expertise without having to potentially pay for overlapping services.” This is exactly why we are continually building a shared services team that takes us from insights to content to planning. One powerful engine of expertise can be shaped for each client, based on what they need. While always a work in progress, we’re well on our way to meeting the needs of all sizes of companies. It is too painful and leads to less innovation if we try to do this in each operating company. Areas like analytics and how we embrace technology require that we go deep and get it right and keep evolving.

#7 – The Expanded Version of “Creative” – We have the highest respect for our creative teams who come up with ideas, based on insights, that we would never think about. This same spatial knowledge, which is a real gift, exists with our analysts and increasingly in general management leaders who have absorbed the principles of analytics and creative and happen to have this type of mind. It’s leading to an entirely new way to think of what “creative” really is if it is truly maximized for our clients.

We’re excited about the future and we look forward to continuously improving our offering to match and stay slightly ahead of the needs of our clients.  We also know how talented the leaders are within holding companies and remain confident that they will figure out how to overcome their legacy structure and systems to find new ways to innovate for their clients.  We have been relatively unencumbered from a restrictive structure since Jim Weiss founded the company in 2001 so we believe this has allowed us to evolve and scale based solely on client needs in this changing environment. And that’s not going to change.

The result is that we’ll all benefit. Our collective efforts will represent the next generation of our industry. It will be part communications, part marketing, part data science and part things we don’t know yet. Who knows what the era will be called. All we know is it will have a lot of “mad women and men” who can’t change fast enough.

This blog was co-authored by Chief Client Service Officer Jennifer Gottlieb. Fully committed to customizing every client engagement, Jennifer develops integrated teams that deliver the best work and drive business outcomes and success. She has been with W2O Group for a decade and has partnered with global companies big and small in the areas of pharmaceuticals, technology and consumer.

The theme for my summer reading centered around politics and government. As many of you know, I like to read in themes to go deeper and learn more, when possible, about a specific topic or way of thinking.

Here is a review of this summer’s books.

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amy Parnes – To say this campaign had its challenges would be an understatement. The authors, who thought they would be chronicling a ground-breaking win, instead were given the task of describing what went wrong. Kudos to them for showing us what failure looks like from the inside in a professional manner. It happens in business and politics. The world still spins. And we can all learn from it.

The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom by David Boaz – The left and the right argue about how much government should do for us. Libertarians save time, in this regard, since their view is generally to minimize the role of government. This was a helpful, albeit slightly academic read on why they hold these views so strongly. Very helpful to me to see the principles and passion that guide a minimalist view of the world of government. We would all benefit from asking “why do we need something” more often.

Ghost: Confessions by a Counterterrorism Agent by Fred Burton –  Fred Burton had a storied career working for the U.S. government and devoted a significant part of his life to chasing leaders of terrorist cells worldwide. Besides the chase, he opens up and shares what it is like to live this life, which shows how much personal sacrifice is involved. This is a very engaging book written by a leader who lives in Austin and works for Stratfor today.

The Anatomy of Terror by Ali Soufan – an ex-FBI agent’s view of how Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden and the rise of the Islamic State have expanded, suffered defeat and grown again over the last decade. Ali Soufan’s insights are a perfect read for those of us who want to go deep and learn about how this evolution is occurring.

Make Your Bed by Admiral McRaven – After these first four books, I needed to go back to inspiration and fun. Admiral McRaven’s now famous book provides the inspiration. It is simple, clear and harder to do than it looks if we think about the principles he outlines in our daily lives. And, no, I do not make my bed every day. I probably should start doing so.

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – we ended our summer visiting our youngest daughter, Brittany, in Dresden, before taking a two-week trip throughout Germany. So, why not end the summer with a read of this famous fictional book that is dark humor at its best and centered in Dresden around the time of WW II and beyond. Thank you to Michael Roth for the suggestion.

The fall reading list now starts. Will be shifting to science for this quarter, starting with mental health and then moving to two books on genomics, one on blockchain and we’ll see from there.

Ideas for new reads always welcome. Best, Bob